Self-Actualization: The Struggle Eternal

by David King on October 23, 2012

Pick up any first year psychology textbook and you’ll learn about self-actualization, a pinnacle stage of psychological development defined by the realization of one’s full potential. According to Abraham Maslow (the theory’s author), less than 1% of the human population will ever self-actualize. This is surely to the disappointment of nearly 7 billion fragile psyches…

But you see, the realization of one’s potential isn’t about bringing home the bacon. Indeed, it’s about something much deeper than that, something with much more substance – more muchness, as the Mad Hatter might put it.

Self-actualization is about YOU in the truest sense of the word. It’s about digging as deeply as you can dig. It’s about wading through all the garbage – the expectations, the pressures, the demands, the insecurities, and the hurt – and realizing the most authentic version of you. Theory then requires that the successful self-actualizer live a life which is authentic to his/her own newly found muchness. It is the recognition of and commitment to one’s soul, some might argue (and I think rightly so, within or outside of any religious framework).

Ever since I was young (I’d say 12 or younger), I’ve experienced this gnawing sensation. Gnawing is the best way to put it, really. It’s a deeply rooted feeling of having (or needing?) to do something big with my life – something like saving the world (which is pretty big, I think).

In a previous description of this feeling, I noted a burning in my abdomen, something knot-like. There’s a mild sense of panic, I lose sight of my surroundings, and my mind gets lost in what is best described as truth. Time stands still, and all at once I feel frustration and passion, excitement and despair. And somewhere in my mind is an image of doing something – an action that I try to grasp, but that inevitably feels too large and nebulous. I question everything in these moments – everything about who I am and what I am doing with my life.

Are these peak experiences? I think so. In his study of self-actualizers, Maslow identified the tendency to experience moments of clarity similar to what I’ve described above. Moments in which potential reveals itself to the host. Moments in which the curtain is raised, the fog clears, and behaviour and conscience unite in some kind of synergistic cognitive burst. Moments in which the word truth becomes meaningless because it’s all there is.

I value these moments, but the frustration and despair that result are difficult to manage. I want to change the world, after all. And ripples aren’t enough. I need waves. Big ones. Tsunami-sized. Nothing less would be satisfying. Nothing less would offer relief.

As I grow older, the gnawing becomes more frequent and intense. I don’t believe I have self-actualized, but I do believe I’m being shown my full potential, somehow.

Let’s be honest, a 1% chance is pretty terrible. But it nonetheless offers possibility – a potential for potential, you might say. These odds are less a condition of our individual shortcomings and more a condition of our broken world. We have done everything in our power to suppress, subdue, and subjugate the non-material aspects of our existence. We have silenced our voices and muted our potentials, all the while suffering from an epidemic of meaninglessness and purposelessness. It’s time to lift the curtain. It’s time to dig deeper. It’s time to fuck the expectations and reclaim what’s inside – to know it, to live it, and to scream it in everything we do.

(Then, and only then, may we move onto self-transcendence…)

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: