Maslow's Revolutionary Insights

Self-transcendence needs may emerge as a result of peak experiences.

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Development of the Hierarchy of Human Needs
You are probably aware that psychologist Abraham H. Maslow (1908-1970) outlined the developmental hierarchy of human needs, which places self-actualization as the top level of human development. This model is considered Maslow’s seminal work (1943, 1954) that was based on extensive observation of psychologically healthy individuals. See Figure 1.



He defined self-actualization this way:
“It refers to the [person’s] desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. The specific form that these needs will take will, of course, vary greatly from person to person.”


In other words, each of us has unique talents that potentially can be developed far beyond the perspective of social groups, and even beyond a need for approval from those groups. For many people, fulfilling their potential is the driving force of their lives.


The Potency of Deficiency Needs

In his original Theory of Human Motivation, Maslow proposed that individuals need what they most acutely lack. The basic requirements for human life form a hierarchy of what he called “Deficiency-needs,” which appear in most people in the order of physical survival, safety, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.


When a Deficiency-need is satisfied, it disappears from a person’s awareness, and the next higher-order need dominates their consciousness until it is satisfied. And so on up the hierarchy.


Maslow’s Expanded Hierarchy of Human Needs

Eventually, Maslow began to differentiate between two types of self-actualizers. The first type were psychologically healthy but showed little or no interest in growing beyond the fulfillment of their personal talents. The second type were those for whom the transcendent aspects of life were important, even central.


In other words, some individuals did tend to approach self-actualization as a Deficiency-need. As long as they were doing what they believed they were born for, they were content—and likely highly competent. However, they felt no need for the ecstatic episodes of peak experiences in which the higher-motivated actualizers eagerly engaged.


Maslow soon identified “peakers” and “non-peakers” as exhibiting distinct and significant differences. This really was a watershed realization for him that quickly led to his theory of self-transcendence which became transpersonal psychology.

For many people who are particularly transformed by peak experiences, self-transcendence needs may emerge. See Figure 2. These are the Being-needs that Maslow identified as emerging from peak experiences as Being-cognition.


Learn more…

Notes on Being-Cognition
“Essentials of Motivation” in Reflections on Creating Your Luminous Life: Self-Transcendence from the Inside Out