In these quotes by Roberto Assagioli, we shall see how Assagioli understood Maslow’s theory of Self-actualization and how it differs from Self-realization. (From Psychosynthesis, p. 37-39)
“First of all, it is well to have a clear idea of what self-realization is. The term has been used to indicate two kinds of growth in awareness, of expansion of consciousness, which, although more or less related, are different in their nature and have quite different manifestations. The meaning most frequently given to self-realization is that of psychological growth and maturation, of the awakening and manifestation of latent potentialities of the human being —for instance, ethical, esthetic, and religious experiences and activities. These correspond to the characteristics Maslow (18) ascribes to self-actualization, and it would perhaps be well to use this term in order to distinguish it from the second kind of self-realization. This is the realization of the Self, the experience and awareness of the synthesizing spiritual Center. It is not the realization of the personal conscious self or “I”, which should be considered merely as the reflection of the spiritual Self, its projection, in the field of the personality.
Self-actualization may be achieved at different levels and does not necessarily include what can be called the spiritual level.
On the other hand, an individual may have genuine spiritual experiences without being at all integrated, i.e., without having developed a well-organized, harmonious personality. This has been clearly shown by Jung (15, p. 155) who calls our attention to the fact that the developing of the personality is not an absolute prerogative of the man of genius, and that he may have genius without either having personality or being a personality. Spiritual awakening and spiritual realization are something different from conscious awareness of the Self. They include various kinds of awareness of superconscious contents, either descending into the field of consciousness or found in the process of ascending to superconscious levels and thus having what Maslow (18) calls a “peak experience.” The distinction between the personal conscious self, the superconscious, and the spiritual Self is indicated in our discussion of the psychological constitution of man and in its accompanying diagram in the preceding chapter, but it is appropriate here to comment that, in the diagram, the superconscious constitutes the higher section or aspect of the person of which the ego or self (the point in the middle of the circle) is not normally aware. But at times the conscious self rises or is raised to that higher region where it has specific experiences and states of awareness of various kinds which can be called “spiritual” in the widest sense. At other times it happens that some contents of the superconscious “descend” and penetrate into the area of the normal consciousness of the ego, producing what is called “inspiration.” This interplay has great importance and value, both for fostering creativity and for achieving psychosynthesis.
We are using the word “spiritual” in its broader connotation which includes, therefore, not only the specific religious experience, but all the states of awareness, all the functions and activities which have as common denominator the possessing of values higher than the average, values such as the ethical, the esthetic, the heroic, the humanitarian, and the altruistic. We include under the general heading of “spiritual development” then, all experiences connected with awareness of the contents of the superconscious, which may or may not include the experience of the Self. It should also be pointed out that the reaching up into the realm of the superconscious and its exploration, while approaching the consciousness of the Self, may sometimes even constitute an obstacle to full Self-realization, to the reaching of the summit where the personal-I awareness blends into awareness of the spiritual Self. One can become so fascinated by the wonders of the superconscious realm, so absorbed in it, so identified with some of its special aspects or manifestations as to lose or paralyze the urge to reach the summit of Self-realization.
In the following analysis of the vicissitudes and incidents which occur during the process of spiritual development, we shall consider both the successive stages of self-actualization and the achievement of full Self-realization. Maslow has well recognized that self-actualization should not be considered as a state in which all conflicts have been eliminated and full unity is achieved once and forever. His is exposition of this important point is so lucid and cogent that it deserves to be quoted in full:
“This paper is the first of a projected series, “Critique of Self-Actualization,” whose long-term aim is the further exploration of the full reach of human nature, but whose immediate, pedagogical aim is to correct the widespread misunderstanding of self-actualization as a static, unreal, “perfect” state in which all human problems are transcended, and in which people “live happily forever after” in a superhuman state of serenity or ecstasy. …
To make this fact clearer, I could describe self-actualization as a development of personality which frees the person from the deficiency problems of growth, and from the neurotic (or infantile, or fantasy, or unnecessary, or “unreal”) problems of life, so that he is able to face, endure and grapple with the “real” problems of life (the intrinsically and ultimately human problems, the unavoidable, the “existential” problems to which there is no perfect solution). That is, it is not an absence of problems but a moving from transitional or unreal problems to real problems.(Maslow, 18, p. 24.)
Assagioli says the following about Maslow’s theory of Self-actualization in his book The Act of Will, chapter IX
“Maslow has clearly described the “hierarchy of needs” in Motivation and Personality. He speaks first of the basic psychological needs; then of the personal needs such as belonging and love, esteem, and self-actualization; and also of a third group: Transpersonal or Meta-needs. Achieving the satisfaction of the first two groups of needs often engenders, paradoxically, a sense of boredom, ennui, emptiness, and meaninglessness. It leads to a more or less blind search for “something other,” something more. This is seen in many who, having had great satisfactions and successes in the ordinary world, become increasingly restless, rebellious, or depressed. Viktor Frankl has dealt extensively with this condition, which he has aptly termed “the existential vacuum”:
Ever more patients complain of what they call an “inner void,” and that is the reason why I have termed this “existential vacuum.” In contradistinction of the peak-experience so aptly described by Maslow, one could conceive of the existential vacuum in throes of an “abyss-experience.”
