Today I wish to speak my mind on two theories on self-actualization that I`ve come across; what I believe they mean, where the notion comes from, and the theories in psychology that speak to them.
The first that comes to mind of course is Abraham Maslow`s Theory on Self-Actualization and his Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow believed that in order to have what it takes to begin the difficult journey towards self-actualization you first had to ensure that all of your basic human needs were met. He believed that one could not expend the energy required to move forward towards self-actualization until one was essentially comfortable and satiated enough to find the will to do so.
He developed a pyramid scheme showing all of these needs, from the most primal, (essential needs such as food and safety), to the more sophisticated (such as belonging and self-esteem). His theory is not without controversy. Many question his hierarchy of needs, believing that Maslow’s needs are not necessarily in the right order for everyone. As an example, some artists might tell you that they value self-expression, or esteem above food and safety. Further, some might argue that you can successfully embark on the journey towards self-actualization without necessarily having met all of Maslow`s hierarchy of needs. Maslow believed that self-actualization meant that you should strive to fully embrace who and what you are and make the most of it.
I have tried to contemplate what this means, and I can`t help but picture the person who has everything he could possibly desire, and who now, almost out of boredom, seeks to satisfy a lofty idea of true happiness. It feels somewhat self-indulgent to me. I can`t help but feel some resentment that self-actualization is only meant for a select few, according to Maslow`s theory. Therefore, I have decided that I prefer another theory. That of a much lesser known Polish psychiatrist/psychologist by the name of Kazimierz Dabrowski.
Dabrowski`s Theory of Positive Disintegration focusses on inner conflict, and how it is, or can be, a forceful catalyst for personal growth. His theory posits that there can be no desire to move forward towards personal growth without inner turmoil, crises, pain, and conflict. Contrary to Maslow, Dabrowski believes that personal growth is about becoming something better or more than you are, as opposed to improving on what you already are. It`s difficult to pick a side. But in my own personal experience, the desire to seek a higher plain, and become the person I was meant to be, originates from pain, crises, and inner conflict, and not from the comfort of having all of my human needs met. If I had everything in life that I wanted or needed, why on earth would I choose to walk the obstacle-ridden and difficult path uphill towards the higher plain?
Dabrowski claims that there are different phases of integration. The early phases leave you where you are, comfortable in your ignorance of what is going on in and around you. You accept things as they are and experience no conflicts. Later, you may come to a point where, due to inner turmoil, you become aware of different views on life, and notice that there are choices to be made. Some are on a higher level, and some are on a lower level. This perception was coined by Dabrowski as “multilevelness”. It is a vertical view of life that compares higher choices to lower choices. Once you become aware and see these choices, it is impossible to “unsee” them. Dabrowski believed (as opposed to Maslow) that rather than accept those lower human characteristics which we all have, we should strive for the higher level choices. In other words, we should strive to be “more” than what we are, as opposed to striving to be “the best that we can be”. I am no expert in psychological theories, and it may just be a question of semantics, but from my own experience and perspective, I feel compelled to side with Dabrowski`s theory. My wish is to be the best that I can be, which at this point in my life means striving to be more than what I am. Go Dabrowski.