Today I have a burning desire to consider two terms: Self-actualization and self-denial. So what does each of them mean?
Self-actualization is the complete realization of one’s potential, and the full development of one’s abilities and appreciation for life. This concept is at the top of Maslow’s’s hierarchy of needs, so not every human being reaches it.
On the other hand, we have self-denial and here we have two days in which self-denial can be defined. From the Christian perspective self-denial is:
Self-denial can never be defined as some profusion – be it ever so great – of individual acts of self-torment or asceticism. It is not suicide, since there, too, a person’s self-will can yet assert itself. Self-denial means knowing only Christ, and no longer oneself. It means seeing only Christ, who goes ahead of us, and no longer the path that is too difficult for us. Again, self-denial is saying only: He goes ahead of us; hold fast to him…
However, from a psychological perspective, it is: when you distort or deny things that are really happeningg or how you really feel about something. You may minimise your (or other people’s) concerns, ignore the problem, or blame others.
Today, I want to focus on comparing self-actualization and the Christian perception of self-denial.So, as we go along I will be interchanging self-denial with denial of self to stay firmly grounded in the definitions that align with my focus.
Self-actualization comes from Maslow’s motivational theory called, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which indicates five (5) needs that human beings have. These include, psychological needs, safety needs, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. In order to reach the stage of self-actualization, which is the “highest level that one can attain or “peak of human flourishing”, one has to successfully attain the first four. The characteristics of self-actualization include, continued freshness of appreciation, acceptance, authenticity, equanimity, purpose, efficient acceptance of reality, humanitarianism, peak experiences, good moral intuition and creative spirit. Now these characteristics seem like things we should be aimming for and even work actively to achieve. However, in the drive for self-actualization I have a question. Where is God in these characteristics? One of the characteristics speaks to moral intuition, which psychology defines as, a spontaneous moral judgement, typically about a particular problem, a particular act, or a particular agent. The use of the word spontaneous, further distances moral intuition from morality based on God’s moral standing. So where are left as christians with this theory of self-actualization? We are left to consider if this is this teory we really should be ascribing to in our daily lives.
In Matthew 16:24, Jesus said to his disciples, Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me (NIV). The key term here is “deny themselves”. Since then many have asked, myself included, this very vital question, “what does it mean to deny yourself?” There are many articles that address this and the gist of them all is the beleif that sef-denial or denial of self means total submission to the will of God. Total submission means in every situation the flesh is denied the pleasures of life in favour of doing what God would have us do as his children. It further means that all that we do must be based on the desires of God and not our desires. This is difficult for many of us to understand and fully actualise. As a matter of fact, many of us will spend our lives grappling with this command, as the world we live in has many distractions, many messages that invite us to always seek self-improvement and slef-gratification as a means of attaining success. The seld is at the centre of success, according to those messages. But slef-denial or denial of self is NOT easy, and this is why it is important that we choose this route instead of a route that invites us to be totally focused on self. It means saying no to our impulses, no to what we feel is right as opposed to what the command of God is. I can attest to the many Ls I have taken when I have done things souly based on feelings. When my intution does have a foundation grounded in discerning the will of God.
If we explore Matthew 16 further, Jesus did not stop at self-denial or denial of self but he went further in 25-26 to say: For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
You see I believe that those characteristics of self-actualization will be empty without God at the centre of all we do and achieve, if we feel we can go it alone and we get to this “peak”, what will happen to our resolve when and if we do not stay at this “peak”. If we find ourslves back in the trenches and valleys we ascended from then can we make it back to the “peak” without denying self and clinging to God.
To arrive at anything looking like self-actualization, we have to first desire to know God, follow him and place him at the centre of all things. Unlike the American Humanist, Abraham Maslow’s pyramid we have to have God as the fundamental need of all human beings. Not religion but God. While I can conceed that having God would not be in Masloe’s pyramid as an atheist, that does not invalidate the importance of making this distinction. Above all each person has to decide if attaining self-actualization really is important. May be it is and maybe it is not. However, we need to go to God at all stages of our lives, through our myriad of experiences we need constant connection with God. What direction will you take and can you achieve self-actualization while you seek first the Kingdom of God?