Chapter 23: Maslow: Holistic-Dynamic Psychology

Part 2: The Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow is undoubtedly best known for his hierarchy of needs.  Developed within the context of a theory of human motivation, Maslow believed that human behavior is driven and guided by a set of basic needs: physiological needs, safety needs, belongingness and love needs, esteem needs, and the need for self-actualization.  It is generally accepted that individuals must move through the hierarchy in order, satisfying the needs at each level before one can move on to a higher level.  The reason for this is that lower needs tend to occupy the mind if they remain unsatisfied. How easy is it to work or study when you are really hungry or thirsty?  But Maslow did not consider the hierarchy to be rigid. For example, he encountered some people for whom self-esteem was more important than love, individuals suffering from antisocial personality disorder seem to have a permanent loss of the need for love, or if a need has been satisfied for a long time, it may become less important.  As lower needs are becoming satisfied, though not yet fully satisfied, higher needs may begin to present themselves. And of course there are sometimes multiple determinants of behavior, making the relationship between a given behavior and a basic need difficult to identify (Maslow, 1943/1973; Maslow, 1970).

This is a color image of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The pyramid is divided horizontally into five distinct sections. The bottom portion is labeled as physiological and represents breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis, and excretion. The next need addressed in the pyramid is safety, which is defined as the security of the body, employment, resources, morality, the family, health, and property. The third need addressed is love/belonging, which is defined as friendship, family and sexual intimacy. The fourth need addressed is esteem, which is defined as self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others, and respect by others. The top of the pyramid represents the final need labeled self-actualization. This is defined as morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, and acceptance of facts.
Image Source: Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs.svg. (2009, June 29). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons at Licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

The physiological needs are based, in part, on the concept of homeostasis, the natural tendency of the body to maintain critical biological levels of essential elements or conditions, such as water, salt, energy, and body temperature.  Sexual activity, though not essential for the individual, is biologically necessary for the human species to survive. Maslow described the physiological needs as the most prepotent.  In other words, if a person is lacking everything in life, having failed to satisfy physiological, safety, belongingness and love, and esteem needs, their consciousness will most likely be consumed with their desire for food and water.  As the lowest and most clearly biological of the needs, these are also the most animal-like of our behavior. In Western culture, however, it is rare to find someone who is actually starving. So when we talk about being hungry, we are really talking about an appetite, rather than real hunger (Maslow, 1943/1973; Maslow, 1970).  Many Americans are fascinated by stories such as those of the ill-fated Donner party, trapped in the Sierra Nevada mountains during the winter of 1846-1847, and the Uruguayan soccer team whose plane crashed in the Andes mountains in 1972. In each case, either some or all of the survivors were forced to cannibalize those who had died.  As shocking as such stories are, they demonstrate just how powerful our physiological needs can be.

The safety needs can easily be seen in young children.  They are easily startled or frightened by loud noises, flashing lights, and rough handling.  They can become quite upset when other family members are fighting, since it disrupts the feeling of safety usually associated with the home.  According to Maslow, many adult neurotics are like children who do not feel safe. From another perspective, that of Erik Erikson, children and adults raised in such an environment do not trust the environment to provide for their needs.  Although it can be argued that few people in America seriously suffer from a lack of satisfying physiological needs, there are many people who live unsafe lives. For example, inner city crime, abusive spouses and parents, incurable diseases like HIV/AIDS, all present life threatening dangers to many people on a daily basis.

One place where we expect our children to be safe is in school.  However, 160,000 children each day are too frightened to attend school (Nathan, 2005).  Juvonen et al. (2006) looked at the effects of ethnic diversity on children’s perception of safety in urban middle schools (Grade 6).  They surveyed approximately 2,000 students in 99 classrooms in the greater Los Angeles area. The ethnicity of the students in this study was 46 percent Latino (primarily of Mexican origin), 29 percent African American, 9 percent Asian (primarily East Asian), 9 percent Caucasian, and 7 percent multiracial.  When a given classroom, or a given school, is more ethnically diverse, both African American and Latino students felt safer, were harassed less by peers, felt less lonely, and they had higher levels of self-worth (even when the authors controlled for differences in academic engagement). Thus, it appears that ethnic diversity in schools leads toward satisfaction of the need for safety, at least in one important area of a child’s life.  Unfortunately, most minority students continue to be educated in schools that are largely ethnically segregated (Juvonen, et al., 2006).

