Thursday, March 15, 2012

Fully Realizing Human Potential

I have lately wondered more and more: is there more to life than this? Does it get better?

How can I raise the bar and push myself to reach a higher level? How can I become a more fully realized human being?

So this questioning has lead me to  higher consciousness and how we as a society and humanity can reach for it together.

We are told more and more often lately that we need to cut back and to start living to survive. With nearly 1 in 5 people on struggling to meet basic needs in America, 1 in 7 on food stamps, and more and more people slipping below the poverty line every day, people are working hard just to stay afloat.

For example look here:

Our society is susceptible to a cynical and negative attitude. As someone who believes in hope and resiliency, I reject the tendency to close ourselves off and shut ourselves down from connecting more with ourselves or others. Or to search for other possibilities or ways of being. We have to start to think beyond meeting just our basic needs.

There is a concept known as Maslow's Hierachy of Needs which I feel describes this situation perfectly. Maslow, a psychologist, described this in the form of a pyramid with lower level basic needs at the bottom (food, clothing, shelter) and self-actualization at the top.

Maslow described self-actualization as "the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming." Basically to become more of ourselves and what we are truly meant to be given the conditions necessary to get there.

Right now many of us have less and less of what we need to even fulfill Maslow's basic levels of human functioning and survival. Maslow says until we all have every need met, we cannot start looking at how to self-actualize. Yet I think we need to start at least thinking about it, now, and working towards consciously making it a reality in our everyday lives.

More about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs:

Maslow describes the hierarchy as the following:

"Maslow's hierarchy of needs begins with the most basic necessities deemed 'the physiological needs' in which the individual will seek out items like food and water, and must be able to perform basic functions such as breathing and sleeping. Once these needs have been met, a person can move on to fulfilling 'the safety needs,' where they will attempt to obtain a sense of security, physical comforts and shelter, employment, and property. The next level is 'the belongingness and love needs,' where people will strive for social acceptance, affiliations, a sense of belongingness and being welcome, sexual intimacy, and perhaps a family. Next are 'the esteem needs,' where the individual will desire a sense of competence, recognition of achievement by peers, and respect from others." (Wiki).

The last step is self-actualization.

Here is more info about it:


how to self-actualize:

characteristics of self-actualization:

longer video about maslow's hierachy of needs:

As a person I have pretty much grown in my thinking far beyond the lower levels of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. I am interested in the following:

liberation, transformation, transcending our former selves, raising-consciousness, living with intent, meaningful life and work, ability to fully be realized, reaching ones potential, purusing passion, agency, fully realizing compassion, genuine, real, and authentic connection with self and others (emotional intimacy), being fully present, active liberty, personal and self growth, higher consciousness, enlightenment, interconnectedness, social relationship focus, humanism, human expression, creativity, caring for one another, enhancing quality of life, and living a purposeful life.

I find that I am part of these movements:

To me we need to first admit that we need and deserve far more beyond the basics of life. We also need more than material things, wealth, power, privilege, control, dominance, and even more than basic self-esteem or accomplishments such as an advanced degree or career, relationship, or family.
                                           Where We Have Gone Wrong

Right now we are consumed with many unconscious patterns driving us in destructive ways. Many of us operate on internalized toxic shame, control, dominance, power over others, defenses, and negative coping skills we use to try and feed us (substances, food, sex, etc.) instead of operating in ways that connect us to each other as human beings. This may be in part be because we do not get our meets met fully and so we maladapt. A lot of the time it is also because of trauma in early childhood-- abuse we encounter.

                                               Reconnecting with Human Needs

In order to heal we need to reconnect with what it is we truly need-- one of those main things being other people.

Human needs thrive on social connection. We need to attune to each other. This includes empathy, trust, effective and healthy authentic communication, and compassion.

For more on this I recommend these videos featuring Dr. Brene Brown, University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, and lead researcher in the field of shame studies:

                                                What Marx Said
Something else that would help in our understanding is the concept of alienation. The sociologist, Karl Marx long ago spoke of how we are alienated from each other. Unfortunately this still rings true today. We are alienated from our work, from ourselves, and each other. He spoke to something called "species being" which Marx felt was as close to human nature as we have. He felt that in our socio-cultural interactions with one another we could create authentic human bonds and growth. However, he saw that private profit, commodification, and objectification got in the way.

This is what Marx felt causes alienation and thus the loss of species being. Marx felt that "capitalist mode of production renders the product of production alien to the person who has produced it, thus making man alien to himself – and, therefore, to his human essence; that is to say, alien to the universal, collective, character of the human being, to his need for bonding, for creative activity, for knowledge, for self-consciousness and consciousness of his environment, as well as alien from his capacity to project himself into the future." (Species Being, Social Being and Class Consciousness).

