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Keith E Rice's Integrated SocioPsychology Blog & Pages

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Self-Actualisation/YELLOW

Updated: 12 December 2020

One nomenclature Don Beck & Chris Cowan (1996) have used for the YELLOW vMEME, the first of the 2nd Tier, is ‘Flexiflow’. This captures both the incredible flexibility in this level of thinking and the sense of peak performance Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1993) identifies athletes, musicians, etc, experience when they enter the state of ‘flow’.

In both his posthumous works (1971b/2002, p25; 1978/2005, p148), Clare W Graves unequivocally equated his seventh level G-T (YELLOW) to “Maslow’s self-actualising man”. Jane Loevinger (1976, p46) equated her Autonomous Stage of Ego Development with Self-Actualisation and Graves (1978/2005, p444) equated G-T with Autonomous…so it’s clear that Graves and Loevinger, both of them steeped in years of hard research, very much felt they were talking about the same way of thinking as Abraham Maslow (1943; 1954; 1956).

However, this equation is not without controversy; nor is the term ‘Self-Actualisation’ used here in quite the same way as it is most commonly in Psychology. So there is some need to clarify our understanding(s) of ‘Self-Actualisation’ before we can benefit fully from this equation with YELLOW.

Goldstein’s Self-Actualisation
The term ‘Self-Actualisation’ was originally introduced by the Organismic theorist Kurt Goldstein (1934) for the motive to realise all of one’s potentialities – every organism inherently seeks to attain the end it was made for. This seeking is driven by the actualising tendency, according to Carl Rogers (1951). In this respect, Self-Actualisation is effectively the same as Carl Gustav Jung’s (1921) concept of ‘Self-Realisation’. Beck’s (2002a) prime directive in so many ways is a reflection of the actualising tendency’s drive to address more complex needs.

In Goldstein’s view, it is the ‘master motive’ – indeed, the only real motive a person has, all others being merely manifestations of it. However, the concept was brought to greater prominence in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943) as the final level of psychological development that can be achieved when all deficiency and growth needs are fulfilled and the ‘actualisation’ of the full personal potential takes place.

According to Goldstein, actualisation is “the tendency to actualise, as much as possible, [the organism’s] individual capacities” in the world. The tendency to self-actualisation is “the only drive by which the life of an organism is determined.” Goldstein defined Self-Actualisation as a driving life force that will ultimately lead to maximising one’s abilities and determine the path of one’s life.

Maslow’s Self-Actualisation
Maslow (1943) explicitly defines Self-Actualisation to be “the desire for self-fulfilment, namely the tendency for him [the individual] to become actualised in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.” Self-Actualisation involves the need for personal growth which is present throughout someone’s life. In Self-Actualisation a person comes to find a meaning in life that is important to them. Maslow acknowledges that how someone self-actualises can vary radically from one person to the next: “The specific form that these needs will take will of course vary greatly from person to person. In one individual it may take the form of the desire to be an ideal mother, in another it may be expressed athletically, and in still another it may be expressed in painting pictures or in inventions.”

Maslow (1954) explains that Self-Actualisation is “intrinsic growth of what is already in the organism, or more accurately of what is the organism itself…self-actualisation is growth-motivated rather than deficiency-motivated.”  This explanation emphasises the fact that Self-Actualisation cannot normally be reached until other, lower order necessities of the Hierarchy of Needs are satisfied. While Goldstein defined Self-Actualisation as a driving force, Maslow preferred to describe personal growth that takes place once lower order needs have been met.

There is some degree of inherent contradiction in Maslow’s approach to Self-Actualisation.. For Maslow, a person is always ‘becoming’ and never static – even though Self-Actualisation is the final level of complete psychological development according to the Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow (1956) explicitly defines Self-Actualisation as being characterised by certain specific behaviours and ways of thinking. He identified 14 characteristics of Self-Actualisation. In doing so, he effectively moved beyond the ‘be-all-that-you-be’ concept of Jung, Goldstein, Rogers (thus far) and even his own early writings and described a new way of thinking and being. Maslow’s 1956 description of Self-Actualisation is largely mirrored by Graves (1970) and virtually adopted wholesale by Loevinger in describing her Autonomous stage. Loevinger (p418-419) also points out that Maslow’s enhanced and extended view of Self-Actualisation effectively does away with the concept of Self-Actualisation as a single master motive. Self-Actualisation is now a state, rather than a process, with a clearly-defined meta-level of thinking.

