By Bonnie McCurtain, M. Ed
There has been so much written about self esteem but according to Abraham Maslow there is something that we can attain past self esteem, self actualization. Maslow created a theory of the hierarchy of human needs. You may have seen this in your basic psychology class. He used a diagram shaped like a pyramid and ordered the basic needs on the bottom of the pyramid and those that we call higher order needs near the top of the pyramid. There are five levels of needs on Maslow's pyramid, including: at the bottom physiological (food, water, sleep, sex), followed by safety (personal and financial security), love and belonging (friendships, family, intimacy), esteem (confidence, respect of others, achievement), and finally self actualization. Maslow says that the first four steps in the pyramid are needs that must be met before the last step, which is a growth need, can be attained by an individual If you think concretely about this, it makes sense because who cares about any of these other things when you are hungry or thirsty? A person's focus will be on the unmet lowest order need. All four of the first steps in the hierarchy must be met before moving toward growth or self actualization.
What is a self actualized person? Maslow defined this need as the instinctual need of humans to make the most of their abilities and to strive to be the best they can be, continually working to fulfill their potentials and becoming all they are capable of being. This step in the pyramid includes morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, and acceptance of facts. Self actualized persons can embrace the facts and realities of the world rather than denying or avoiding them. They can be spontaneous and creative in their ideas and actions. They are interested in solving problems, including the problems of others, and this is often a focus in the way they live life. They feel close to others and appreciate life. They possess a fully internalized system of morality that is independent of external authority. They have discernment and are able to view things in an objective manner. Self actualization is reaching your fullest potential once the lower order needs are met.
Maslow also had suggestions in teaching our children to become self actualized. His suggestions included first seeing that their basic needs are satisfied so that they can become all that they can be. Also, teaching children to know that life is precious and to appreciate beauty and other good things in life is a part of his suggestions. Learning from their inner nature because all of us are different and everyone's potential is not the same as well as allowing them to becoming a good chooser by giving them practice in making choices and later allowing them choices in values and religious beliefs is a belief held by Maslow for children. Helping children to understand that self control is good and complete abandon is bad comes from Maslow's hierarchy suggestions. Teaching children to transcend trifling problems and to contemplate serious problems such as injustice, pain, suffering, and death and showing them how to be good and joyous in all kinds of situations is also a tenet of Maslow's theory. Guiding children in finding their appropriate vocations and the right mates for them and, finally, being a good example to our children is advocated because none of us can teach what we do not know how to do ourselves. Maslow believed that we each will continue to strive toward the unmet needs of our lives. As parents, we are charged by Abraham Maslow to help our children meet needs and move up the hierarchy toward self actualization.
Bonnie McCurtain is a counselor at Edmond Family Counseling and can be reached at 341-3554.