Throughout the evolution of the human species, we have found safety primarily within our family, tribal group, or our community.  It was within those groups that we shared the hunting and gathering that provided food. Once the physiological and safety needs have been fairly well satisfied, according to Maslow, “the person will feel keenly, as never before, the absence of friends, or a sweetheart, or a wife, or children” (Maslow, 1970).  Although there is little scientific confirmation of the belongingness and love needs, many therapists attribute much of human suffering to society’s thwarting of the need for love and affection.  Most notable among personality theorists who addressed this issue was Wilhelm Reich. An important aspect of love and affection is sex.  Although sex is often considered a physiological need given its role in procreation, sex is what Maslow referred to as a multidetermined behavior.  In other words, it serves both a physiological role (procreation) and a belongingness/love role (the tenderness and/or passion of the physical side of love).  Maslow was also careful to point out that love needs involve both giving and receiving love in order for them to be fully satisfied (Maslow, 1943/1973; Maslow, 1970).

Maslow believed that all people desire a stable and firmly based high evaluation of themselves and others (at least the others who comprise their close relationships).  This need for self-esteem, or self-respect, involves two components.  First is the desire to feel competent, strong, and successful (similar to Bandura’s self-efficacy).  Second is the need for prestige or status, which can range from simple recognition to fame and glory.  Maslow credited Adler for addressing this human need, but felt that Freud had neglected it. Maslow also believed that the need for self-esteem was becoming a central issue in therapy for many psychotherapists.  However, as we previously, Albert Ellis considers self-esteem to be a sickness. Ellis’ concern is that self-esteem, including efforts to boost self-esteem in therapy, requires that people rate themselves, something that Ellis felt will eventually lead to a negative evaluation (no one is perfect!).  Maslow did acknowledge that the healthiest self-esteem is based on well-earned and deserved respect from others, rather than fleeting fame or celebrity status (Maslow, 1943/1973; Maslow, 1970).

When all of these lower needs (physiological, safety, belongingness and love, and esteem) have been largely satisfied, we may still feel restless and discontented unless we are doing what is right for ourselves.  “What a man can be, he must be” (pg. 46; Maslow, 1970).  Thus, the need for self-actualization, which Maslow described as the highest of the basic needs, can also be referred to as a Being-need, as opposed to the lower deficiency-needs (Maslow, 1968).  We will examine self-actualization in more detail in the following section.

Although Maslow recognized that humans no longer have instincts in the technical sense, we nonetheless share basic drives with other animals.  We get hungry, even though how and what we eat is determined culturally. We need to be safe, like any other animal, but again we seek and maintain our safety in different ways (such as having a police force to provide safety for us).  Given our fundamental similarity to other animals, therefore, Maslow referred to the basic needs as instinctoid.  The lower the need the more animal-like it is, the higher the need, the more human it is, and self-actualization was, in Maslow’s opinion, uniquely human (Maslow, 1970).

In addition to the basic needs, Maslow referred to cognitive needs and aesthetic needs.  Little is known about cognitive needs, since they are seldom an important focus in clinic settings.  However, he felt there were ample grounds for proposing that there are positive impulses to know, to satisfy curiosity, to understand, and to explain.  The eight-fold path described by the Buddha, some 2,600 years ago, begins with right knowledge. The importance of mental stimulation for some people is described quite vividly by Maslow:

I have seen a few cases in which it seemed clear to me that the pathology (boredom, loss of zest in life, self-dislike, general depression of the bodily functions, steady deterioration of the intellectual life, of tastes, etc.) were produced in intelligent people leading stupid lives in stupid jobs.  I have at least one case in which the appropriate cognitive therapy (resuming part-time studies, getting a position that was more intellectually demanding, insight) removed the symptoms.

