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  • Writer's picture Dean Harrison - Counselling Psychologist

Unlock Your Full Potential: The Path to Self-Actualisation and Personal Growth

Updated: Jul 2


This article explores the idea of self-actualising and our innate potential towards growth. Let's take a look at the theory of self-actualisation and see what we can learn.


The Process of Becoming

According to Maslow, self-actualisation is a process of 'becoming' rather than simply 'being'. It suggests that humans continually take in information from the world around them and use it to shape their personalities, views and sense of self.

The main difference between self-actualisation and the other needs is that it's not an end state. It's not about having everything you want or being happy, fulfilled and content with life.

Self-actualising individuals are never satisfied because they have a constant drive to keep growing, learning, developing and challenging themselves. Maslow believed that this process was endless. He saw no reason why people should stop at some point in their lives and become complacent.

According to Maslow: "The fully self-actualised person likes him or herself. There is a feeling of spontaneity, naturalness, inner peace".

Every Individual is Capable of Being Open to Growth

It is important to note that not every individual is capable of achieving self-actualisation, but merely capable of being open to growth.

There are many factors which influence whether someone will be able to reach their potential or not.

It may be helpful to think about this process as a journey from ‘being’ to ‘becoming’ rather than simply being something that occurs naturally in the individual.

In order for an individual's potential towards self-actualisation to be realised, they must first fulfill their basic needs. Our basic needs include: safety, security and love and belonging (Maslow's hierarchy).

Stages on the Road Towards Self-Actualisation.

In their classic work, Maslow and his colleagues identified three stages on the road to self-actualisation.

State 1: Dormant Potential

The first stage is that of being or dormant potential, which is when people do not realise they have any potential at all. At this stage, they are quite content with life as it is and don’t feel as though there is anything missing from their lives.

Stage 2: Active Potential

The second stage is that of becoming or active potential where people start to become aware of what they can do in life. They recognise how much better things could be if only they tried harder or put more effort into something.

It may be that someone has realised their passion for writing poetry but hasn’t had much success yet. They feel like giving up because nothing seems to work out for them. They may also feel like they have moved on and neglected or forgotten this aspiration, interest or aspect of themselves.

Stage 3: Full Actualisation

The third stage involves full actualisation. This means having achieved one's full potential through hard work and dedication towards achieving one's goals (as opposed to just dreaming about them).

In short, full actualisation is developing yourself into what you want to be - no matter how long it takes!

What are Our Needs?

The original five levels of needs proposed by Maslow, in order of priority, were physiological needs, safety needs, belongingness and love needs, esteem needs, and self-actualisation needs.

Maslow proposed that self-actualisation can be broken down into two primary levels:

  1. Deficiency Needs: The first level, which he called "deficiency needs," refers to the lower needs in the hierarchy (physiological, safety, belongingness, and esteem) that must be met before an individual can begin to self-actualise.

  2. Being Needs: The second level, which he called "being needs," refers to the need for self-actualisation and self-fulfillment. It is the highest need in the hierarchy and is the ultimate goal of human development.

First Fulfill Basic Needs (Physiological Needs) - Deficiency Needs

In order for this process of personal growth and self-actualisation to occur, Maslow believed individuals must first fulfill basic needs. These include physiological needs (e.g., food and water), safety (e.g., homeostasis), love/belonging (i.e., friendship and family) and esteem (i.e., a sense of competence).

Once these needs are fulfilled, an individual can then focus on achieving more abstract goals such as the need to become better at what they do or to achieve a certain level of mastery in their chosen field.

This process is called “self-actualisation” by Abraham Maslow because he believed it was something that we pursue throughout our lives. Self-actualisation was not simply something that happens once or twice. It is a continuous journey within which there are many milestones along the way towards greater fulfilment in life

The Need for Safety

Safety is one of our basic needs. We need food and water, but we also need safety. There are different types of safety. People feel safe in their homes, with their family and friends, in a secure job and/or financial situation, etc.

We all want to feel safe; when we don’t have that feeling we experience anxiety or even fear. It is normal to be afraid from time to time but it should not be constant because if it becomes a permanent state then it becomes unhealthy for us mentally (anxiety disorder) as well as physically (high blood pressure).

The Need for Love and Belonging

The need for love and belonging is another fundamental human need and involves both giving and receiving love.

The need to belong begins in infancy with strong emotional ties to our parents or primary caregivers. Later as adults we seek close relationships with family members and friends, romantic partners and co-workers. We also enjoy social groups, clubs and organisations that allow us to share common interests with others.

Love is an unselfish concern for the good of another person. It is a deep affection or care for someone. It may include caring about their needs before your own needs are met. Love often includes sexual attraction but not always, nor does sexual attraction always imply feelings of love (for example: lust).

