9 Characteristics of Self-Actualized People

In psychology, self-actualization is when you're able to reach your full potential. Being truly self-actualized is considered the exception rather than the rule since most people are working to meet more pressing needs.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Psychologist Abraham Maslow outlines what is known as a hierarchy of needs representing all the various needs that motivate human behavior. The hierarchy is often displayed as a pyramid, with the lowest levels representing basic needs and more complex needs located at the top of the pyramid.

At the peak of this hierarchy is self-actualization. The hierarchy suggests that when the other needs at the base of the pyramid have been met, you can then focus your attention on this pinnacle need of self-actualization.

9 Characteristics of Self-Actualized People

What qualities distinguish those who are self-actualized? Here are some of the key characteristics of self-actualized people as described by Maslow:

Self-Actualized People Have Peak Experiences

Self-actualized person
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One characterization of self-actualization is having frequent peak experiences.

What exactly is a peak experience? According to Maslow, a peak experience involves

"Feelings of limitless horizons opening up to the vision, the feeling of being simultaneously more powerful and also more helpless than one ever was before, the feeling of ecstasy and wonder and awe, the loss of placement in time and space with, finally, the conviction that something extremely important and valuable had happened, so that the subject was to some extent transformed and strengthened even in his daily life by such experiences."

In other words, these are moments of transcendence in which a person emerges feeling changed and transformed.

They Possess Self-Acceptance and a Democratic World View

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Self-actualized people accept themselves and others as they are. They tend to lack inhibition and are able to enjoy themselves and their lives free of guilt.

Not only do self-actualized people fully accept themselves, they also embrace other people for who they are. Other individuals are treated the same regardless of background, current status, or other socio-economic and cultural factors.

They Are Realistic

Self-actualized man
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Another major characteristic of self-actualized people is a sense of realism. Rather than being fearful of things that are different or unknown, the self-actualized individual is able to view life as it unfolds both logically and rationally.

They Tend to Be Problem-Centered

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Self-actualized individuals are often motivated by a strong sense of personal ethics and responsibility. They enjoy applying their problem-solving skills to real-world situations and they like helping other people improve their own lives.

The Self-Actualized Person Is Autonomous

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Self-actualized people also tend to be very ​independent. They don't conform to other people's ideas of happiness or contentment. This original perspective allows the individual to live in the moment and appreciate the beauty of each experience.

They Enjoy Solitude and Privacy

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Self-actualized individuals value their privacy and enjoy solitude. While they also love the company of others, taking time to themselves is essential for their personal discovery and cultivating their individual potential.

They Have a Philosophical Sense of Humor

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Self-actualized individuals generally have a thoughtful sense of humor. They're able to enjoy the humor in situations and laugh at themselves, but they don't ridicule or joke at the expense of another person's feelings.

Self-Actualized People Are Spontaneous

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Another characteristic of self-actualized people is a tendency to be open, unconventional, and spontaneous. While these people are able to follow generally accepted social expectations, they don't feel confined by these norms in their thoughts or behaviors.

They Fully Enjoy the Journey, Not Just the Destination

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While self-actualized people have concrete goals, they don't see things as simply a means to an end. The journey toward achieving a goal is just as important and enjoyable as actually accomplishing the goal.

Sources:

Carrano MA. Asleep in the Helix: Survival and the Science of Self-Realization. North Haven, CT: Avatar Paradigms; 2009:270.

Sullivan E. Self-Actualization. Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Published July 13, 2016.

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