I have seen many women, intelligent, prosperous, and unoccupied, slowly develop these same symptoms of intellectual inanition.  Those who followed my recommendation to immerse themselves in something worthy of them showed improvement or cure often enough to impress me with the reality of the cognitive needs. (pg. 49; Maslow, 1970)

There are also classic studies on the importance of environmental enrichment on the structural development of the brain itself (Diamond et al., 1975; Globus, et al., 1973; Greenough & Volkmar, 1973; Rosenzweig, 1984; Spinelli & Jensen, 1979; Spinelli, Jensen, & DiPrisco, 1980).  Even less is known about the aesthetic needs, but Maslow was convinced that some people need to experience, indeed they crave, beauty in their world. Ancient cave drawings have been found that seem to serve no other purpose than being art. The cognitive and aesthetic needs may very well have been fundamental to our evolution as modern humans.


Maslow began his studies on self-actualization in order to satisfy his own curiosity about people who seemed to be fulfilling their unique potential as individuals.  He did not intend to undertake a formal research project, but he was so impressed by his results that he felt compelled to report his findings. Amongst people he knew personally and public and historical figures, he looked for individuals who appeared to have made full use of their talents, capacities, and potentialities.  In other words, “people who have developed or are developing to the full stature of which they are capable” (Maslow, 1970). His list of those who clearly seemed self-actualized included Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jane Addams, William James, Albert Schweitzer, Aldous Huxley, and Baruch Spinoza.  His list of individuals who were most-likely self-actualized included Goethe (possibly the great-grandfather of Carl Jung), George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Harriet Tubman (born into slavery, she became a conductor on the Underground Railroad prior to the Civil War), and George Washington Carver (born into slavery at the end of the Civil War, he became an agricultural chemist and prolific inventor).  In addition to the positive attributes listed above,

This is a black and white photograph taken of Harriet Tubman. She is standing in the photo with her hands intertwined against her sternum.
Image Source: National Portrait Gallery. (1885). Harriet Tubman by Squyer, NPG, c1885. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons at,_NPG,_c1885.jpg. Licensed under CCO.

Maslow also considered it very important that there be no evidence of psychopathology in those he chose to study.  After comparing the seemingly self-actualized individuals to people who did not seem to have fulfilled their lives, Maslow identified fourteen characteristics of self-actualizing people (Maslow, 1950/1973, 1970), as follows:

More Efficient Perception of Reality and More Comfortable Relations with It:  Self-actualizing people have an ability to recognize fakers, or those who present a false persona.  More than that, however, Maslow believed they could recognize hidden or confused realities in all aspects of life: science, politics, values and ethics, etc.  They are not afraid of the unknown or people who are different; they find such differences to be a pleasant challenge. Although a high IQ may be associated with this characteristic, it is not uncommon to find those who are seemingly intelligent yet unable to be creative in their efforts to discover new phenomena.  Thus, the perception of reality is not simply the same as being smart.

Acceptance (Self, Others, Nature):  Similar to the approach Albert Ellis took with REBT (and his hypothesized dangers inherent in self-esteem), Maslow believed that self-actualizing people accept themselves as they are, including their faults and the differences between their personal reality and their ideal image of themselves.  This is not to say that they are without guilt. They are concerned about personal faults that can be improved, any remaining habits or psychological issues that are unhealthy (e.g., prejudice, jealousy, etc.), and the shortcomings of their community and/or culture.

Spontaneity:  The lives of self-actualizing people are marked by simplicity and a natural ease as they pursue their goals.  Their outward behavior is relatively spontaneous, and their inner life (thoughts, drives, etc.) is particularly so.  In spite of this spontaneity, they are not always unconventional because they can easily accept the constraints of society and find their own way to fit in without being untrue to their own sense of self.

Problem-Centering:  Self-actualizing individuals are highly problem-centered, not ego-centered.  The problems they focus on are typically not their own, however. They focus on problems outside themselves, on important causes they would describe as necessary.  Solving such problems is taken as their duty or responsibility, rather than as something they want to do for themselves.

