Abraham Maslow's Self-Actualization Theory

Updated on March 8, 2017
Chris Achilleos profile image

Chris has a degree in psychology as well as an advanced diploma in counselling studies and skills.

Self-actualization theory

Abraham Maslow developed a theory that has influenced numerous fields such as psychology, business, education and so on. His self-actualization theory is based on the study of healthy and mature people. It emphasizes the uniqueness of the person and the potential for self-direction and enhanced functioning. Maslow (1968, 1987) believed that people are motivated to search for personal goals which make their lives meaningful and rewarding. He had judged psychoanalysis and behaviorism for having a pessimistic, negative, and limited conception of individuals. In Maslow's belief, things could be better if people were free to express and be themselves.


Maslow's beliefs have been important in two ways

1. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow firstly suggested a view of human motivation that distinguishes between biological and psychological needs. These needs were arranged in a hierarchy from basic physiological needs to important psychological needs.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs consisted of 5 levels of basic human needs further supporting that all human needs are innate, or instinctive. Additionally, in this hierarchy, people must satisfy lower-level needs before they can satisfy higher-level needs.

The first level of needs which must be satisfied are the physiological needs which include hunger, sleep, oxygen, thirst, the elimination of bodily waste and sex. Once these are met we turn to the next level of needs as a source of motivation. These are the safety needs, and include security, safe circumstances to live in, self-protection and so on.

The third level of needs consists of the belongingness and love needs which include needs of affiliation and acceptance. Therefore, the forth level of needs are the Self-Esteem needs which include achievement and recognition, such as the need to see ourselves as competent achieving individuals and taking into consideration the evaluation of others.

Finally, the last and highest level of human needs is called self-actualization needs. Here Maslow (1968,1970) argues that once our basic needs are met we start to focus on our potentials, what we want from life.

2. Maslow's self-actualization studies

Maslow’s second major contribution was in 1954 with his study on healthy, self-fulfilling, self-actualizing individuals. From the research conducted he came to the conclusion that self- actualizing people have the following characteristics:

  • They accept themselves and others for who they are
  • They can be concerned with themselves but also are free to recognize the needs and desires of others.
  • They are capable of responding to the uniqueness of people and situations rather than responding to the demands of reality.

What Maslow supports is that all people have the potential to move increasingly in the direction of these qualities.

Evaluation of Maslow’s theory

Although Maslow’s theory is high on self validity he does not seem to acknowledge Freud’s defense mechanisms which refer to the complexity of human motivation and the difficulties in explaining behavior. Therefore Maslow seems to explain human motivation to be clear-cut and also argues that the link between our needs and behavior is apparent. Although he provided useful insights into human motivation he did not give the whole picture.

Another problem lays in self-actualization, which is Maslow’s theory’s most important aspect. The problem is that the participants chosen consisted of a very small sample and they weren’t randomly selected but rather those who Maslow considered to be self actualized. Thus, there were no objective measures made and there was lack of consistency therefore, his theory appeared to be more descriptive than evaluative.

Nevertheless, why Maslow chose the particular five basic needs is unclear. Moreover the theory can’t be comprehensive because it focuses on positive growth rather than negative, like Freud’s theory does. Human motivation is explained in limited terms. Maslow gives emphasis on self-actualization but he doesn’t state how exactly this may be achieved. It is argued that he talks in very general terms. Consequently as a general theory it has been seen to be too parsimonious.

Despite any critiques or issues, Maslow’s theory appears to have had a very big impact in the area of business, education, psychology, and counseling and is still influencing people until today


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    • profile image

      Danish bhat 

      16 months ago

      Maslow also belived that the achievement of self actualization is often marked by peak experience, feelings of incredible peace and happiness in the course of life activities

    • Chris Achilleos profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Achilleos 

      7 years ago

      Hi Mark, thank you very much for reading and commenting. I am more than happy to give you my opinion. I personally believe that in order to reach self-actualization you need to meet all the levels of the pyramid. Belongingness and love needs are very important because every individual has the need of belonging somewhere as well as the need for love, such as to be loved and to love. I don't think it is possible for people to reach self actualization if, for instance, they do not know where they belong. What do you think?

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 

      7 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Hi Chris, this is interesting and I would like to hear your opinion. Do you think it is possible to reach the top of the pyramid without having all of the layers Maslow assigned to the bottom? (Are belongingness and love needs, for example, really necessary for self-actualization?)

    • Chris Achilleos profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Achilleos 

      7 years ago

      Thank you for stopping by and reading smsaragusa123, I am very glad that you found my hub easy to understand.

    • smsaragusa123 profile image


      7 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thank you. I understand your expanation of Maslow better than I have understood my own professor! His (Maslow) work is fairly interesting about the needs of people and how they accommodate a person. It is intriguing!

    • Chris Achilleos profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Achilleos 

      8 years ago

      Thank you tsmog, I'm glad you have enjoyed this hub :) I like how Maslow gave emphasis to the uniqueness of each individual. Although there may be similarities between people, I truly believe that each and every person is unique :)

    • tsmog profile image

      Tim Mitchell 

      8 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Maslow is a favorite of mine as well, yet is only one component in a synthesis of several view(s) or the ecclectic viewpoint popular today. The bipolar treatment program is based on cognitive behaviorism, Behavioral neuroscience or biopsychology, and the debated social psychology(s)of cognitive social psychology and symbolic interactionsim.

      The order of importance is actually bio - cogniive/behavioral - social with the treatment or assessment process.

      When things start to get out of whack so to speak Maslow's needs is one of the first things I examine to discover just where the hell I am at :)

      great article and continue sharing and having fun.

    • Chris Achilleos profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Achilleos 

      8 years ago

      Maslow was one of my favorite when I was studying psychology and counselling :). I hope you enjoyed reading my hub LuxmiH.

    • LuxmiH profile image

      Luxmih Eve-Lyn Forbes 

      8 years ago from Fort Pierce, Florida

      Ah yes, this Hub takes me back to my college days when I was studying to become a counselor. It was a good review for me. A nice blend of videos and diagrams. Extremely professional.


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