Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needsSelf-actualization – the need to be fully alive or achieve the full meaning of life. It’s Abraham Maslow’s final level of psychological development for an individual. I”m guessing some people achieve it without ever knowing what it’s all about, while this place of nirvana eludes droves of intellectuals. I was fascinated to learn about it over the weekend and discovered there are 2 key character traits that center us on the road to self-actualization. I also found this concept is grounded in faith and much of what Jesus taught us.

“What a man can be, he must be. This need we call self-actualization.” Abraham Maslow

Here’s my take of Maslow’s theory from the ground up:

I started talking dude before I can remember, when I was just a little dude. Maybe that’s an attachment theory by-product I don’t know… somewhere along the way, early on, I stepped beyond the physiological basics – breathing, food, water… and on to the next level of dude. Yes, this is the basic building block in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Let’s take a look at the further progression in the life of dude…

The second block up the road to fully developed is centered on the theme of safety or security. Most folks find this to be sort of second-nature, like the physiological needs, once they reach adulthood. Prior to reaching adult status we are pretty dependent on other people to provide these basic needs. Still, this is the low hanging fruit, the stuff that many of us take for granted at times in our daily walk – personal and financial security, good health, and developing a safety net for the times of crisis.

Maslow contended that, as an individual, if we have to spend considerable time and effort tending to these most basic needs that we can’t progress further up the ladder toward self-actualization, and being all that we can be. I get that part, it makes sense when you consider the struggles and setbacks that so many in the world today face with famine, plagues or even cancer, and natural disasters.

Next comes the need for love and belonging. This is where life gets interpersonal. We develop relations within our families, with friends and more intimate relationships too. Some small and large groups of people can fulfill these needs within our community or even in part through an online social network. This category fills many of our social needs, including acceptance.

Life gets more complex at this point… call it the onset of existential anxiety in the absence of authenticity… or the realization that we need something more than ourselves to experience fulfillment in this life. That whole notion, to me anyway, is placed in the heart and soul by the One who defines love – our Lord and Savior.

It is interesting to me in my rather brief study of Maslow’s theory how the “needs” develop from taking to giving at this point in the pyramid. Healthy, pure, unconditional love is given and not taken as the previous needs are defined. Remember, it is in giving that we receive…

Esteem is next to the top of the food chain of needs. This has to start within oneself, and then as an outward expression of respect for others. Feelings of personal accomplishment and achievement fit in here too.

The down side of this esteem thing, in our world today, seems to be despair, or a loss of hope. Hope. Where do we find that one? Yep, there is just one place we find hope. Knowing God is in control gives me hope. We have hope in God’s nature and promise…

Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of His purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, He confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. Hebrews 6:17-20

And about that respect thing…

Self-actualization is at the top of the pyramid in Maslow’s theory. It is achieved by people with healthy personalities and minds. Maslow believed that for an individual to understand this level of need they would have to master the previous needs. Further, self-actualization may for the basis of our calling or reaching our full potential – sometimes. Who’s to say the widow raising 5 children in the slums of Haiti isn’t fulfilling God’s will while continually stuck trying to meet basic needs for her family. Or my friends in the Bahamas who look forward to fishing every Wednesday afternoon – perfectly content to be living in the Lord and well below our standard for poverty. Indeed, from their point of view, they are living the dream of self-actualization – maybe they have all the rest of the building blocks here, and maybe they don’t – but they have certainly found contentment and have God’s hope in their hearts.

Noticing things…

So where do people get hung up on the road to self-actualization? Many lose out at the turning point from taking to giving. You see, self-actualization as a concept is fine once we realize it’s not all about me. Once we learn and then put into action love and respect our self and then others, the door is open. That all centers on identifying with our Maker and what Jesus taught us. I’m jumping on the soap box and letting you know -  Reaching your full potential to self-actualization and being great centers on love and respect. (Click To Tweet)

Why do I mention all of this?

“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself.” Abraham Maslow

So it’s about finding hope… and peace, within our self and in the world around us. It’s also about identifying with our Maker and focusing on our calling.

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to His disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:30-32

Self-actualization can’t be achieved by the self-righteous any more that it can by the one who is stuck grasping to fulfill their basic needs. While I admire Maslow’s work and the basis for it, a study of highly “successful” people including Albert Einstein, Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt and Frederick Douglass, many intellectuals face a different battle in their quest for achievement, success and identity.

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe. Ephesians 2:18-19

Where there is Jesus, there is hope. There is also direction, contentment and peace that transcends understanding. That, to me, is the full meaning of life. Finding His way and plan for me, as the Lord gave me my spiritual gifts and talents to use to His glory. It’s really not all that much about me, when you put it in the proper context. It’s all about where you find your identity. Do you find that in yourself, or in Jesus? That, to me, is the centering of self-actualization – where do we find our identity?

Image courtesy of J. Finkelstein on