TRAITS OF A MATURE, SELF-ACTUALIZING PERSON

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Specific traits of a mature, self-actualizing person

 If you don't know what healthy adjustment is, how can you ever get there? Self-actualization generally includes being knowledgeable, emotionally aware, self-directed, and at peace with the world (O'Connell & O'Connell, 1974). Several specific traits were consistently found in Maslow's self-actualizing subjects (Jourard, 1974):

  1. They see reality, and knowing "the facts are friendly," they accept reality more than most people. They see through phoniness, deception, and "games"--and avoid them. They cope with problems, rather than avoid them.

  2. They accept themselves and others; thus, they can honestly self-disclose and forgive others' shortcomings.

  3. They are spontaneous with their ideas, feelings, and actions, being genuine and confident.

  4. They focus on solving problems but their "problems" tend to be outside themselves. For instance, they often have a "mission" that may be difficult to accomplish but gives excitement, challenge, and purpose to their lives.

  5. They enjoy privacy, withdrawing sometimes to be free to have their own thoughts. Occasionally, they may have mystical experiences in which they become part of all mankind or of nature.
  6. They resist culturally prescribed roles, e.g. masculine or feminine. They resent unfairness caused by social roles and prejudice. They insist on thinking for themselves and completing their mission, even in the face of social criticism.

  7. They enjoy and appreciate the commonplace, the little things in life--a rose, a baby, an idea, a considerate comment, a meal, a loving touch, etc.

  8. They feel a kinship, a closeness, a warmth, a concern for every human being.

  9. They are close to a few people, although not always popular. They can live intimately and love.

  10. They do not judge others on the basis of stereotypes, like sex, age, race, or religion, but rather as individuals.

  11. They have a strong self-generated code of ethics--a sense of right and wrong. Their values may not be conventional but they do guide their lives.

  12. They are creative and do things differently, not in rebellion but for the joy of being original and talented. They are clever, even in their ability to be amused instead of angered by human foibles.

 Unfortunately, Maslow assumed, without evidence, that these self-actualizing traits can not be pursued directly via self-help. He thought self-actualization automatically resulted when you met your basic needs and committed yourself to a worthy cause, such as beauty, truth, justice, love, etc. He believed that without a cause--a mission--we stagnate. I think it may be possible to accelerate our self-actualization via self-improvement. We can select our own mature values and goals (see chapter 3). We can gain self-control. We can avoid slavishly conforming to social roles and stereotypes (chapter 8). We can develop tolerant attitudes (chapter 7). We can gain self-understanding. We can do these things early in life.

 Shostrom (1983), based on humanistic theories, suggests it would be healthy to learn to express all of our genuine feelings (the full range), not just selected emotions and roles in which we get stuck.

 If a response in column A is habitual for you, then strengthen the response in B. If the B response is stronger and A is suppressed, strengthen A. To be fully alive, we must experience all our emotions. When the feelings in A are integrated in a wholesome way with B, we experience C. All of us have the potential to experience all kinds of feelings, the self-actualized person is free to express them without denial, faking, or manipulation. This is, I assume, a learnable skill. We don't scientifically know the limits of self-help yet.

 Please note: No one knows for certain what a mature, healthy personality is. Maslow, as a humanist, had his opinion, but what you consider to be an insightful (self-knowing), optimal personality depends on your values and ideals. An authoritarian or a technocrat would pronounce a different kind of person to be "healthy," "mature," or "self-knowing" (Wicklund & Eckert, 1992).

Sow an act and you reap a habit.
Sow a habit and you reap a character.
Sow a character and you reap a destiny.

Self-Insight Can Come In Many Ways

Get in touch with the inner child

 Within the last 10 years, the phrase "your inner child" has become popular, especially within treatment programs for shame-based compulsives, addicts, and depressives (see discussion in chapter 6). (It is similar but not the same as TA's child ego state.) In a dysfunctional family, the inner child is likely to believe the troubled parents are OK and "normal." Moreover, children often feel "to blame" for Dad getting mad, Mom being drunk, Mom and Dad getting divorced, etc. The child feels shame and thinks, "I must have done something bad" or "I'm a terrible person." Years later when the child becomes an adult, he/she may be unhappy and have problems similar to his/her biological parents--or different problems, e.g. he/she may find it impossible to trust and express emotions, he/she may feel like he/she doesn't fit in, or he/she may constantly take care of others. The shame-based, insatiable child often seeks another addiction rather than the one that ruined his/her parent's life, e.g. eating rather than alcohol. This troubled, needy, inner child can seriously mess up our lives.

 Many therapists and treatment groups attempt to reach this wounded inner child. This isn't easy because re-living the childhood experiences and seeing clearly what really happened to us as a child can be very painful. Also, returning to childhood may make us very mad or scare us because we doubt that the childhood distortions and pain can ever be eliminated. It is a hard choice: continue a miserable adult life or re-live a hurtful childhood. Therapy (and self-awareness as discussed in chapters 6 and 8) offer hope if we can accept our inner child and take care of some of its needs (Hancock, 1989; Bradshaw, 1989).

The doorstep to the temple of wisdom is a knowledge of our own ignorance.

Let the parts of your personality speak for themselves

 Another insight approach is interesting. By knowing what parts to look for inside, we can discover more about ourselves. Example: Give several of your parts a name, such as "Baby" for your dependent child, "Toughie" for your aggressive bully, "Spock" for your reasonable adult, "Hunk"/"Beautiful" for your flirty part, etc. Talk to them. Let them talk to each other. Realize that you can control your life by controlling which part is in charge. By reading psychological cases and explanations of dynamics, we can learn about ourselves. By knowing the stages of development that others go through, we understand our growth better. By realizing how certain personality traits and characters develop, we have greater insight into our personality. By recognizing the drives, needs, and scripts that push us in different directions, we may gain better control over where we are going. Recommendations: read a lot of psychology, especially explanations of actual cases. Use several methods in chapter 14 for changing attitudes and in chapter 15 for gaining insight. Don't be afraid of your unconscious. These forces can do less harm if we realize unconscious factors may be at work. Indeed, exploring our unconscious can be fascinating and enlightening but seldom easy.

Self-understanding is a life-long project

 It concerns me that a few people might believe that a few pages about personality types or parts and about basic human motives or needs contain all they need to know. No! No! There is so much inside each of us to try to understand--our growth, our thoughts and feelings, our dreams (last night and in the future), our values and motives, etc. Understanding ourselves and others are endless tasks. All the chapters from 3 to 10 offer insight into what makes us tick in specific areas. Also, chapter 14 deals with building self-esteem, correcting our thinking, and altering our motives. Chapter 15 is filled with methods for finding out things about yourself you don't know yet--fascinating! Don't fail to get to know yourself. You are fascinating. If you find problems, there are many sources of help.

A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face... It is one of the few havens remaining where a person's mind can get both provocation and privacy.
-Edward P. Morgan

Suggested additional readings for self-understanding (or just browse in a library)

References for Understanding Development and Aging


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