Self-Actualised into YELLOW thinking
To minimise confusion between the very general be-all-you-can-be concept of Self-Actualisation – the one commonly-used in Psychology and applications such as coaching – and the much more specific meta way of thinking Graves and Loevinger matched to Maslow’s 1956 descriptors, Integrated SocioPsychology refers to ‘self-actualising into YELLOW thinking’.

12 of Maslow’s (1956) 14 descriptors form the template for the depiction of the YELLOW vMEME below. The other 2 can be considered more characteristic of the YELLOW/TURQUOISE transition. (Mark Koltko-Rivera (2006, p304) notes that a 1967 entry in Maslow’s diary reveals “he had contaminated that construct [Self-Actualisation] with notions that belonged to another, as-yet unnamed motivational level”.) Additional comments from Graves (1970; 1971b/2002; 1978/2005), Beck & Cowan and Loevinger are added to Maslow’s 12 descriptors.

  1. Self-actualising people have both a more efficient perception of reality and more comfortable relations with it. This includes the detection of what is phoney and/or dishonest and the accurate perception of what really exists – rather than a distortion of perception by your own needs. In other words, existing schemas do not distort incoming memes and thus negates the effects of cognitive primacy. Graves (1978/2005) sees 1st Tier levels as not having an accurate grip on reality. Only with YELLOW thinking are you able to see people as they really are.
    Self-actualising people are more aware of their environment, both human and non-human. They are not afraid of the unknown and can tolerate the doubt, uncertainty and tentativeness accompanying the perception of the new and unfamiliar. The certainties of life held by the nodal vMEMES of the 1st Tier are revealed to be so much delusion. YELLOW can live with paradoxes and conflicting ‘truths’. Loevinger notes that a characteristic of Autonomous is “a high tolerance for ambiguity”, able to acknowledge and cope with inner conflict – eg: between needs and duties – finding a way to “integrate ideas that appear as incompatible alternatives” (p23).
  2. Self-actualising people accept themselves, others and nature. They are not ashamed or guilty about being human, with its shortcomings, imperfections, frailties and weaknesses. Nor are they critical of these aspects in other people. They respect and esteem themselves and others.
    Moreover, they tend to be honest, open and genuine; they will not put on a front just to impress. They are not, however, self-satisfied and smug. They tend to be concerned about discrepancies between what is and what should be in themselves, others, and society.
  3. Self-actualising people are spontaneous. They are not hampered by convention, but they do not flout it either. They are not conformists; but neither are they non-conformist for the sake of it. YELLOW has no need for status as such but accepts it is important to others.
    They are not externally motivated or even goal-directed. Rather, their motivation is the internal one of growth and development, the realisation of themselves and their potentialities. YELLOW is not goal-oriented – as ORANGE is – in the sense of being determined to achieve. Rather it pursues what interests it. Loevinger states that Autonomous is interested in development, with “self-fulfilment a frequent goal, partly supplanting achievement”.
  4. The self-actualising person enjoys solitude and privacy. They can also seem detached. It is possible for them to remain unruffled and undisturbed by what upsets others. (YELLOW will walk away from ‘lost causes’, how ever noble they might be.) They may even appear to be asocial. This characteristic is related to a sense of security and self-sufficiency.
  5. Self-actualising people have a continued freshness of appreciation. Repeatedly, though not continuously, they experience awe, pleasure and wonder in their everyday world. They enjoy the experience for its own sake, rather than for any particular purpose. This sense of just ‘being’ rather than ‘becoming’ is, for Maslow, a major delineator in quality of thinking – ie: between 1st and 2nd Tier thinking. This is a step towards the peak experiences of TURQUOISE/Self-Transcendence which tend to start occurring in the YELLOW/TURQUOISE transition.
  6. When self-actualising, people are autonomous and are independent of culture and environment. Though dependent on others for the satisfaction of such basic needs as love, belongingness, safety and respect, they get their principal satisfactions from their own development and continued growth. The motif, in the life conditions GREEN has brought about, is to make the best for yourself – this vMEME is very much on the self-expressive side of the Spiral!
  7. Self-actualising people tend to have deep interpersonal relations with others. They are selective, however, and their circle of friends may be small, usually consisting of others capable of 2nd Tier thinking. In spite of their tendency to privacy, they often attract others to them as admirers or disciples.
  8. The self-actualising person does not discriminate on the basis of class, education, race or colour. They are humble in their recognition of what they know in comparison with what they don’t know; and they are ready and willing to learn from anyone. They respect everyone as potential contributors to their knowledge, merely because they are human beings. Graves (1970) states that, for this way of thinking, multiplicity in life is legitimate.
  9. Self-actualising people are highly creative. It is a creativity potentially inherent in everyone but usually suffocated by acculturation. It is a fresh, naive, direct way of looking at things. In problem-solving tasks, Graves (1971b/2002) found that G-T (YELLOW) thinkers are 4 times more effective than F-S (GREEN) thinkers and conceptually have more problem-solving capability than all the vMEMES of the 1st Tier put together.)
  10. When self-actualising, people are usually highly ethical. They clearly distinguish between means and ends and subordinate means to the ends. For example, YELLOW will be democratic when it is appropriate and authoritarian when it is necessary.)
  11. .The sense of humour of a self-actualising person is not of the ordinary (1st Tier) type. Their sense of humour is the spontaneous, thoughtful type, intrinsic to the situation. Their humour does not involve hostility, superiority or sarcasm. Loevinger calls this type of humour “humour intrinsic to the paradoxes of life”.
  12. These people have a deep feeling of empathy, sympathy and/or compassion for human beings in general. This feeling is, in a sense, unconditional in that it exists along with the recognition of the existence in others of negative qualities that provoke occasional anger, impatience and disgust. (Graves (1978/2005) wrote: “[He] will explode at what he does not like, but he will not be worked up or angry about it…He accepts and lives with the fact of difference and of relating to people who are different.”)