The Quality of Detachment; the Need for Privacy:  Whereas social withdrawal is often seen as psychologically unhealthy, self-actualizing people enjoy their privacy.  They can remain calm as they separate themselves from problematic situations, remaining above the fray. In accordance with this healthy form of detachment, they are active, responsible, self-disciplined individuals in charge of their own lives.  Maslow believed that they have more free will than the average person.

Autonomy, Independence of Culture and Environment:  As an extension of the preceding characteristics, self-actualizing individuals are growth-motivated as opposed to being deficiency-motivated.  They do not need the presence, companionship, or approval of others. Indeed, they may be hampered by others. The love, honor, esteem, etc., that can be bestowed by others has become less important to someone who is self-actualizing than self-development and inner growth.

Continued Freshness of Appreciation:  Self-actualizing people are able to appreciate the wonders, as well as the common aspects, of life again and again.  Such feelings may not occur all the time, but they can occur in the most unexpected ways and at unexpected times. Maslow offered a surprising evaluation of the importance of this characteristic of self-actualization:

I have also become convinced that getting used to our blessings is one of the most important non-evil generators of human evil, tragedy, and suffering.  What we take for granted we undervalue, and we are therefore too apt to sell a valuable birthright for a mess of pottage, leaving behind regret, remorse, and a lowering of self-esteem.  Wives, husbands, children, friends are unfortunately more apt to be loved and appreciated after they have died than while they are still available. Something similar is true for physical health, for political freedoms, for economic well-being; we learn their true value after we have lost them. (pp. 163-164; Maslow, 1970)

The “Mystic Experience” or “Oceanic Feeling;” Peak Experiences:  The difference between a mystic experience (also known as an oceanic feeling) and a peak experience is a matter of definition.  Mystic experiences are viewed as gifts from God, something reserved for special or deserving (i.e., faithful) servants.  Maslow, however, believed that this was a natural occurrence that could happen for anyone, and to some extent, probably did.  He assigned the psychological term of peak experiences. Such experiences tend to be sudden feelings of limitless horizons opening up to one’s vision, simultaneous feelings of great power and great vulnerability, feelings of ecstasy, wonder and awe, a loss of the sense of time and place, and the feeling that something extraordinary and transformative has happened.  Self-actualizers who do not typically experience these peaks, the so-called “non-peakers,” are more likely to become direct agents of social change, the reformers, politicians, crusaders, and so on.  The more transcendent “peakers,” in contrast, become poets, musicians, philosophers, and theologians.

Maslow devoted a great deal of attention to peak experiences, including their relationship to religion.  At the core of religion, according to Maslow, is the private illumination or revelation of spiritual leaders.  Such experiences seem to be very similar to peak experiences, and Maslow suggests that throughout history these peak experiences may have been mistaken for revelations from God.  In his own studies, Maslow found that people who were spiritual but not religious (i.e., not hindered by the doctrine of a specific faith or church), actually had more peak experiences than other people.  Part of the explanation for this, according to Maslow, is that such people need to be more serious about their ethics, values, and philosophy of life, since their guidance and motivation must come from within.  Individuals who seek such an appreciation of life may help themselves to experience an extended form of peak experience that Maslow called the plateau experience.  Plateau experiences always have both noetic and cognitive elements, whereas peak experiences can be entirely emotional (Maslow, 1964).  Put another way, plateau experiences involve serene and contemplative Being-cognition, as opposed to the more climactic peak experiences (Maslow, 1971).

Gemeinschaftsgefühl:  A word invented by Alfred Adler, gemeinschatfsgefühl refers to the profound feelings of identification, sympathy, and affection for other people that are common in self-actualization individuals.  Although self-actualizers may often feel apart from others, like a stranger in a strange land, becoming upset by the shortcomings of the average person, they nonetheless feel a sense of kinship with others.  These feelings lead to a sincere desire to help the human race.

Interpersonal Relations:  Maslow believed that self-actualizers have deeper and more profound personal relationships than other people.  They tend to be kind to everyone, and they are especially fond of children. Maslow described this characteristic as “compassion for all mankind,” a perspective that would fit well with Buddhist and Christian philosophies.

