What is Self Actualization?

Definition: Self actualization is an individual need to achieve self-conceived goals and desires. It is a continuous aspiration to reach new objectives through self-improvement.

What Does Self Actualization Mean?

Self actualization is a concept that has been addressed recently by psychologists like Kurt Goldstein and Carl Rogers in the 20th century. Nevertheless, the concept was popularized by a psychologist called Abraham Maslow in his book “Motivation and Personality” written in 1954, where he unfolded a theory called the hierarchy of needs. He explained that there are five essential needs that every human being has, starting with physiological needs (like eating or sleeping) all the way through self actualization, which is the pyramid’s top level.

Self actualization, Maslow explains, is the need each individual has to achieve all his potential. In order to reach that goal, all previous four needs must be fulfilled. As human beings, we tend to live below the self actualization stage of the pyramid and Maslow’s calls that a psychopathology of normality. Self actualization in that case is described as an inner desire to live beyond the essential human needs in order to experience self realization.


Martha is a 32 year old mathematician that currently heads the Science Department of a big high school. She graduated 5 years ago from her PhD in math and has been working for the school for 3 years. She dreams to teach about theoretical math in a renowned university but she feels it will be too difficult to achieve a position.

Some of her colleagues have said she should pursue that dream and they encouraged her to apply to many different universities for a temporary position. Martha’s dream is the root of her self-actualization need. That desire encourages her to pursue a higher stage in her life. According to Maslow’s theories she must chase that aspiration in order to experience satisfaction as a human being.