Love can be shown by actions such as giving attention, showing care, and doing favours for someone or expressing gratitude towards them, even if it isn't reciprocated by that person.

The Need for Esteem

The need for esteem involves feeling good about ourselves - feeling adequate, competent, able, successful or worthy. This includes feeling pride and respect from others but also includes being able to respect ourselves (self-respect). Self-esteem is important for the development of a healthy self.

It can be affected by your environment, such as parents or teachers who may praise you excessively, or criticise you harshly. It is also affected by success or failure in school or work. If someone has been raised with a high level of self-esteem they are more likely to cope better with life's challenges than someone who has low levels of self-esteem.

Self-Actualisation - Being Needs

Maslow defined self-actualization as the highest level of psychological development, where an individual reaches their full potential and fully realises their innate talents and abilities. He believed that self-actualisation is a lifelong process, but it is only possible once all lower needs have been met.

Self Transcendence

Maslow did not add self-transcendence to his original hierarchy of needs, self-transcendence is a concept that was proposed later by other researchers based on Maslow's theory, to expand the idea of self-actualisation.

Self-transcendence, according to Maslow, refers to the human drive to reach beyond oneself. It involves connecting with something greater than oneself, to be part of something bigger than oneself. It is the desire to transcend the self and find meaning and purpose in something greater than oneself. This can be achieved through volunteer work, community groups, spiritual or religious practices, or other activities that contribute to the greater good.

Self-transcendence is considered as a higher level of self-actualisation. It is where the individual is not just focused on fulfilling their own needs and desires, but also on find meaning and purpose in something greater than themselves. It is believed that self-transcendence can lead to a greater sense of well-being and fulfillment.

How do We Achieve Self-Transcendence?

Achieving self-transcendence may involve different paths for different individuals, but some common ways to achieve self-transcendence include:

  1. Service to others: Engaging in volunteer work, helping others, and making a positive impact on the world can help individuals transcend their own needs and desires and find fulfillment in something greater than themselves.

  2. Creativity and the Arts: Engaging in creative activities such as painting, writing, music, or dance can help individuals tap into their inner selves and transcend their own limitations and boundaries.

  3. Nature: Spending time in nature, hiking, camping and being in natural surroundings can help individuals connect with the beauty and wonder of the world around them and find meaning and purpose in something greater than themselves.

  4. Spirituality or Religion: Engaging in spiritual or religious practices, such as prayer, meditation, or attending religious services, can help some individuals connect with something greater than themselves and find a sense of purpose and meaning.

  5. Personal development: Engaging in personal development activities such as self-reflection, journaling, therapy, and mindfulness can help individuals understand themselves better and transcend their own limitations and boundaries.

It is important to note that achieving self-transcendence is a continuous journey and the process may be different for different individuals based on their beliefs and values.

How can a Psychologist Help Achieve Self-Actualisation and Self-Transcendence?

A psychologist can help individuals achieve self-actualisation and self-transcendence by providing various interventions, such as:

  1. Therapy: A therapist can help individuals understand and work through any emotional or psychological barriers that may be preventing them from reaching their full potential. This can include addressing past traumas, negative thoughts and beliefs, or other issues that may be holding them back.

  2. Self-reflection and mindfulness: A psychologist can help individuals develop self-reflection and mindfulness skills, which can help them become more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and to identify patterns that may be holding them back from self-actualisation.

  3. Goal-setting and action planning: A psychologist can help individuals set realistic and meaningful goals for themselves, and develop an action plan to achieve them. This can include identifying steps and resources needed to reach the goals and addressing any obstacles that may arise.

  4. Encourage engagement in activities that promote self-actualisation and self-transcendence: A psychologist can help individuals identify activities that align with their values, interests and passions and encourage them to engage in activities that promote self-actualisation and self-transcendence. This involves finding their flow and engaging in flow activities.

  5. Help in understanding one's values and beliefs: A psychologist can help individuals understand their values, beliefs and what makes their life meaningful. This understanding can be crucial in self-transcendence journey as it helps individuals identify what they want to achieve and the greater purpose they want to serve.

It is important to note that psychological treatment should be tailored to the individual's specific needs and goals, and should be conducted in a collaborative and empowering manner.


We hope this post has helped you to understand the concept of self-actualisation and its links with our innate potential towards growth. If you're interested in learning more, there are lots of great resources on our website.

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The information provided on this website is for informational purposes only. Prior to making any decisions, we recommend consulting your treating doctor, health professionals, and legal representatives. This is particularly important if you have health concerns, existing mental health or medical conditions, or if you feel you are not coping.

(c) 2023 Dean Harrison

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