Major Movements in Psychology

Humanistic Theories

What did Maslow mean by self-actualization?

Although Maslow was not the first to use the term self-actualization, his name is most frequently associated with it. Self-actualization refers to a state of full self-expression, where one’s creative, emotional, and intellectual potential is fully realized. We recognize what we need to feel fully alive and we commit ourselves to its pursuit. Although Maslow was criticized for promoting what was seen as a selfish pursuit of pleasure, he stressed that it is only through development of our truest selves that we attain full compassion for others. In his view, self actualized people make the strongest leaders and the greatest contributions to society. This concept illustrates humanistic psychology’s concern with personal growth and psychological health in contrast to psychoanalysis’ emphasis on psychopathology and mental illness.


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