… It is necessary to have a clear conception of the difference between SELF-realization and self-actualization. Maslow has pointed out this distinction in his paper “Theory Z.” He says that besides the “merely healthy self-actualizers” there are also the “transcending self-actualizers”; transcending self-actualizers are more self-actualizing than normal self-actualizers because they are more fully
involved with Being values—with SELF-realization.
This is not the actualization of the potentialities latent in the “normal” human personality, but the progressive manifestation, of transcendent, transpersonal potentialities, culminating with the direct experiential awareness of the Transpersonal SELF.
The well-rounded, integrated, self-actualizing personality can be quite selfish or at least self-centered.
Self-actualization does not imply any higher motivation; it can be motivated by the drive to success and to displaying one’s own individual powers. Not only can a self-actualized person be satisfied with himself, but he can even be antagonistic to any further growth. This has been well dealt with by Frank Haronian in his paper “Repression of the Sublime.”
Haronian asks, “Why do we evade . . . the challenge of personal growth? We fear growth because it means abandoning the familiar for the unknown, and that always involves risks.” Haronian quotes Angyal and then Maslow on the same subject. Maslow speaks of the “Jonah Complex”:
In my own notes, I had at first labelled this defence “the fear of one’s own greatness” or “the evasion of one’s destiny” or “the running away from one’s own best talent.” … It is certainly possible for most of us to be greater than we are in actuality. We all have unused potentialities or not fully developed ones. It is certainly true that many of us evade our constitutionally suggested vocations. … So often we run away from the responsibilities dictated (or rather suggested) by nature, by fate, even sometimes by accident, just as Jonah tried in vain to run away from his fate.
Maslow has presented an illuminating progression of five stages of evolutionary development. The types belonging to the first two stages are under Theory X. They are primarily determined by deficiency needs. The third and fourth types come under Theory Y. They are primarily determined by drives to self-actualization.
The fifth type is under what he calls Theory Z. This is the person who aligns his life with transcending values. While emphasizing the value of the reaches of transpersonal self-realization.
Maslow has wisely warned against making it something supernatural and separate from the other levels of actualization:
Transcendence also means to become divine or godlike, to go beyond the merely human. But one must be careful here not to make anything extra-human or supernatural out of this kind of statement. I am thinking of using the word “metahuman” or “B-human” in order to stress that this is part of human nature even though it is not often seen in fact. It is still a potentiality of human nature.
It should be made clear that “distinction” does not mean “separation.” All these levels of development are distinct; however, while there are individuals in whom the transpersonal aspect, although present, is so completely latent as to be practically nonexistent, in many others the different levels of personal and transpersonal realization can be active in various proportions, and also in various degrees at different times. Thus, one can have achieved a certain measure of genuine transpersonal SELF-realization while not having complete self-actualization.
This is in accord with what Maslow says in the second paragraph of “Theory Z”: “It seems to me that I have found some degree of transcendence in many people other than self-actualizing ones.” In the terminology of psychosynthesis, self-actualization corresponds to personal psychosynthesis. This includes the development and harmonizing of all human functions and potentialities at all levels of the lower and middle area in the diagram of the constitution of man. Instead, SELF-realization concerns the third higher level, that of the superconscious, and pertains to Transpersonal or spiritual psychosynthesis.
SELF-realization itself has three different stages. The first is the activation and expression of the potentialities residing in the superconscious: it includes the various types of transcendence previously mentioned. Leonardo da Vinci or Goethe would be good examples of this. The second stage of SELF-realization is the direct awareness of the SELF, which culminates in the unification of the consciousness of the personal self, or “I,” with that of the Transpersonal Self. Here one might mention those who have done self-sacrificing work for a beneficent cause in any field. Active humanitarians who have given themselves to a cause are good examples: Gandhi, Florence Nightingale, Martin Luther King, Schweitzer. Schweitzer is typical because he gave up even some of his higher interests—music and culture—in order to do humanitarian work. In terms of will, it is the unification of the personal will with the Transpersonal Will.
The third stage of SELF-realization is the communion of the Transpersonal Self with the Universal Self, and correspondingly of the individual will with the Universal Will. Here we find the highest mystics of all times and places.
You can read more about self-actualization and the developmental theory of psychosynthesis here. https://kennethsorensen.dk/en/the-developmental-theory-of-psychosynthesis/
Here you can read about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and subpersonality work, by Kenneth Sørensen https://kennethsorensen.dk/en/maslows-hierarchy-of-needs/