Healing – The Path Towards Self-Actualization Only when our lower-order needs are met can we work towards self-actualization

I feel I am inching toward the state of self-actualization. Gone are the days when I woke up being sucked by rumination of the past. Instead, my thoughts are focused on the desire to become more and more what I can do, to become everything I’m capable of becoming.

After nearly 5 years of working on healing my childhood trauma,  I can truly say that it really does get better. It’s worth the daily work, staying on track, and not giving up. Being able to release the intense pain and the harmful attachments frees repressed stuck energy in our psyches.

As my mind gets more stable and integrated, I feel less like a child. Rather, my adult self seems to be slowly unfolding. It’s disconcerting though, for me who has had scoliosis – feels like my body doesn’t match my mind.

Healing – The Path Towards Self-Actualization
A self-actualized person finds joy in little things

However, this state has not become completely solidified in my psyche. This liminal space does last for quite some time. So much has to be unwired and rewired. I still have to keep doing the daily work so as not to slide back. Undoubtedly, I will always have to be in maintenance mode for most of my life, but that’s okay.  I know I never ever want to relapse back into a state of mental turmoil and confusion.

Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs

According to American psychologist, Abraham Maslow who proposed the theory of the hierarchy of needs, our lower-order needs (physiological, safety, belonging and love, social needs, or esteem ) must be met before we can aspire to fulfill our high-order need for self-actualization. We have to move from feeling and believing that we are deficient, to aspiring to grow into who we really are.

Maslow stated that if there was a linear progression to life, we should reach the self-actualization phase at around age 36. But most people never reach there mainly due to parental and societal injunctions.

Moreover, for us trauma survivors with no safety net, just keeping our heads above water is a struggle. It’s not possible to focus on becoming self-actualized.

Needs Shift With Along with Out Life Stages

As children, we have a higher physical need for love and belonging but as we grow up in teens, the need for esteem is sought after. As young adults, our drive for self-actualization pushed us toward achieving our goals. Later on, as we age we regress back to our earlier child’s need for security and comfort.

According to Maslow, the need for belonging and acceptance is especially strong in childhood and it can override the need for safety as witnessed in children who cling to abusive parents.

When people make life choices that are incongruent with their deepest desires and capabilities, less likely will they feel happy and fulfilled, in comparison to those whose dreams and lives match.

Lack Of Belongingness

For many survivors, even though our physiological needs may have been met, our ‘deficiency needs’ or ‘d-needs’  of nurturance, love, and belonging were cruelly ignored by our abusive/negligent caretakers. This lack of connection left us feeling discombobulated making us feel anxious and tense.

A prolonged lack of belongingness leads to a feeling of loneliness and chronic low self-esteem. Without that feeling of belonging one feels like driftwood, floating hopelessness. Our need to feel anchored is critical to our feeling connected with the world at large.

I spent most of my adult life trying to fit in, gain acceptance, and feel a sense of belongingness. It was only through healing and acknowledging the bitter truth, the people who I hoped will love and care about me are never going to.

Grieving this loss also means changing our schemas – deciding what/who is important to us.

Healing Is Metamotivation

Maslow also coined the term ‘meta-motivation’” to describe the motivation of people who go beyond the scope of basic needs and strive for constant betterment.

When we decide to heal from our abusive childhoods, we have to make a hard choice. Do we continue to stay in a state of hopelessness? Or can we muster up the courage to do the work and change our destiny?

Either we use our past as an opportunity to grow or forever let it be an obstacle to keep us from flourishing.

It’s a truly brave decision to work through the pain and loss and choose growth.

Self-actualization Is  A Process

Self-actualization is a long and continuous process. It is up to us to keep working on becoming more and more actualized. To be self-actualized, a person needs to:

  1. Honestly accept themselves and others
  2.  Be authentic
  3.  Live autonomously and in the present
  4.  Be spontaneous and have a sense of humor
  5. Have a deep sense of morality
  6. Are creative and problem solvers
  7. Have empathy and compassion
  8. Have a child-like sense of wonder and curiosity
  9. Are able to experience peak experiences of wonder and joy

Post-traumatic Growth and Self-actualization

Post-traumatic growth and self-actualization are closely interlinked. To cultivate self-actualization ask yourself the following questions:

  • How can I live authentically, without compromising who I am?
  • What inspires me to improve and be my best self?
  • How can bring forth my potential in the world?
  • What are my dreams telling me?
  • How can I grow and flourish in new ways?

Being Master Of Your Fate

It does seem challenging to know that you are in control, after years of feeling like driftwood.

It takes awareness and practice to erase the encoded behavioral patterns of a pleaser, doormat, therapist, or any of the dysfunctional roles that were foisted upon you. You don’t need to relate to the world through the trauma-distorted lens of how you must act/behave in order to be accepted and loved.

Neither, do you have to define yourself through your relational roles of son/daughter, brother/sister, husband/wife, or father/mother.  You are an autonomous human being who has a right to his/her feelings, needs, and dreams.

It’s not your responsibility to cater to everyone and see if they are okay. Your dharma or duty (if you no longer have young kids) is to focus on living up to your true potential. Not according to the expectations of people who don’t give a damn about you.

The Journey Of Self-Discovery

Recently, I watched a charming Singaporean-Korean movie, Ajooma that so well encapsulated the state I’m in. The female protagonist living in Singapore decides to still go on the planned trip to Korea alone when her son drops out due to work. During the course, of the trip, she has an epiphany to begin living her own life — not just as a wife or a mother, but as herself, for herself.

Like the protagonist, I’ve had to put my aspirations on the back burner due to so many circumstances beyond my control.  But now, I have the opportunity to focus on building myself up. Every day I’m learning new things. I’m not going to let my deficient childhood keep me from becoming who I can be.

At the end of the movie, Ajoomma is a content woman, no longer pining for her son who has moved abroad. She has found her vocation as a driving instructor and living her life. As the movie closes, we see her humming the song, Women’s Generation by the K-Pop girl bands SeeYa, T-ara, and  Davichi.

“I’ll be born again into a cool woman
More boldly with more confidence
I won’t cry again 
Will change for myself
I will start over again from the beginning 
I’m gonna laugh out aloud”

Becoming Who You Are Meant To Be

Becoming self-actualized means stepping out of your comfort zone and growing as a person. Only through the process of self-discovery can you learn what makes your life meaningful. You don’t need to follow the crowd and fit in.  Feel free to be whatever and whoever you deeply desire.

Life is uncertain,  so what, take a chance don’t let it stop you from becoming who you’re truly meant to be.

Image Source: Pexels

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