The Democratic Character Structure:  Self-actualizing people are typically friendly with anyone, regardless of class, race, political beliefs, or education.  They can learn from anyone who has something to teach them. They respect all people, simply because they are people. They are not, however, undiscriminating:

The careful distinction must be made between this democratic feeling and a lack of discrimination in taste, of an undiscriminating equalizing of any one human being with any other.  These individuals, themselves elite, select for their friends elite, but this is an elite of character, capacity, and talent, rather than of birth, race, blood, name, family, age, youth, fame, or power. (pg. 168; Maslow, 1970)

Discrimination Between Means and Ends, Between Good and Evil:  Self-actualizers know the difference between right and wrong.  They are ethical, have high moral standards, and they do good things while avoiding doing bad things.  They do not experience the average person’s confusion or inconsistency in making ethical choices. They tend to focus on ends, rather than means, although they sometimes become absorbed in the means themselves, viewing the process itself as a series of ends.

Philosophical, Unhostile Sense of Humor:  The sense of humor shared by self-actualizers is not typical.  They do not laugh at hostile, superior, or rebellious humor. They do not tell jokes that make fun of other people.  Instead, they poke fun at people in general for being foolish, or trying to claim a place in the universe that is beyond us.  Such humor often takes the form of poking fun at oneself, but not in a clown-like way. Although such humor can be found in nearly every aspect of life, to non-self-actualizing people, the self-actualizers seem to be somewhat sober and serious.

Creativeness:  According to Maslow, self-actualizing people are universally creative.  This is not the creativity associated with genius, such as that of Mozart or Thomas Edison, but rather the fresh and naive creativity of an unspoiled child.  Maslow believed that this creativity was a natural potential given to all humans at their birth, but that the constraints on behavior inherent in most cultures lead to its suppression.

As desirable as self-actualization may seem, self-actualizing individuals still face problems in their lives.  According to Maslow, they are typically not well adjusted. This is because they resist being enculturated. They do not stand out in grossly abnormal ways, but there is a certain inner detachment from the culture in which they live.  They are not viewed as rebels in the adolescent sense, though they may be rebels while growing up, but rather they work steadily toward social change and/or the accomplishment of their goals. As a result of their immersion in some personal goal, they may lose interest in or patience with common people and common social practices.  Thus, they may seem detached, insulting, absent-minded, or humorless. They can seem boring, stubborn, or irritating, particularly because they are often superficially vain and proud only of their own accomplishments and their own family, friends, and work. According to Maslow, outbursts of temper are not rare. Maslow argued that there are, in fact, people who become saints, movers and shakers, creators, and sages.  However, these same people can be irritating, selfish, angry, or depressed. No one is perfect, not even those who are self-actualizing (Maslow, 1950/1973, 1970).

Consider Maslow’s characteristics of self-actualizing people.  Which of these characteristics do you think are part of your personality?  Are there any characteristics that you think may be particularly difficult for you to achieve?

Obstacles to Self-Actualization

In The Farther Reaches of Human Nature (Maslow, 1971), which was completed by Maslow’s wife and one of his colleagues shortly after Maslow’s death, Maslow described self-actualization as something that one does not obtain or fulfill at a specific point in time.  Rather, it is an ongoing process of self-actualizing, characterized for some by brief periods of self-actualization (the peak experiences, for example). Maslow also described two major obstacles to achieving self-actualization: desacralizing and the Jonah complex.  The Jonah complex, a name suggested by Maslow’s friend, Professor Frank Manuel, refers to being afraid of one’s own greatness or evading one’s destiny or calling in life.  Maslow specifically described this as a non-Freudian defense mechanism in which a person is as afraid of the best aspects of their psyche as they are afraid of the worst aspects of their psyche (i.e., the socially unacceptable id impulses).  He described the process of this fear as a recognition, despite how much we enjoy the godlike possibilities revealed by our finest accomplishments, of the weakness, awe, and fear we experience when we achieve those accomplishments. According to Maslow, “great emotions after all can in fact overwhelm us” (Maslow, 1971).  Nonetheless, he encouraged people to strive for greatness within a reasonable sense of their own limitations.