A characteristic of the 7th level which Maslow didn’t single out explicitly in his 1956 piece is that, to address the discrepancies between what is and what should be in itself, others and society – see Characteristic 2 – YELLOW has to understand the needs of all. To do that, it has to ‘go meta’ to itself. Thus, YELLOW can appear chameleon-like as it speaks to the values of whichever 1st Tier vMEMES it needs to engage. Beck calls this ‘surfing the Spiral’.

In part at least, Maslow’s characteristics of Self-Actualisation seem to reflect his experiences of the Blackfoot Indians in 1938. Abraham Maslow & John Honigmann (p35-37) – unpublished at the time due to racial prejudice & discrimination against Native Americans (Sidney Stone Brown, 2014) – wrote: “The typical personality of the Northern Blackfoot Indian is one characterised by dignity and friendliness and containing little insecurity, suspicion, envy, jealousy, antagonism and hostility or anxiety…. The Blackfoot character is straight-forward rather than polite or anxious to do the correct thing…. The Blackfoot character has little drive for power…. He does not seek ascendancy over other people and, if he has a superior role, he does not use it to dominate.” (Interestingly, Jung (1963) had similar impressions of Pueblo Indians he encountered in New Mexico in 1925.)

It probably made sense to Maslow in 1956 to assume that the meta-level he described was what a fully self-realised person might think like. At the time he had no concept that there could be a level of thinking beyond what he had defined as Self-Actualisation. Nor did Graves, for that matter!

Maslow stated there were 3 pre-conditions to Self-Actualisation:-

  1. An absence of restraints
  2. No or little distraction from D-Needs
  3. A good knowledge of yourself

Although many of the ‘self-actualised’ figures Maslow studied were highly intelligent, he did not believe great intelligence was a prerequisite for Self-Actualisation. Neither did Graves.

(1988) found that the absence of psychological disorders, relationship difficulties and drug dependence correlated to Self-Actualisation. Graves (1978/2005) claimed that his G-T level was free from both fear and compulsiveness. Maslow supports the former and Loevinger the latter. Hans J Eysenck (1967; Hans J Eysenck & Sybil B G Eysenck, 1976) equated fear with Neuroticism and compulsiveness with Psychoticism in his Dimensions of Temperament; thus, when someone self-actualises into YELLOW thinking, the implication is that accessing the 7th level in thinking carries you beyond those temperamental influences. As high Neuroticism contains a potential for neurosis and high Psychoticism a potential for psychosis, a further implication is that accessing 2nd Tier thinking is indeed conducive to good mental health – supporting Marie Jahoda’s (1958) contention that Self-Actualisation is a prime component of ideal mental health.

