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

Updated: Dec 23, 2023


This article explores the idea of self-actualising and our innate potential towards growth. Let's 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 are constantly driven 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 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 while everyone can strive to achieve self-actualisation, they should first be open to growth.

Many factors 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 fulfil their basic needs. Our basic needs include safety, security, 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 (Living unintentionally)

The first stage is 'being' or dormant potential, when people do not realise they have any potential. 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.

I refer to this as 'living unintentionally' and not being aware of one's own needs, dreams, goals and ambitions.

Stage 2: Active Potential

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

Someone may have 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 achieving 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?

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

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-fulfilment. 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 fulfil 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 focus on achieving more abstract goals, such as becoming better at what they do or achieving a certain mastery level in their chosen field.

This process is called “self-actualisation” by Abraham Maslow because he believed it was something 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

Love and belonging are other fundamental human needs and involve 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 giving attention, caring, favouring someone or expressing gratitude towards them, even if that person doesn't reciprocate it.

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 and respecting 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 with low self-esteem levels.

Self-Actualisation - Being Needs

Maslow defined self-actualisation as the highest level of psychological development, where individuals reach their full potential and fully realise 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.

According to Maslow, self-transcendence 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 a higher level of self-actualisation. It is where the individual is focused on fulfilling their own needs and desires and finding meaning and purpose in something greater than themselves. It is believed that self-transcendence can lead to a greater sense of well-being and fulfilment.

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 positively impacting the world can help individuals transcend their needs and desires and find fulfilment 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 differ 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 behaviours and 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.

  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 the 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 conducted collaboratively and in a way that empowers you.


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 want to learn more, our website has many great resources.

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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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