Self-actualization and the hierarchy of needs: and Peak Experiences
A peak experience is a state of extreme euphoria or ecstasy, during which the person feels more alive and whole than is usual. It is a natural "high" - one which can be recalled and savoured any time. This is unlike chemical or substance "highs". They are often attributed to religious or mystical causes; but there are other causes as well. More on this is coming. First, let's take a look at how to get there: and what is involved.
Abraham Maslow was part of a much different breed of contemporary psychologists. He focused on what went right with people, rather than today's tendency to look at what goes wrong with people. In 1943 he formulated a truly positive account of human behaviour: he was interested in human potential, and how we fulfill that potential. In his view, human motivation is based on people seeking fulfillment and change through personal growth. He called them Self-actualized people: people who were fulfilled and doing all they were capable of.
The process of self-actualization, according to Maslow is due to the need for personal growth and discovery that is present throughout a person’s life. He believed that a person is always 'becoming', and never remains static in these terms. In self-actualization a person comes to find (or create)a meaning to life that is important to them.
During the years between 1943-1952 Maslow developed his now-famous "needs model", of tiered levels: see the diagrams below. His "hierarchy of needs" is a motivational theory was originally presented as a five tiered (pyramid-shaped) model of human needs.
The rising levels are the hierarchy sections. It was his view that people are motivated to achieve certain needs; and that some needs have priority over others. The most basic need is for physical survival, it is at the bottom of the pyramid. It is the first thing that motivates our behaviour. Once that level is fulfilled the next level up is what motivates us, and so on. His original model with 5 stages or tiers was "divided" into what are called deficiency needs (D-needs: the first 4 levels), and growth needs (the top level B-needs: be-ing needs).
In his understanding, deficiency needs motivate people when they are unmet (if you're hungry, you do something about it). Also, the need to fulfil such needs will become stronger the longer the duration they are unfulfilled. Like in the being hungry example,the longer you put off eating something, the hungrier you get). One must satisfy lower level deficit needs before progressing on to meet higher level growth needs. When a deficit need has been satisfied it will go away, and our activities become habitually directed towards meeting the next set of needs that we have yet to satisfy. To take the hunger example a bit farther: it is unlikely that your concentration on task and activities that require you being alert, responsive and quick would be up to the task. Those tasks would have to wait until you'd eaten. These then become our most noticeable and important needs. However, growth needs continue to be felt and may even become stronger once they have been engaged. Once these growth needs have been reasonably satisfied, one may be able to reach the highest level called self- actualization - also know as Peak Experience.
We are all capable, and have the desire, he said, to move up the hierarchy toward a level of self- actualization. But like many human situations, that progress is often disrupted by not having dealt adequately with lower level needs. Life experiences, including death, major illness, job loss, bankruptcy, etc, can easily result in an individual to fluctuate between levels of the hierarchy. So it's not a foregone conclusion that everyone will move/rise through the hierarchy in a direct straight-line manner; instead, many may move back and forth between the different types of needs.
Only one in a hundred people become fully self-actualized, Maslow said, because our society rewards motivation primarily based on esteem, love and other social needs. His original model of five tiers (levels/steps), was altered in the 1960's - 1970's to 7 tiers, and then 8. Both the 5-tier and 8-tier models are shown below.
Changes to the original five-stage model are highlighted and include a seven-stage model and an eight-stage model, both developed during the 1960's and 1970s. The stages are as follows: 1. Biological and Physiological needs: air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc. 2. Safety and Security needs: protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, etc. 3. Love and belonging-ness needs: friendship, intimacy, trust and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love. Affiliating, being part of a group (family, friends, work). 4. Esteem needs: self-esteem, achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc. 5 Cognitive needs: knowledge and understanding, curiosity, exploration, need for meaning and predictability. 6. Aesthetic needs: appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc. 7. Self-Actualization needs: the need to actualize oneself; realizing personal potential, self- fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences. 8. Transcendence needs: helping others to achieve self actualization (the epitome of Peak Experience).
The drive toward developing and realizing our full human potential is a life-long process, as we've seen: reaching for the divine with our human limitations.
See below for a pictorial representation:
Need For Self-Actualization (Peak Experiences) - Highest Desire to help others; ability to direct one's own life; rich emotional experiences; sense of meaning to one's life.
Realizing (achieving) our full human potential requires development, growth and integration of all the dimensions of life that make us human: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual: that is the holistic way. It may not be possible to do so fully (see the Human Potential page).
When we are fully integrated, we are fully whole. When there is no complete integration, there is no complete wholeness. Wholeness is known as "holistic", which in essence means, to incorporate all aspects - or the "whole".
There is a major "caution" here, however: generally, the "potential" we can reach is prescribed by our culture. Transcending those cultural prescriptions are a major challenge. More coming on this.