7 Traits of Self-Realized People According to Abraham Maslow

March 22, 2018

Self-realized people have found the perfect balance between the “ideal self” and the “real self”. They are unconventional men and women who are free, satisfied, grateful, and sensitive to the problems of the world. Now, within the hierarchy of human needs formulated by Maslow, it could be said that very few people reach this summit.

This famous hierarchy, schematized as a classical ascending pyramid, was created by Abraham Maslow in 1943. Much has happened since then, there’s no doubt. However, it’s still relevant and remains one of the fundamental pillars of humanistic psychology and the movement of positive psychology.

In fact, we could say that few approaches are so inspiring… and simultaneously as valuable for the roots that nurture “personal growth.” To this day, and this is ironic to say, most of us spend a lot of time satisfying the first levels of this pyramid of needs. It is a continuous round trip, which leaves us without resources to use to meet the “superior needs.”

For example, if there’s something we all know it’s that we’re not always guaranteed the security level with a job that covers our basic needs in a stable way. Sometimes, even romantic relationships come and go. Therefore, we must admit that it’s not always easy to reach the summit of the “pyramid.” It’s hard to surpass that pinnacle where long-awaited self-realization is obtained.

You should view this objective as a journey in which you’ll invest small daily efforts, courageous investments, and decisive actions. It’s also important to consider another interesting aspect. This trip is not always necessarily a happy or simple one. In fact, humanistic psychologists remind us that figures such as Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, or Viktor Frankl are clear examples of self-realized people.

Now let’s look at the characteristics that define them.

A woman has her arms outstretched.

1. Self-realized people are motivated by the unknown and the ambiguous 

Accepting uncertainty, seeing opportunities in the unknown, and being interested in the occasional ambiguities of life are aspects that shape this open and flexible mind. A mind that is capable of adapting to the most complex situations.

This is what Abraham Maslow defined at the time as “a need for updating.” Nothing is as important to your growth and the investment in your potential as being sensitive to new information. You must be receptive to approaches different from your own and open to what your environment can offer.

2. An objective appreciation of reality

This dimension that perfectly defines self-realized people is not very useful. We don’t see it too often in our everyday contexts and in those around us. Even more, we may not be able to be objective when it comes to everything that surrounds us. Most of us are subject to judgments, stereotypes, and biases of appreciation. We also need to learn to be a little more equanimous, more humble, and receptive to our surroundings.

If we were a little more objective and got rid of many judgments… we would look at reality differently.

3. They are unconventional people, but also humble

Self-realized people have their own identity. Their own brand, charisma, and a light capable of inspiring others. They have created themselves through a process in which they’ve learned to accept themselves, with their virtues and defects. They’re clear on their priorities and how to achieve their goals in life.

They know what they want and enjoy being authentic. These people behave at all times with that perfect art where one is not afraid to show the world just as one is. But, at the same time, they know how to respect others and get the best out of them.

A young man smiling and self-realized

4. Self-realized people are motivated by growth, not by satisfying their needs

Day-to-day many of us deal with the needs that occupy the lowest rungs of Maslow’s pyramid. Namely, employment, a house, a good partner, solid friendships… However, there is something else we should think about.

Our lifestyle and current society generate an inertia. All of these dimensions oscillate, change, transform… Few things are safe. Jobs come and go. Friends are sometimes left behind as are fabulous people we just met, who connect us vividly to life…

Therefore, it’s not necessary to have “secured” the lower steps of that pyramid in order to ascend to the summit. The ideal thing would be to achieve a good self-realization so that we may face all of those basic processes of affiliation and security in a more mature and inclusive way. Self-realized people focus more on their own growth, on understanding that sometimes there are complex moments. But, with the appropriate psychological strategies, any adversity can be overcome.

An illuminated path in the woods.

5. They have a purpose

We all like to share evocative and motivating phrases through our social networks. One of the best-known phrases is one which reminds us that “You should not sleep without a dream or get up without a purpose.” However, what we do quite often is go to bed with worries and get up with more fears than goals.

Let’s try to turn things around. Let’s stop seeing the horizon as being full of obstacles and barbed wire and instead visualize a real purpose. A vital objective, which in turn can be divided into small objectives that we can draw strength from once reached. If we invest strength, motivation, and energy into a firm goal, many things will change.

6. Self-realized people are grateful

Realized people have the wonderful ability to see and appreciate their surroundings with the innocence and magic of a child. Everything has its nuances and a brightness capable of inspiring them. Something capable of urging them to be a little better every day.

Because life, in their eyes, couldn’t be more beautiful. Therefore, they appreciate everything around them. Every known person, every past experience, or every present event… Because everything, absolutely everything, has allowed them to learn and grow.

7. These people build deep relationships with few people, but feel affection for all of humanity

Self-realized people are very selective when creating bonds. They look for quality rather than quantity. When they build a relationship of romance or friendship, they invest attention, care, and great affection. They put a lot of humility and creativity into shaping a solid and enriching bond for all parties involved.

Likewise, although their closest personal circle is usually quite small, they feel an affection and active interest in humanity. They are caring and concerned about universal problems. These issues include discrimination, hunger, or social inequalities. Their ethical principles are very firm. Also, they don’t hesitate to be active when defending the rights of others.

To conclude, it’s likely that many of us will identify with more than one of the dimensions presented here. However, remember that it’s not enough to feel defined, it’s not enough to “be”. We need to “practice” self-realization and be proactive agents, not only in our own personal growth but also in the welfare of others. Because that is the final goal of Abraham Maslow’s pyramid, to be able to transform the world. To take it to another level of well-being, of coexistence, and harmony…

“Self-realized people have a profound sense of identity, sympathy, and affection for human beings in general. they feel a connection, as if we were all member of their family…”
-Abraham Maslow-
Hands surrounding a circle of paper figures.
  • Ellis, A. (2004). Conseguir la autorrealización. RET: revista de toxicomanías38, 32.
  • Maslow, A. H. (1991). Motivación y personalidad. Ediciones Díaz de Santos.
  • Soriano, M. M. (2001). La motivación, pilar básico de todo tipo de esfuerzo. Proyecto social: Revista de relaciones laborales, (9), 163-184.