Self-actualization is the top tier in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow’s theory is that humans have various needs. Basic needs must be met before advanced needs. Self-actualization can only be achieved once all needs (those basic and advanced) are met. A pyramid is typically used to illustrate the hierarchy of needs. Maslow did not calculate spiritual needs in the application of his theory as he is considered to be part of the humanistic movement by many.
Maslow’s theory is accepted by most secular psychologists today, however Christian therapists have taken issue with it. Maslow’s basic premise is that humans are trustworthy, loving and self-governing and that violence only occurs due to needs not being met. This fails to understand man’s sinful nature and the influence of demonic spirits. Maslow’s theory does contain a great deal of truth which is why it continues to be used today in therapy and business. The theory seems to work when people first have a spiritual basis on which to live. That is, humans need to first be trustworthy, loving and self-governing before the theory applies to them. Humans only become that way with divine assistance. Furthermore, in the Christian worldview, self-actualization is only achieved through self-transcendence – achieved only with spiritual means.
In the Christian worldview, human needs are not provided solely through human effort but in partnership with Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30). The yoke is an instrument used to tie two animals together to share a burden of work. Christ’s yoke joins the human with the divine. It is in this way that our needs are achieved. In Andrew Pfeifer’s essay on the Christian perspective of Maslow’s hierarchy, he suggested the lines that divide the levels on the pyramid should be dotted, representing how Christ is intertwined at every level. (Pfeifer, 1998)
Maslow believed only 1% of people reach self-actualization. (Maslow, 1968) This is the level where a person meets their full potential. It isn’t the end of the journey as those at this level continue to expand their potential.
Neurotic needs create anxiety and prevent progress to upper level needs in the hierarchy. Examples of neurotic needs may include the desire for others to like them because they have low self-esteem or a feeling of worthlessness. Looking to a spouse or partner to solve life’s problems (instead of simply sharing life) is also neurotic. Trying to dominate or control others is neurotic. Self-centeredness to the point of exploiting others is neurotic. More than normal, the neurotic seeks praise from others. A neurotic person seeks to be better than their peers so they push to always win by any means. Neurotics have a need for perfection which causes them to try and control circumstances. Neurotic conditions that are not treated prevent many from self-actualization and other higher-level needs.
These are characteristics of self-actualized people: They see reality as it is. They are more likely perceive if someone is superficial or dishonest. They accept themselves with their flaws. They are independent-minded and thus do not look to others or their culture to form their views. Their self-identity is not tied to what they think others want. They have a purpose outside of themselves to accomplish in life. They can appreciate excellence and beauty. They find joy from their five senses which allows them to stop and appreciate a given moment in time. They have close interpersonal relationships characterized by deep loving bonds. They are also comfortable being alone and can enjoy solitude. Their sense of humor is not offensive. They can laugh at themselves. They have “peek experiences” which are moments marked by ecstasy, harmony and deep meaning. They are empathetic. They have a social interest. They interact with a community and feel part of humanity. They love others for the sake of loving them and not to receive love in return.
Maslow, A., (1968) Towards a psychology of being. New York p. 204
Pfeifer, A., A., (1998) Abraham maslow’s hierarchy of needs: A christian perspective. School of Education Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan