Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Self-actualization

Abraham MaslowWhile I was writing the 'Dear GB' response to the 'Email from a gay guy who works in the City', I got a bit of a shock. As I said in that response, I learned a bit about Maslow's hierarchy of needs during one of my management training sessions a few years ago. It was a one-to-one coaching session, and my coach didn't go into any of the details, but I learned enough to realise last week that Maslow's concepts could be relevant to the situation of the guy who sent me the email.

It was while I was looking up the details of the Maslow heirarchy on wikipedia that I got the shock: Maslow's description of self-actualizing people fits me perfectly. And I don't mean that the description fits me a bit, or that I've got a lot in common with some of the characteristics, I mean that I strongly identify with all the characteristics in a very profound way. It was really scary. Running through the headline characteristics from wikipedia, self-actualizing people:

(1) Embrace the facts and realities of the world (including themselves) rather than denying or avoiding them. Indeed, I've often mentioned in this blog how hard it is to be honest with oneself. I usually mention this in connection with recognising that one is gay, but of course the idea goes much deeper than that. Anyway, as a result of my coming out experience, plus everything that's happened since then, I like to think that I'm much better at this than I used to be.

(2) Are spontaneous in their ideas and actions. Occasionally I think my spontaneity is almost childish, although I'm not sure how much this comes through in the blog.

(3) Are creative. I posted about this subject quite recently.

(4) They are interested in solving problems; this often includes the problems of others. Solving these problems is often a key focus in their lives. Problem solving is a core part of my work life at the bank. But it was when I read the phrase "… often includes the problems of others" while working on a 'Dear GB' post that I realised how much all this applied to me. Recently I had been thinking how bizarre it was that through my 'Dear GB' postings I'd become an agony uncle, because I don't have any background in this area, quite the opposite in fact. But suddenly it all makes sense in the context that I've evolved into a self-actualizing individual.

(5) They feel a closeness to other people, and generally appreciate life. The fact that I feel that I have more than one boyfriend is a perfect example of how I feel very close to other people. But I think other people sometimes feel it too when they meet me. Only recently a guy that I met told me in an email, after meeting me for the first time, how surprised he was when he looked back on the evening. He said that he'd told me things about his personal life that he'd previously only told people when he'd got to know them very well!

(6) They have a system of morality that is fully internalized and independent of external authority. The best recent example of this is the way I feel about looking after boyfriend number 1 if we end up splitting up. I'll do it because it's the right thing to do, not because anyone else thinks I should.

(7) They have discernment and are able to view all things in an objective manner. I hope and feel that I'm objective, and I also feel that these days I'm much better at being objective than I used to be, however confirmation of this characteristic really needs to come from other people.

The wikipedia article goes on to list the tendencies of self-actualizing people in four categories, namely Awareness, Honesty, Freedom and Trust. This post is very self-centred on my part, and hence probably getting a bit dull, so I'm not going to run through all the characteristics listed in those categories. But a couple that do deserve a mention, being a bit different to what's been said above, are:

Willow tree(8) Freshness of appreciation. Another web site said that an example of this is "never tire of seeing a golden sunset". I identify with that, as well as never tiring of seeing the beautiful willow tree that's planted near where I live, even though I see it every day. Or feeling immense pleasure recently from the colours of the autumn leaves against a fresh blue sky on my way to the gym every morning before work – well, every morning when there's been a fresh blue sky at any rate! And so on.

(9) Resistance to enculturation - identity with humanity. One example of this is when I think of the horror and pointlessness of war :-(. Every time I do, it brings tears to my eyes. Every time.

How did all this come about? I'm not sure. I think five years ago I had some of these characteristics, but not as strongly and nowhere near as many as I do today. I think that blogging has definitely pushed me in this direction, because it's given me an outlet for creative writing, and has become a way for me to try and solve other people's problems through the 'Dear GB' postings.

Because I identify so strongly with all of this, I've started worrying about whether knowing that I fit into this category will affect the important self-actualizing characteristics. For example, whenever one has reached an opinion about something, however certain one feels, it's always healthy to have some doubt in the back of one's mind. Knowing that I'm meant to have good objective judgement because I'm a self-actualizing individual might diminish the residual doubt, which would be a bad thing. Forewarned is forearmed though. On balance, I reckon the more self-knowledge that one has the better.