A very important defense mechanism, which affects young people in particular, is what Maslow called desacralizing.  The source of this problem is usually found within the family:

These youngsters mistrust the possibility of values and virtues.  They feel themselves swindled or thwarted in their lives. Most of them have, in fact, dopey parents whom they don’t respect very much, parents who are quite confused themselves about values and who, frequently, are simply terrified of their children and never punish them or stop them from doing things that are wrong.  So you have a situation where the youngsters simply despise their elders – often for good and sufficient reason. (pg. 49; Maslow, 1971)

As a result, children grow up without respect for their elders, or for anything their elders consider important.  The values of the culture itself can be called into question. While such a situation may sometimes be important for changing social conventions that unfairly discriminate against some people, can we really afford to live in a society in which nothing is sacred?  Indeed, can such a society or culture continue to exist?  Thus, Maslow emphasized a need for resacralizing.  Maslow noted that he had to make up the words desacralizing and resacralizing “because the English language is rotten for good people.  It has no decent vocabulary for the virtues” (Maslow, 1971). Resacralizing means being willing to see the sacred, the eternal, the symbolic.  As an example, Maslow suggested considering a medical student dissecting a human brain. Would such a student see the brain simply as a biological organ, or would they be awed by it, also seeing the brain as a sacred object, including even its poetic aspects?  This concept is particularly important for counselors working with the aged, people approaching the end of their lives, and may be critical for helping them move toward self-actualization. According to Maslow, when someone asks a counselor for help with the self-actualizing process, the counselor had better have an answer for them, “or we’re not doing what it is our job to do” (Maslow, 1971).

Maslow believed that desacralizing was particularly challenging for young people.  Do you think our society has lost its way, have we lost sight of meaningful values?  Is nothing sacred anymore? Is there anything that you do in your life to recognize something as sacred in a way that has real meaning for your community?

Maslow had something else interesting to say about self-actualization in The Farther Reaches of Human Nature:  “What does self-actualization mean in moment-to-moment terms?  What does it mean on Tuesday at four o’clock?” (pg. 41). Consequently, he offered a preliminary suggestion for an operational definition of the process by which self-actualization occurs.  In other words, what are the behaviors exhibited by people on the path toward fulfilling or achieving the fourteen characteristics of self-actualized people described above? Sadly, this could only remain a preliminary description, i.e., they are “ideas that are in midstream rather than ready for formulation into a final version,” because this book was published after Maslow’s death (having been put together before his sudden and unexpected heart attack).

What does one do when he self-actualizes? Does he grit his teeth and squeeze?  What does self-actualization mean in terms of actual behavior, actual procedure?  I shall describe eight ways in which one self-actualizes. (pg. 45; Maslow, 1971)

  • They experience full, vivid, and selfless concentration and total absorption.
  • Within the ongoing process of self-actualization, they make growth choices (rather than fear choices; progressive choices rather than regressive choices).
  • They are aware that there is a self to be actualized.
  • When in doubt, they choose to be honest rather than dishonest.
  • They trust their own judgment, even if it means being different or unpopular (being courageous is another version of this behavior).
  • They put in the effort necessary to improve themselves, working regularly toward self-development no matter how arduous or demanding .
  • They embrace the occurrence of peak experiences, doing what they can to facilitate and enjoy more of them (as opposed to denying these experiences as many people do).
  • They identify and set aside their ego defenses (they have “the courage to give them up”).  Although this requires that they face up to painful experiences, it is more beneficial than the consequences of defenses such as repression.