Yet a further implication of this is, given the large amount of research which has found a genetic vulnerability factor in a great many mental disorders, then if self-actualising into YELLOW, limits or even prevents mental illness linked to genetics, then vMEME emergence must involve epigenetic modification.

Carl Rogers: Full Function and Locus of Control
By 1961 Rogers was describing Self-Actualisation – or ‘Full Function’ – as ways of thinking and being that echoed much of Maslow in 1956. However, Rogers still related Self-Actualisation to the concept that every human being had the potential to achieve their goals, wishes and desires in life. When they did so, then Self-Actualisation took place. For Rogers, this actualising tendency is an inner biological need to grow and develop both physically and psychologically. (This is paralleled to some considerable extent in Beck’s concept of the prime directive.) Self-actualised people, according to Rogers, are ‘fully functioning persons’.

Such people are in touch with the here and now, their subjective experiences and feelings, and are continually growing and changing. Full Function is, for Rogers, something of an ideal – a process of always becoming and changing, rather than a final state. Effectively, for Rogers, Self-Actualisation is a process of being.

Fully functioning people are well-adjusted, well-balanced and interesting to know. Rogers identified 5 characteristics of the fully functioning person:-

  1. Open to experience – both positive and negative emotions are accepted. Negative feelings are not denied but worked through
  2. Existential living – in touch with different experiences as they occur in life; avoiding prejudging and preconceptions
  3. Trust feelings – feelings, instincts and gut reactions are paid attention to and trusted
  4. Creativity – creative thinking and risk-taking are features of a person’s life – the person does not play safe all the time
  5. Fulfilled life – the person is happy and satisfied with life and always looking for new challenges and experiences

By making his understanding of Self-Actualisation close to, but looser than Maslow’s 1956 definitions, the inherent contradiction of a process of ‘being’ versus a fully-realised final state in Rogers’ work is less jarring. However, it still seems a fudge.

Rogers expresses concern many people lose touch with their actualising tendency. He attributes this to social pressures – ie: life conditions – resulting in a distorted and limited self-concept in the selfplex.

The concept of locus of evaluation (locus of control) is used to explain the difference between being free to respond to your own inner actualising tendency or being restricted by the views and beliefs of others. People with an internal locus of control are controlled by their own personal values. People with an external locus of control are controlled by the desire to live up to the expectations of others. Their sense of self-worth of people with an external locus is governed by their perception of how well they are doing in living up to the expectations of others. They are likely to have had a significant amount of conditional positive regard in their life.

Linking this to Attribution Theory, people with an internal locus are much more likely to be dispositionalist while those with an external locus are more likely to be situationalist. The concept also relates to the meta-programmes of internally-referenced (internal locus) and externally-referenced (external locus).

One criticism of Rogers’ concept – as of Maslow – is that it is culturally biased – a product of Western culture which represents an individualistic and selfish approach to understanding human nature. In other cultures, such as Eastern collectivistic ones, more value may be put upon the achievement of a group of people than any one individual. However, the work of Native American researchers such as Narcisse Blood & Ryan Heavy Head (Heavy Head, 2008a; 2008b) and Stone Brown (2014) makes it clear that Maslow, in part at least, drew his concept of Self-Actualisation from within the collectivist culture of the Blackfoot. Maslow & Honigmann (p6) talk of Blackfoot society as creating “feelings of being liked and loved; the perception of the world as a warm and friendly place; a tendency to expect good to happen; feelings of calm, ease and relaxation; self-acceptance….” In Graves’ terms, this sounds like healthy F-S GREEN facilitating the emergence of healthy G-T YELLOW. Moreover, if Self-Actualisation is reframed within Graves’ Spiral, then Self-Actualisation can appear to reflect Western self-expressive orientation. However, the level below in Maslow’s Hierarchy, Aesthetic, if reframed as F-S GREEN, and Self-Transcendence, if reframed as H-U TURQUOISE, are clearly on the conformist/collective side of the Spiral.

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