Characteristics of Self-Actualized People

Just what is it that motivates behaviors? That pushes us to strive to be all we can be? A psychologist named 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 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, the individual can then focus their attention on this pinnacle need.

Self-actualization is described as "…the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially."

So just what qualities distinguish those who are self-actualized? The following are some of the key characteristics described by Maslow.

Peak Experiences

Tim Robberts / Getty Images

Self-actualization is also characterized by having frequent peak experiences.

What exactly is a peak experience?

According to Maslow, these "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."

Self-Acceptance and Democratic World View

Samantha Chesler Leiman / Getty Images

Self-actualized people tend to 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.


Image by Gabriella Fabbri

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 things logically and rationally.


Hitomi Soeda / Getty Images

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 like helping other people improve their own lives.


Image by Jos van Galen

Self-actualized people also tend to be very autonomous and independent. They do not 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.

Solitude and Privacy

Image by Ben Johnson

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

Philosophical Sense of Humor

Image by Jos van Galen

Self-actualized individuals generally have a thoughtful sense of humor. They are able to enjoy the humor in situations and laugh at themselves, but they do not ridicule or make fun at the expense of another person's feelings.


Image: photostock /

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 do not feel confined by these norms in their thoughts or behaviors.

Enjoyment of the Journey

Image by gardnose

While self-actualized people have concrete goals, they do not 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.

Continue Reading