There are many “goals” for counseling or psychotherapy. I would like to talk about one of the common yet highly ambiguous goal called self-actualization. Self-actualization has a very rosy connotation but on the contrary, I learned many downsides of this phenomenon during my training. According to Abraham Maslow (1962a), self- actualization involves getting out of enculturation which often is a comfort zone for many people. For Carl Jung (2017), individuation (other way to call self-actualization) includes inevitable process to confront one’s “shadow” for the “Self” become more whole.
When a person becomes more unique, open, independent, and secure, it naturally perturbs the established equilibrium in certain interpersonal or group dynamics. Some people might welcome it while others might not. Some could be refraining from individuation because her/his shadow or unconscious domain is overwhelmingly uncanny, and the stability of consciousness or ego could be greatly threatened in the process of such integration.
Therefore, the price to pay for one’s self-actualization can be quite substantial. If that is the case, why do we still strive for it? What is the driving force behind one’s motivation to self-actualize?
According to classic literature, one answer is because of “peak-experience”. Peak-experience is defined as “mystic experiences, moments of great awe, moments of the most intense happiness or even rapture, ecstasy or bliss (because the word happiness can be too weak to describe this experience)” (Maslow, 1962b, p. 9). According to many accounts of the informants, this rare experience made them perceive the world in a whole new way (Wuthnow, 1978). As the name implies, it is really the “peak” of one’s life and the experience is ultimately rewarding. Maslow observed that self-actualized individuals seem to have more peak-experience compared to the others. Although it is highly abstract and theoretical, below are how Maslow (Maslow, 1962a) attempted to describe the essence of peak-experience.
- Object is seen as a whole and is seen detached from the usefulness of the subject
- Full attention and complete absorption to the object
- The object is seen as it is in its pure form
- Richer perception
- Ego-transcending, self-forgetful
- Feeling that life is worthwhile
- Disorientation in time and space
- Subject perceives peak-experience as an absolute good
- Sense of absolute rather than relative
- Passive and receptive experience
- Sense of wonder, awe, humility before the experience
- One object seems to represent whole world
- Co-existence of abstract and concrete
- Fusion of dichotomies
- Love and acceptance of the world and of the person
- Perceiving uniqueness in everything
- Loss of fear, anxiety, inhibition, defense, and control
Once a person goes through peak-experience, the painful journey of self-actualization is unconditionally rewarded. I speculate that this could be one of the reasons why our psyche is always aspiring to grow.
Jung, C. G. (2017). Mandala symbolism:(From Vol. 9i collected works) (Vol. 42).
Princeton University Press.
Maslow, A. H. (1962a). Toward a psychology of being (750459). Van Nostrand.
Maslow, A. H. (1962b). Lessons from the Peak-Experiences. Journal of Humanistic
Psychology, 2(1), 9–18. https://doi.org/10.1177/002216786200200102
Wuthnow, R. (1978). Peak Experiences: Some Empirical Tests. Journal of Humanistic
Psychology, 18(3), 59–75.
Takashi Obana, PhD