Getting To Know Yourself: Self-Actualization And The Hierarchy Of Needs

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated April 25, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Understanding and appreciating yourself may be one way to understand and appreciate the world and people around you more deeply. Although you might feel that you already know yourself well, there could be ways to get to know yourself further as you pass through life. 

Many people may get so caught up in daily life that they don't bother to consider themselves. Asking yourself open-ended questions can be beneficial, as you might find that sometimes you're a stranger to yourself. In addition, rebuilding a relationship with yourself may boost your mental and physical health and ensure your well-being. 

Getty/Halfpoint Images
Are you ready to know yourself better?

What is self-actualization?

Self-actualization is a state of being you may achieve when you feel you have connected with yourself profoundly. Although the psychologist Abraham Maslow did not coin the term, he is often credited with bringing it to life when he developed the "hierarchy of needs" theory. To Maslow, specific core needs must be met to reach self-actualization.

However, reaching the level of self-actualization that Maslow spoke of can be challenging for some because not everyone has their basic needs met due to societal or financial challenges. When looking to get to know yourself better, try not to focus on achieving perfection but instead on taking the time to explore, reflect, and discover what makes you feel like your life is whole and meaningful.

Maslow's hierarchy of self-actualization

Aspiring toward self-actualization may involve differentiating between what you want and need. Abraham Maslow conceived and outlined this concept in his book Motivation and Personality, discussing what he believed to be the critical characteristics of self-actualized people. Although Maslow's theory may be helpful for some, note that everyone is different and may face different circumstances, so the order of needs doesn't have to be rigid. 

From the bottom of the hierarchy upwards, the needs include the following: 

  • Physiological needs
  • Safety needs 
  • Love and belonging needs
  • Self-esteem 
  • Self-actualization

According to Maslow, the needs lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to the higher ones.

Physiological needs 

The physiological category includes biological requirements for human survival. You may have health challenges or risks without having these needs. Because of this factor, all other needs become secondary when basic needs are unmet. These include water, food, shelter, and air. 

Safety needs

In the second tier of Maslow's hierarchy, safety needs involve the safety of the body, employment, housing, financial safety, and other areas that can keep you safe. This section is less about your body's needs and more about what keeps your body safe from outside harm. 

Love and belonging needs 

As you move up the hierarchy, you can see the need for social interaction, highlighting the importance of romantic, familial, and platonic relationships. This need can also include the feeling of belonging that might come with being a part of a group. For example, being in a choir or being a student at a school can fill belonging needs. Humans are social creatures who crave connection with others. Anxiety and depression are common in people who do not feel loved or accepted by others or lack social interaction.

Self-esteem needs 

People often have the desire to be respected and appreciated for their achievements. For example, if you are working hard at your job, having someone tell you you're doing a superb job can motivate you and make you feel you're being seen and heard. You might meet this need in various ways, such as joining a sports team, taking up a new hobby, or joining a club at school. It might not always be possible to receive external praise, so finding esteem in yourself can be beneficial and may lead to self-actualization.

Self-actualization 

According to Maslow, self-actualization is defined as follows: "It may be loosely described as the full use and exploitation of talents, capabilities, potentialities, etc. Such people seem to be fulfilling themselves and doing the best that they are capable of doing...They are people who have developed or are developing to the full stature of which they are capable." Self-actualized people may feel less concerned with what others are doing or whether they're being judged.

Traits of self-actualized people

Once you get to the point where you can meet all of your needs healthily, you may have more mental capacity to develop into a more earnest version of yourself. Self-actualized people may not feel threatened or afraid of the unknown, instead embracing it or using acceptance skills. They may have learned to accept themselves holistically, perceiving themselves as they want to be while working to change aspects of themselves that they consider growth areas.  

They might enjoy the moment at hand for its own sake, enjoying their existence as a human instead of seeing it as a means to an end. It can also be beneficial to be spontaneous in both thought and action. While many crave control and certainty, this behavior and thinking might not allow for growth. Maslow also believed that self-actualization involves the kindness and empathy you give to others. 

Getty

Ways to get to know yourself more profoundly

Below are a few ways you might get to know yourself better as you strive for self-actualization. 

Accept change 

Self-actualized people may be spontaneous, open-minded, and understanding. Many aspects of life may be outside of your control. Instead of trying to change these areas, focus on what you can control and accept that you might not have the power to change every situation that arises to meet your desires. 

Be yourself 

Finding your purpose in life can be challenging and may take time. If you feel afraid to be yourself, ask yourself if it is related to criticism from others. Many people may craft their life choices based on what their family or friends might think, even if their opinion isn't told. For example, you might want to pursue a job but don't because your parents, spouse, or best friend have expressed disapproval. 

While these people might have the best intentions and honestly believe that they know what is best, you are the one who lives with your decisions. Try to be the type of person that you can be happy with instead of the person you think others want you to be. Those who care about you may stand by you even if they disagree with your decisions.
Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Are you ready to know yourself better?

Ask for help when you need it 

Talking with a mental health professional may allow you to identify how you are progressing in getting to know yourself. In addition, a professional can teach you new coping mechanisms that may aid you in reducing any problem areas in your life that make it challenging to reach self-actualization. Finding an in-person therapist can be a beneficial way to get started. However, you might also consider online therapy if you face barriers to receiving support, such as cost or availability. 

Many therapists partner with online therapy platforms like BetterHelp to make assistance for people more affordable. Flexible scheduling allows quality care to reach thousands of clients around the world. When you sign up for an online counseling session, you can choose between phone, video, or chat sessions and get extra tools like worksheets or webinars.

In addition, studies have found online therapy as effective as in-person therapy for most mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Whether you're experiencing a mental health condition or looking for guidance as you get to know yourself, you may be able to find an online specialist to support you. 

Takeaway

Maslow's hierarchy of needs showcases how different areas of life and survival come together to ensure self-actualization. If you're struggling to connect with yourself or want to learn more about these concepts from psychology, consider reaching out to a therapist for further guidance.
You are deserving of positive self-esteem
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started