Self-actualization can be defined as a state of psychological fulfillment, including acceptance of self and others, accurate perception of reality, close relationships, personal autonomy, goal directedness, naturalness, a need for privacy, orientation toward growth, sense of unity with nature, sense of brotherhood with all people, democratic character, sense of justice, sense of humor, creativity, and personal integrity.'
Rogers maintained that the human "organism" has an underlying "actualizing tendency", which aims to develop all capacities in ways that maintain or enhance the organism and move it toward autonomy. This tendency is directional, constructive and present in all living things. The actualizing tendency can be suppressed but can never be destroyed without the destruction of the organism. This concept is the only motive force in the theory, but encompasses all motivations; tension, need, or drive reductions; and creative as well as pleasure-seeking tendencies). Only the organism as a whole has this tendency, parts of it do not. Each person thus has a fundamental mandate to fulfill their potential.
The human organism's "phenomenal field" includes all experiences available at a given moment, both conscious and unconscious). As development occurs, a portion of this field becomes differentiated and this becomes the person's "self". The "self" is a central construct in this theory. It develops through interactions with others and involves awareness of being and functioning. The self-concept is "the organized set of characteristics that the individual perceives as peculiar to himself/herself". It is based largely on the social evaluations he/she has experienced.
A distinctly psychological form of the actualizing tendency related to this "self" is the "self-actualizing tendency". It involves the actualization of that portion of experience symbolized in the self. It can be seen as a push to experience oneself in a way that is consistent with one's conscious view of what one is. Connected to the development of the self-concept and self-actualization are secondary needs (assumed to likely to be learned in childhood): the "need for positive regard from others" and "the need for positive self-regard", an internalized version of the previous. These lead to the favoring of behavior that is consistent with the person's self-concept.
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