All or almost all of us want to feel good, achieve our goals and feel a sense of progression into the future. We want to be ourselves, faithful to our nature and at the same time strive to achieve our ideal. This will does not come out of the blue, nor is it exclusive to a few, but is part of the main and most evolved human needs: the needs of self-realization .

This concept, which is especially known by Maslow’s theory despite having been worked on both before and after by different authors, is especially relevant in our society and in the search for personal and social well-being. And it is about it that we are going to talk throughout this article.

Maslow’s theory of human needs

To talk about the needs of self-realization, it may be convenient to mention first Maslow’s theory of human needs, probably the best known theory that includes them (although the idea of self-realization was first used by Goldstein and there were similar concepts in theories such as Jung or Erickson).

According to Maslow’s theory, which arises from his research into the factors that allow personal development and well-being (which in turn arose as a reaction against the pessimism of the psychology of the moment, centred on the pathological), human beings find their behaviour motivated by the presence of a series of needs established around the tendency to grow and to achieve objectives , which can be structured in the form of a pyramid depending on how necessary they are for well-being and even survival.

These needs are ordered hierarchically, and in order to focus on satisfying the most superior ones, it is necessary that the previous ones are mostly covered, otherwise it would be the unmet one that we would need to satisfy in the first place.

From base to top: the five major types of needs

The base of this pyramid is found in the basic or physiological needs , which have a biological origin and the achievement of which allows our survival. This mainly includes the need to have food and water, in addition to breathing and sleeping.

Once these have been met, it is possible to focus on a second level, where security needs are to be found. In this sense, the human being needs to find a safe and protected shelter, as well as the means to remain stable and with minimum conditions. Thus, these needs would include home, close/family environment and employment).

The third level would include affective and affiliation needs, while we need to be part of the environment and feel included and loved. It is about the need for social-emotional bonding with those we care about, including family, friends or partners, as well as being part of a group of belonging.

A fourth level refers to the need for esteem and recognition, which speaks to us about social recognition and the maintenance of self-esteem: it is about the need to feel respected and recognized or to do it ourselves.

Finally, at the top of the pyramid of the hierarchy of human needs are the needs of self-realization , on which we will focus below.

What do we call self-realization needs?

We give the name of self-realization needs to the set of needs centered on one’s own development, to grow and develop in such a way that the potential of the human being, both one’s own and another’s, is reached to the maximum extent possible. At this level we find elements such as the development of morality, orientation towards others and the pursuit of ideals, as well as the exploitation of one’s own faculties and potentialities. It is the search of the maximum possible development, of overcoming the barriers of one’s own possibilities and of transcending, at the same time that of living the here and now in its maximum plenitude.

It is also possible to understand the needs of self-realization as the will and pursuit of the capacity to give meaning to the life we have , or as the search for the completeness of the course of our life, the achievement of our vital goals and the struggle to get to fulfill them.

It is the highest type of needs, the peak of the pyramid of human needs, and it is the maximum exponent of the search for happiness through one’s own personal evolution and connection with the environment and one’s own being. The need for self-realization implies growth and the search for vital goals or objectives, and ultimately is often associated with the search for one’s identity and the meaning of life.

The need for self-realization is universal, and although it is found at the end of human needs, it is the one that structures the development of others. In spite of this, according to Maslow it is difficult to focus on this kind of needs if you don’t have the previous and most basic ones covered : if for example we need to look for food and shelter to be able to survive, we will hardly be able to think about how to feel fulfilled.

What do self-made people usually have in common?

Although being fully self-actualized is complex (in fact Maslow indicated the existence of a need for self-actualization or for continuous improvement, considering that few people reach the ideal of self-actualization), both this author and others consider that self-actualized subjects have a series of characteristics in common.

First of all, those who feel self-realized tend to have an adequate vision and perception of the world, being able to accept themselves and the world around them as they are . This is carried out independently of socio-cultural influences or the opinion of others.

Self-realization implies the assumption of freedom for oneself, with self-realized people being able to be as they are and manifesting naturalness and spontaneity. They do not tend to fall into stereotypes, and they tend to be more concerned with solving problems than with having them.

Their personal relationships are usually deep, although they are often selective about them. They need intimacy with a few people, although they also recognize the need to distance themselves and maintain a certain level of privacy. Yet they have a high sense of community and identification with humanity.

They focus on ideals and are consistent with their values and ideals , as well as being able to focus on and solve the real problems they have. Feeling self-actualised often leads these people to feel good, in a state of emotional upliftment and even at times of flow and mystical experiences.

It is especially noteworthy that self-realized people tend to manifest high levels of creativity, and to be dissatisfied with what does not seem right to them (despite being able to see that their choice is not the only valid one). They also possess ethical certainty and tend to act in accordance with their convictions , in addition to acting with a democratic tendency and with the capacity to appreciate others. However, feeling self-realized does not imply that we do not have defects or imperfections, as everyone does.

Bibliographic references:

  • Maslow, A.H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50 (4), 370-396.
  • Rosal Cortés, R. (1986). Personal growth (or self-realization): goal of humanist psychotherapies. Anuario de psicología / The UB Journal of psychology. No.: 34