Several readers of Neurons have recently informed me that “Self-actualization is going around the NLP community, and I think they are stealing your stuff!” And I always say that while I could wish that they would give credit, I’m pleased to hear that and that I’m honored that they steal from my books on Self-Actualization (Unleashed, 2007, Self-Actualization Psychology, 2008, and Unleashing Leadership, 2009). The main thing is that self-actualization is coming to the field of NLP and informing it. And that’s really good since this is the secret history of NLP and so enables the field to discover itself!
What I’m not too pleased about, however, are some of the mis-quotes and the mis-representations about self-actualization and some of the myths that are perpetuated.
Myth 1: Maslow changed his mind.
I have heard this several times and places. While in Moscow in May of this year, someone brought it up in the Unleashing Leadership workshop. They said that they had heard that Maslow changed his mind about the Hierarchy of Needs just before his death. That is as wrong as the newsstand magazines about Michael Jackson living somewhere in hiding with Elvis. And what is my evidence? In 1970 Maslow completely re-edited his classic work 1954 book, Motivation and Personality. And in that 1970 edition, he not only kept the Hierarchy of Needs but provided more evidence of the validity of that model that he first published in 1943. So, no Maslow never changed his mind about that!
Myth 2: Bandler is a self-actualized person.
Recently someone nominated Richard Bandler as a self-actualized person! I broke into laughter when I heard that one! Of the 15 traits of self-actualizing people that Maslow identified and that he and Everett Shostrum used to create the POI (Personal Orientation Inventory) that measures self-actualization, Richard, at best only meets a quarter of them. The quote that I was sent read: "self actualized people like Bandler and Maslow are less than 1% of the population.” Talk about a way to put people off from self-actualization!
Myth 3: Self-Actualization leads to Self-Indulgence, Aggrandizement, Involvement, etc.
This is a criticism often presented against self-actualization. The fear is that if we focus on ourselves, we will get lost in “self,” and that will mean selfishness, egoism, self-obsession, self-inflation, self-preoccupation, self-serving, etc. The list of words used to attack the process of self-actualizing seems unlimited!
The problem is that the evidence in history and in the lives of self-actualizing people completely contradicts this. When a person actualizes his or her highest meanings and best performances, they get beyond themselves. They forget themselves (they become self-forgetful), they get the ego out of the way because the purpose and direction of their actualization is not about themselves, but what they can contribute. That’s why “self-actualization” is not about you! (Article, Meta Reflection 2009, #35 Self-Actualization is Not about You!)
Meeting your lower needs (survival, safety, love, self value) is about you. But when you move beyond the lower needs to the higher needs, you actualize your meanings and performances for a project or vision that is bigger, and other than, yourself. That’s what self-actualization means. It means living to make a difference, living to contribute, to give. That’s why self-actualization is not an end in itself.
Myth #4: Self-Actualization Psychology is shallow and naive.
With his focus on the bright side of human nature, some have charged that Maslow and self-actualization is naive about human nature. Of course, what this really means is that the person who makes that charge has never read what Maslow himself wrote. If there was anyone who wrote a lot about “evil,” and the dark side and how human nature can go wrong, it was Maslow! Further, it was Maslow himself who criticized Esalen and the first Human Potential Movement on this very thing— they didn’t take seriously that human nature can be just as creatively destructive as it can be creatively constructive.
Myth #5: Self-Actualization leads to irresponsibility and blaming.
I don’t know where anyone would get this charge until they also are seduced by Myth #1. The truth is that self-actualizing people care about being responsible and they actually seek to be held accountable. They know their inner powers and do not discharge them through blaming. And if you read Maslow, Rogers, Rollo May, Fromm, Frankl, and other key leaders in the first movement, they strongly emphasized responsibility.
Myth #6: Human potential is unlimited.
This is a myth on the other side of things— from those who see no limitations and no constraints. The danger on this side is turning human nature into infinite and god-like and therefore having no limits. Yet the truth is that there are limits to potentials and possibilities. Every power of a human being is fallible— “liable to error,” and limited. Often when we speak about the “unlimited potentials” within human nature or a particular person, we are not speaking literally but speaking for the purpose of inspiration.
Self-actualization is enabling people to become fully human. To awaken to the possibilities within each person and facilitating the unleashing process so that each becomes the best version of themselves. It is living meaningfully (your semantics) in your body (your neurology)!
To your full development!