Being and Transcendence

Maslow had great hope and optimism for the human race.  Although self-actualization might seem to be the pinnacle of personal achievement, he viewed Humanistic Psychology, or Third Force Psychology, as just another step in our progression.  Although Maslow wrote about this need for a Fourth Force Psychology in 1968, it was not until the year 1998 that APA President Martin Seligman issued his call for the pursuit of positive psychology as an active force in the field of psychology.  Maslow believed that all self-actualizing people were involved in some calling or vocation, a cause outside of themselves, something that fate has called them to and that they love doing.  In so doing, they devote themselves to the search for Being-values (or B-values; Maslow, 1964, 1967/2008, 1968).  The desire to attain self-actualization results in the B-values acting like needs.  Since they are higher than the basic needs, Maslow called them meta-needs.  When individuals are unable to attain these goals, the result can be meta-pathology, or a sickness of the soul.  Whereas counselors may be able to help the average person with their average problems, metapathologies may require the help of a meta-counselor, or a counselor trained in philosophical and spiritual matters that go far beyond the more instinctoid training of the traditional psychoanalyst (Maslow, 1967/2008).  The B-values identified by Maslow (1964) are an interesting blend of the characteristics of self-actualizing individuals and the human needs described by Henry Murray: truth, goodness, beauty, wholeness, dichotomu-transcendence, aliveness, uniqueness, perfection, necessity, completion, justice, order, simplicity, richness, effortlessness, playfulness, self-sufficiency.

Transcendence is typically associated with people who are religious, spiritual, or artistic, but Maslow said that he found transcendent individuals amongst creative people in a wide variety of vocations (including business, managers, educators, and politicians), though there are not many of them in any field.  Transcendence, according to Maslow, is the very highest and most holistic level of human consciousness, which involves relating to oneself, to all others, to all species, to nature, and to the cosmos as an end rather than as a means (Maslow, 1971). It is essential that individuals not be reduced to the role they play in relation to others, as transcendence can only be found within oneself (Maslow, 1964, 1968).  Maslow’s idea is certainly not new. Ancient teachings in Yoga tell us that there is a single universal spirit that connects us all, and Buddhists describe this connection as interbeing.  The Abrahamic religions teach us that the entire universe was created by, and therefore is connected through, one god.  It was Maslow’s hope that a transcendent Fourth Force in psychology would help all people to become self-actualizing. In Buddhist terms, Maslow was advocating the intentional creation of psychological Bodhisattvas.  Perhaps this is what Maslow meant by the term meta-counselor.

Supplemental Materials

What is Self-Actualization?

This video [6:55] describes self-actualization and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.



Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

This video [2:47] describes each level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.



Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs-Khan Academy

This video [3:16] describes each level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.



Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Self-Actualization, and Self-Transcendence

This video [19:43] provides a complete guide to Abraham Maslow’s famous theory of human motivation, commonly known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The video examines each stage of the model and focuses particularly on the peak of the pyramid: Self-Actualization. Many characteristics of self-actualized individuals are identified and some prominent examples from history are provided.  Also discussed is the process in which people can become self-actualized. The video concludes by looking at the lesser known peak of the pyramid known as Self-Transcendence and how humans can go on to achieve this pinnacle of human development.



Maslow’s Hierarchy #6 Self-Transcendence

This video [1:50] provides a brief description and explanation of Maslow’s self-transcendence.



Text:  Kelland, M. (2017). Personality Theory. OER Commons. Retrieved October 28, 2019, from  Licensed under CC-BY-4.0.

Practical Psychology.  (2019, April 21). What is “self-actualization?”-Humanistic psychology.  [Video File]. Retrieved from Standard YouTube License.

Sprouts.  (2017, January 5).  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  [Video File]. Retrieved from Standard YouTube License.

Shreena Desai.  (2013, September 17).  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs | Behavior | MCAT | Khan Academy.  [Video File]. Khan Academy. Retrieved from Standard YouTube License.

Feeling Philosophical.  (2019, February 23). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, self-actualization, and self-transcendence.  [Video File]. Retrieved from Standard YouTube License.

Tasmin Astor PhD Coach.  (2018, October 31). Maslow’s hierarchy #6 self-transcendence.  [Video File]. Retrieved from Standard YouTube License.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

PSY321 Course Text: Theories of Personality Copyright © by The American Women's College Psychology Department and Michelle McGrath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.