Self-Actualization and the Art of Becoming

If you ever took a Psych 101 class you may remember learning about American psychologist, Abraham Maslow, who famously developed the “Hierarchy of Needs.”

The Heirarchy is used to study how we engage with our behavioral motivations and it describes the patterns in which human motivations generally move.

One might be tempted to believe that we ascend through the levels as one might ascend a pyramid – in stair step fashion. In fact, that is possible – in a perfect world. However, more often than not, we straddle one or more of the “needs platforms” depending on how our lives are unfolding at any given moment. Someone working on ascending from “Esteem” to “Self Actualization” may suddenly find themselves jobless and experience a fall from the top of the pyramid to the bottom.

Sometimes we struggle with both friendship and self-esteem at the same time. Sometimes, just as we’re about to cross into “Self Actualization,” we become afraid of what that might mean to our lives – becoming the full embodiment of your own potential, while inspiring, can be quite daunting.

And, if you’ll notice, every need can be described simultaneously as both a love of and a fear of.

Take for example the physiological needs of air, water, food, and shelter. Do we love those things? Perhaps not the in same way as we love a pet or a family member; however, starve yourself of any of them for a good length of time and your “love” of them becomes more deeply pronounced and profound the longer they are denied us.

Do we fear that those things might be taken away? It depends on which platform we’re standing on. If, for example, our security is ensured, then no and so were free to grow. However, if we’re laid off from a job we thought we’d retire from then the prospect of meeting the mortgage becomes a big concern – fear of lack of food, water, shelter become foremost.

In this way, all of human experience can be boiled down to two emotions:

  1. Love
    Fear

That’s it. Love and Fear.

Curiously, the higher we ascend the pyramid, the less we tend to think of those needs as things we “love” or even need for that matter and more as things we might aspire to (although, “aspiration” can also be described as a type of love because it describes a state of being we elevate as a goal.)

But to become “Self Actualized” is a goal that many treat as a pipe dream and others as a mere curiosity – something to be poked and prodded at but never really chased.

Maslow defined self-actualization to be “the desire for self-fulfillment, namely the tendency for the individual to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.”

So why then, when faced with the prospect of becoming our best selves, do we demure?

  • Because we care too deeply what others might think of us? – Fear
  • Because our friends and family might think us strange? – Fear
  • Because who we become might be so different than who/how we’ve been that we might not recognize ourselves anymore? – Fear
  • Because in becoming, we die to our old selves and death of any kind is scary.
  • But even the caterpillar dies to the butterfly.
  • The grand irony of these fears is that of all the people who should want us to achieve our fullest potential it’s our friends and family. After all, who loves us better than they?

    So when we experience these fears, we need to check ourselves. Are we trusting our friends/family as we should trust? Are we trusting ourselves as we should.

    Because if we aren’t in alignment with trust, we simply cannot become our best selves.

    One of the best ways to get back into the alignment of trust with your friends and family is to forgive yourself for needing them to be something/someone other than who they are.

    You may be asking what that has to do with trust? Consider this: anytime we’ve felt let down or betrayed by someone it’s because we have asked them to be other than what they are – and that fault is squarely on us.

    In this way, our expectations breed disappointment and disappointments breed contempt and ultimately, a failure on our own parts to honor the love they are owed if not for the struggles that they also endure but simply because all are worthy of love.

    It is with our expectations of others that we inflict great and terrible violence on each other.

    Similarly, we disappoint our own selves because of the undue expectations we place upon ourselves. So obsessed with mastery are we that we forget the journey. And it’s the journey that’s most important. No master becomes a master overnight. And if it isn’t the undue expectations that invariably disappoint us, it’s the all the ways we fail ourselves in the completely justifiable expectations we hold for ourselves – because we failed to try, or we gave up too soon, or worse still, compromised our integrity in favor of expedience or instant gratification.

    Each of these little wounds add up and the scars they leave are born first on our souls, then on our minds, and finally, on our bodies as sickness.

    The solution is simple but difficult to embody: it’s to trust others as they journey and to hold a loving, compassionate space for them as they fail and succeed. In the same way, we must trust ourselves and hold compassionate space for all our own failures and successes.

    Trust is the foremost proof of love and it is only in love that we can Become, not only the best embodiment of our own highest self but also help others Become the best embodiment of their highest selves.

    The best proof of love is trust. – Dr. Joyce Brothers

    Om, Baby. Om!

    Joshua T.

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