But it's still very scary for a couple of reasons. It was certainly scary feeling that I was reading about myself, with additional paragraph that I read revealing something else about me that I knew was true. But it's also scary because wikipedia says that "self-actualization is reaching one's fullest potential". Another web site says "[Self-actualization] is not the same thing as personal growth or self improvement, both of which imply movement from a lower state to a higher state. Self-actualisation is the higher state". So if I've already reached my greatest potential, that suggests that from here things can only get worse :-(!

I think this blog has a reasonably wide readership, including a tiny number of people that I've met, together with a few more people that I've corresponded with via emails. So if anyone has read this far, I'd like to know you think. With the evidence presented above and throughout this blog, does anyone think that I might actually be one of these 'self-actualizing individuals'?

9 comments:

close encounters said...

GB, i think that most people that read your blog are interested in you, so i suspect that we all allow the odd self-centred post !

i also wonder how many of your readers also match the criteria as self-actualising individuals ... i reckon that i meet a decent number of the requirements ...

what you seemed to miss out, was much analysis about what this revelations means - no more personal development is possible ??

badabing said...

The wiki page has a very interesting, but long, discussion page that is well worth a read. Without trawling through the original sources it's very difficult to say anything about the validity of Maslow's concept, although, since it's a psychological theory, it's unlikely to be straightforwardly 'true'.

There's also the problem that there seems to be no objective method of deciding if someone has achieved a level. Take for instance your interpretation of 'Love/Belonging' - whereas you see your multiple relationships positively, someone else might regard them as a failure.

What does the future hold for a self-actualised individual ? This seems to have worried Maslow because the wiki article notes that he later added 'self-transcendence' to the top of the hierarchy, to encompass a higher level of personal integration. From the description, achieving this state should keep even the most self-actualised individual busy for a long time. 'No more personal development is possible' - this depends on what you define as personal development. Certainly, the hierarchy implies there is nothing left to do concerning it (although different levels can take precedence at different times) but if you regard being self-actualised as having a full toolkit then you are fully equiped to achieve things in the world.

I also wonder if the 'self-actualised' individual would be quite as concerned about being in this state as you seem to be !

Trevor said...

I tend to agree with close encounters and badabing. I can't see how being at this level would be scary as it's a very good place to be. Perhaps society's obsession with getting to the next level is having its effect on you...
Maybe now it the time to look outside the framework you live in, take that self-actualising you into areas that know no bounds...

kc said...

consider: you are too self-absorbed to realise that such statements of flattery (appear to) apply to TONS of people :P

let me guess... you are also a firm believer of daily horoscopes

Sasha said...

Hi GB.

The articles describes self actualisation as a state of being. It could be very true that you posses all the qualities of such a person, which is a good thing. However, this does not mean that there is nothing else to aspire.

Being self actualized will enable you to achieve all that you want to. You are at the level of growth, you still have goals that you have not yet achieved, i believe, and being self actualized will only make it fun and enjoyable for you to achieve them, as opposed to those who are still at the level of satisfying basic needs.

I believe that potential is like a horizon, you really can never say that you have have reached full potential, because with every new day, and new experiences, we discover that there is still a higher level of greatness to attain.

Sir Wobin said...

So long as you don't take yourself or your blog too seriously, I don't think you have much to worry about. Like badabing says, is it really important that someone as acclaimed as Maslow thinks you rock?

I'm tempted to go find a Calvin & Hobbes quote about there always being more fun to be had but I have too much to do right now.

RLMan said...

GB,

Have been reading your blog for a while now and am finding it very interesting.

Re: the question about you being 'actualised', you might like to take a look at:

http://www.rpi.edu/~verwyc/ROGERSOH.html

where the section towards the end gives details of what Carl Rogers interpreted as a fully functioning person.

I wouldn't personally attempt to guess your 'actualisation' rating since I think it would be necessary to know you rather than simply through your writings.

In honesty, I think it must be a very rare breed of person who is completely self actualised since who can rid themselves of the years of conditioning and enculturation that we assimilate through life. The subtle effects of such conditioning may be difficult enough to objectively recognise let alone ignore.

Still, thanks for the very thought provoking blog.

RL

Monty said...

Having met the elusive GB in person (being one of the very priviledged ones), and experiencing the level of comfort I felt with him, I can categorically state...GB, you fit that description to a T! :-) Love your work!

GB said...

Thanks for all the comments guys :-). I think Sir Robin had one of the most important points, i.e. not to take any of this too seriously. Especially because, as badabing said, it's only a psychological theory. And I'm also sure that Sasha's right and that there are always more things to aspire to.

GB xxx