More on Marx's theory of human nature, alienation, and commodification:

Social alienation runs deep throughout every facet of our society and who we are as a people and is described in-depth here:

                     Some of the Main Themes in Social Alienation are:


"A person suffers from alienation in the form of 'powerlessness' when she is conscious of the gap between what she would like to do and what she feels capable of doing. Powerlessness, therefore, is the perception that the individual does not have the means to achieve his goals." (Wiki)


Not fully understanding the events one is engaged in. (wiki)


When there has been such a break down in society that there are no longer social norms regulating individual conduct or the social order is no longer effective as rules for behavior. (wiki)

Political alienation

Estrangement from, and a lack of engagement in, the political system. Workers experience a state of psychological disconnection from a policy. Relationships and connections that once existed, that is 'natural,' desirable, or good, has been lost. (wiki)

Social isolation

The feeling of being segregated from one’s community. With increased isolation and atomization, much of our daily interactions are with those who are strangers to us and with whom we lack any ongoing social relationships. (wiki)


Having a lack of relationship/connection with ones parents or family. Not having a strong attachment-- the social and emotional process of bonding between child and caregiver. (wiki)


The psychological state of denying one’s own interests – of seeking out extrinsically satisfying, rather than intrinsically satisfying activities. It could be characterized as a feeling of having become a stranger to oneself, or to some parts of oneself, or alternatively as a problem of self-knowledge, or authenticity. (wiki)

One could see how alienation could be a large barrier to us attaining self-actualization seeing as the disconnect it causes us and impacts every facet of society.

Alienation also intersects with isolation. In addition, people isolate based on shame...and participate in negative coping skills in isolation and in shame based ways, such as binge eating alone or using substances alone.

So now that we understand some of the key elements of where we have gone wrong... how do we go right?

                                         How Do We Self-Actualize?

Once again to self-actualize would mean:

Making oneself realized.

Living up to your fullest potential and being the most you you can be.

Embracing yourself totally and completely.

Discovering and loving the real authentic you unconditionally.

Achieving the best of what you can be.

Striving to be self-fulfilled.

To become more of who you truly are.

In order to allow everyone the ability to self-actualize we are going to have to meet everyone's human needs-- basic and advanced.

You may think, but can't people just meet their own needs? Well, if they could don't you think they might have by now? Most people cannot meet all of their needs-- at least not on their own. We are mutually dependent and interdependent on each other. So that means we need to help others to get what they need in order to self-actualize.

This could include economic, political, cultural, and social aspects. Switching over to a democratic socialist system has long been my passion and solution for many of these things.

democratic socialism:

                                      Fundamentally Changing Social Control

While focusing on an economic system is popular, and economic inequality one of the foremost barriers to self-actualization, I stress we must also take into consideration the social aspects, which I feel are often ignored.

When we work to transform society we have to look at how people are socialized from the very beginning of life. One of the main ways people are socialized is through social control.

"The social values that are present in individuals are products of informal social control. It is exercised by a society without explicitly stating these rules and is expressed through customs, norms, and mores. Individuals are socialized whether consciously or subconsciously. During informal sanctions, ridicule or ostracism can cause a straying towards norms. The person internalizes these mores and norms. Traditional society uses mostly informal social control embedded in its customary culture relying on the socialization of its members.

Informal sanctions may include shame, ridicule, sarcasm, criticism and disapproval. In extreme cases sanctions may include social discrimination and exclusion. This implied social control usually has more effect on individuals because they become internalized and thus an aspect of personality. Informal sanctions check 'deviant' behavior." (wiki)

One of the main forms of social control is shame. We have to end the external and internal use of shame as a tool of control. These links describe what we need to dismantle:

                        What It's Going To Take To Get Us Where We Need To Go:

We need to promote pro-social behaviors and to discourage anti-social behaviors.

"Prosocial behavior fosters positive traits that are beneficial for children and society. It may be motivated both by altruism and by self-interest, for reasons of immediate benefit or future reciprocity. " (Wiki)

"Encouraging prosocial behavior may also require decreasing or eliminating undesirable social behaviors." (Wiki)

"Feeling empathy towards the individual needing aid increases the likelihood that the aid will be given. This empathy is called 'empathetic concern' for the other individual, and is characterized by feelings of tenderness, compassion, and sympathy.

Agreeableness is thought to be the personality trait most associated with inherent prosocial motivation. Prosocial thoughts and feelings may be defined as a sense of responsibility for other individuals, and a higher likelihood of experiencing empathy ('other-oriented empathy') both affectively (emotionally) and cognitively. These prosocial thoughts and feelings correlate with dispositional empathy and dispositional agreeableness." (Wiki)

For more about pro-social behavior look here:

Anti-social behavior on the other hand contrasts by being "behavior that lacks consideration for others and that may cause damage to society, whether intentionally or through negligence, as opposed to pro-social behavior, behavior that helps or benefits society." (Wiki).

