Self-Transcendence: The Value of Going Beyond Your Individual Self

· March 8, 2019
Read all about self-transcendence in this article!

Self-transcendence is a concept that’s closely related to spirituality. It’s considered a very complex characteristic of human personality and each one of us can have a different view of it.

Essentially, self-transcendence means transcending the individual self, meaning going beyond your own identity and understanding that you’re a small part of something bigger. This is a complex phenomenon that synchronizes with your perception of you as an integral part of the universe.

Self-transcendence and spirituality

These two terms are closely related. In fact, one of the inherent self-transcendence qualities is the expansion of the individual self. In other words, it means going toward something greater, more complex, and infinite that tends to be of divine or spiritual nature.

Some people reach self-transcendence through their faith in God, while others achieve it by acknowledging some kind of spirituality or idea. In one way or another, this helps people find the meaning of life that encourages them to transcend.

A person walking toward light.

According to Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, transcendence is deep within our spirituality, and spirituality is the part of humanity that makes us different from other species. You can’t become a completely whole person until you’re capable of self-transcending.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that, although present-day researchers usually don’t agree that spirituality is needed to achieve self-transcendence, it’s a significant aspect to many.

One can say that self-actualization is a difficult goal that requires hard work. Self-transcendence is what comes next and focuses on others instead of yourself. It’s centered on greater objectives rather than on your own achievements.

Abraham Maslow’s definition of transcendence

According to psychologist Abraham Maslow, “transcendence refers to the very highest and most inclusive or holistic levels of human consciousness, behaving and relating, as ends rather than means, to oneself, to significant others, to human beings in general, to other species, to nature, and to the cosmos.”

In this sense, self-transcendence offers individuals what Maslow called peak experiences, those in which personal worries transcend, to allow them to observe what happens from a broader perspective. It’s about experiences that create strong positive emotions such as joy or peace, and a well-developed sense of consciousness.

Also, Maslow’s use of the self-transcendence concept in his pyramid isn’t always mentioned when quoting his theory. However, little by little, the research community is starting to consider it.

Reed’s self-transcendence theory

Pamela Reed defines this concept as the expansion of the self-conceptual boundaries in a three-dimensional way. According to this theory, people can be seen as open systems and the only obstacle between them and self-transcendence is the boundaries they set for themselves.

Of course, human beings need some conceptual limitations, but the outward expansion of their self creates a greater state of connection with the environment, besides encouraging a sense of totality that couldn’t be obtained otherwise.

Reed’s theory states that this concept is a stage that people should reach to feel fulfilled and have a sense of purpose.

Woman in the beach at sunset, finding self-transcendence.

Cloninger: Self-transcendence and personality

As we’ve mentioned so far, self-transcendence is a personality trait related to the experience of spiritual ideas. It’s one of the personality dimensions evaluated in Cloninger’s Temperament and Character Inventory.

In Cloninger’s Temperament and Character Inventory, there are four temperaments and three dimensions of character. Self-transcendence is a personality trait related to spiritual aspects of the individual self. According to Cloninger, it can be acceptance, identification, or spiritual union with nature and its origins.

How to achieve self-transcendence

Achieving self-transcendence isn’t easy. It’s the highest state of human development, beyond Maslow’s self-actualization. However, there are some things that you can do to boost its development. Stephanie Flood suggests five creative Buddhism-inspired ways to achieve it:

  • Exploring basic meditation techniques (even if you’re a meditation expert).
  • Empowering yourself with knowledge and wisdom to build your conscience.
  • Not being afraid of the journey.
  • Finding your own spiritual techniques to reach the superior purpose and your ideal self.
  • Increase vibrations by living in a positive environment that promotes transcendence.

Viktor Frankl’s values

On the other hand, we can’t ignore the values that Viktor Frankl pointed out to experiment self-transcendence. These values, that people from different cultures implement, are the following:

  • Creative values: Giving back to the world. This value involves dedicating deliberately to productive work in a creative way. It means contributing with your unique talent and creative ideas in order to produce something valuable for society or to make a difference in the world.
  • Experiential values: Receiving with gratitude. Experiential values involve appreciating romantic relationships and the beauty around you.
  • Attitudinal values: Taking a stand toward fate. Attitudinal value is the human spirit’s challenging power when you bravely face adversity. Keeping your integrity in difficult times is the last line of defense to get a sense of freedom and meaning.

Also, Chinese psychologist Paul Wong explains that when you do something bigger than yourself, you’re practicing self-transcendence. You become the best version of yourself only when you care about others.

Thus, it doesn’t matter what your religious beliefs are, self-transcendence satisfies your deepest spiritual needs for connection and transcendence.