It can include aggressive behavior, intimidation, bullying, verbal abuse, manipulation, and committing various crimes.

For more about anti-social behavior look here:

In addition, we need to seek assertive communication over passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive types of communication. For a further explanation of what these are please look here:

Furthermore it helps to develop healthy boundaries:

"Those with healthy boundaries are firm but flexible. They give support and accept it. They respect their feelings, needs, opinions, and rights, and those of others, but are clear about their separateness. They are responsible for their own happiness and allow others to be responsible for their happiness. They are assertive and respectful of the rights of others to be assertive. They are able to negotiate and compromise, have empathy for others, are able to make mistakes without damaging their self-esteem, and have an internal sense of personal identity. They respect diversity. Those with healthy boundaries are comfortable with themselves, and make others comfortable around them.  They live in houses with fences and gates that  allow access only to those who respect their boundaries." (

                                            The Fully Functioning Person

Once we could reach a level of being able to achieve self-actualization we would have to push ourselves and our community beyond what we now think is possible. We need to become fully realized and fully functional as human beings.

According to psychologist Carl Rogers a fully functioning person is defined as having:

A growing openness to experience – they move away from defensiveness and have no need for subception (a perceptual defense that involves unconsciously applying strategies to prevent a troubling stimulus from entering consciousness).

An increasingly existential lifestyle – living each moment fully – not distorting the moment to fit personality or self concept but allowing personality and self concept to emanate from the experience. This results in excitement, daring, adaptability, tolerance, spontaneity, and a lack of rigidity and suggests a foundation of trust. "To open one's spirit to what is going on now, and discover in that present process whatever structure it appears to have.

Increasing organismic trust – they trust their own judgment and their ability to choose behavior that is appropriate for each moment. They do not rely on existing codes and social norms but trust that as they are open to experiences they will be able to trust their own sense of right and wrong.

Freedom of choice – not being shackled by the restrictions that influence an incongruent individual, they are able to make a wider range of choices more fluently. They believe that they play a role in determining their own behavior and so feel responsible for their own behavior.

Creativity – it follows that they will feel more free to be creative. They will also be more creative in the way they adapt to their own circumstances without feeling a need to conform.

Reliability and constructiveness – they can be trusted to act constructively. An individual who is open to all their needs will be able to maintain a balance between them. Even aggressive needs will be matched and balanced by intrinsic goodness in congruent individuals.

A rich full life – Rogers describes the life of the fully functioning individual as rich, full and exciting and suggests that they experience joy and pain, love and heartbreak, fear and courage more intensely. (wiki)

Rogers went on to say that the "process of the [consciously creating a] good life is not, he is convinced, a life for the faint-hearted. It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and more of one's potentialities. It involves the courage to be. It means launching oneself fully into the stream of life. (Wiki)

How We Will Not Get There:

doing nothing

voting only

being cynical

being nihilistic

thinking it doesn't matter what we do

thinking too positively/negatively

going backwards

through force

through control/power/manipulation/coercion

top down/authoritarian




focusing on individualism

What I feel We Need:

democratic socialism

radical participatory democracy

horizontal and non-hierarchical power structure

socialist feminist practice

dismantling the binary in all things (including gender) in favor of a more complex, fluid, and flexible conception.


find out what truly motivates people and center social and working life around that.

put the means of productive into social and collective hands

break out of norms that are rigid and obsolete

dump externalized and internalized shame

sex positivity

paradigm shift

systematic, structural, and institutional transformation

create new dynamic communities

embrace pluralism

fully educate everyone in the mode of their choosing-- for free!

we can change the way things are through constructing a different reality consciously:

we need social change:

through social movements:

embrace all emotions and express effectively and healthfully (assertively)

to strengthen our interpersonal relationships -- having authentic genuine relationships and connections with others.

dumping fakeness/superficiality

replace with realness.

                                         Vulnerability = Connection

In order to reach a place of vulnerability and connection we need to establish a society physically and emotionally safe enough to engage with each other and that does not shut us down and bring up our defenses. And once we can get there... individuals can get down to the process of self-actualization.

It will take a lot of collective work of our society, communities, and families to get there. I wanted to share with you every idea I have on this subject and yes, it has taken a long time to express it in all its glorious detail. However, if you took the time to read this I think you will learn a lot about human beings, the current society we live in, and how exactly we can move forward towards embracing our full humanity.

Yes, it will take a lot of work... to do what it is we need from bottom to top to transform this society into one that could fully support the realization of every human beings potential. But human beings are known for being industrious, resilient, and creative. So let us stop looking to the bottom of Maslow's Hierarchy...and realize our collective strengths now to grow beyond our wildest dreams and imaginations. Together we can make it happen.

1 comment:

  1. A heavy duty article that should be published in a National Mag.