Self-Actualizing Five: Autonomy

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handsome male model in white singlet and jeans

Abraham Maslow’s Self Actualizing Trait Number Six:


“Autonomy. Independence of Culture and Environment. Self actualizing people are not dependent for their main satisfaction on the physical and social environment. Rather, they rely on their own potentalities and latent resources for growth and development. Healthy people have a high degree of self-direction and free will. They regard themselves as self-governed, active, responsible and self-disciplined agents in determining their own destinies. They are strong enough to be oblivious to others opinions and affections; thus they shun honours, status, prestige and popularity.”


Image: Lucky Vanous

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61 thoughts on “Self-Actualizing Five: Autonomy

  1. So not use to seeing guys in normal fitted jeans… even though it may seem a little harry highpants it was once normal to NOT see the guys reg grundies!

    • Yes – just noticed. You’re right! The revival of the waist!

  2. I have a new insight on Maslow’s theory, specifically his hierarchy of needs (1943) which argues that individuals cannot express the needs of problem solving and creativity, for example, until basic needs are fulfilled such as shelter, food, sense of self, etc. Writer Bertolt Brecht also argued a similar idea, “Grub first, then ethics”.

    However, I was at the Apology to Forgotten Australians at Parliament House last month:

    I met care leavers; many who as children endured horrific abuse, were denied a formal education, were subject to medical experimentation (the University of Melbourne also issued an apology for this, last month), for example.

    However, many had designed objects, clothes to bring/wear on the day to communicate their plight. They have also been campaigning/fighting for redress for years, i.e. exemplative of creativity and problem solving. Many care leavers are on disability pensions and struggle to attain Maslow’s basic needs and yet simultaneously display what Maslow labels as “higher” traits. Subsequently, I now question Maslow’s linear view of self-actualisation and I think that perhaps we are capable of simultanelously demonstrating a range of traits.

    Nevetheless, I very much appreciate MM’s series on this topic and understand of course that MM does not emphasise Maslow’s hierarchy. It’s also like MM’s low/haute sun sign series (I first typed “sigh” not “sign” – Freudian slip?). I read the Sagg post recently and laughed because I exhibit both low/haute traits.

    So Malsow is insightful but I reject his hierarchy/linear/triangle model. I don’t think it is an accurate description of human behaviour.

    • You are right to question the hierarchy/dichotomy thing Saturnine Cap/Sagg, Maslow’s hierarchy has long formed the basis of consumer research, and also long been recognised as simplistic. Believe me I feel the same way about stereotypes, their simplistic nature shits me (I was railing at that blah ‘what white people like’ blog this morning for this very reason), however I also recognise that there is some kind of underlying truth to them, which is of course why they work so well as a descriptive tool.

      The real problem with trying to develop typology’s of any sort, Maslow, Mystic’s Hi/Lo, Roy Morgans VALs research etc, is that you have to create some kind of box/boundaries within which to put people, otherwise you can’t typologise/stereotype.
      As I see it the problem is not with the typology itself – it necessarily describes an ideal that does not exist – it is when that ideal is applied like it does exist, ie that you are either hi or lo, or will satisfy all basic needs before satisfying others, or that the boundaries are rigid rather than fluid. Because of course what i judge as satisfying a basic need is not going to be the same as you.
      It’s even worse when the typing process is then used to ‘other’ people in a judgemental way ie. I am better than you because I have a lower basic needs threshold than you do, which makes you a yuppie/’white person’ etc etc.
      So yes, typologys are insightful, but I would argue only when they are not rigidly applied.

      Thanks for tapping into a little thought process I’ve had going on this morning.

      • Thank you shell and I appreciate your insight the judgemental aspect, like that song from “Annie Get your Gun”: “Anything you can self-actualise, I can self-actualise better” (or something like that!).

      • He has group dynamics theories too. You’re right about people expressing more than one trait at a time. Biology and environment makes us hard to pin down I think. You can corral people into pre-defined areas that look good on paper but then they’ll mingle and make sub sets which bring out aspects of themselves that aren’t usually on show. I think as a basic framework his theories are useful. But they are just theories.

        Anecdotal experiences like yours make it obvious to me that we can only use them as a loose framework. Theories are always thwarted in some way by the subjects. There’s the thing where people assign those traits to themselves and become self-professed channels for them – it turns into a bit of a Is the tail wagging the dog? scenario. Situations where a person might say Oh I’m a “in sert self-professed defining trait” so you just have to let me do that. They find a comfort zone within the boundaries of a theory and settle in for the duration.

        I’m interested in the way these stereotyping theories are used a a tool of capitalism. The buying and selling of commodities and the aspirational side effects on culture/society. I think the theories can be divisive as well as inclusive.

        I believe the key to a joyful existence is to simply be who you are, do what makes you happy and aspire to personal growth – that way at least you’ll be able to be found by the other people who are kindred. Your flag is up and instinct and vibrational frequency will bring you together.

        Goethe said something along these lines and I like it – all theories are grey, but the golden tree of life is evergreen.

        • ah stereotypes and marketing, so a favourite topic of mine.
          I’m doing research on trying to look at how flexibility can/is allowed for within the producer/consumer exchange process as to what value is extracted by the consumer (adopting a consuming above ‘basic needs’ is about fulfilling identity goals, so we may buy things to achieve a status, or to play, or to be ethical etc etc), so as to allow for the variance in interpretation without apply good/bad judgements. My research is specifically about community. But there is a lot going on in consumer research that is trying to broaden sense of what value individuals get out of buying stuff, and recognise its not all a one way process (eg producers manipulating consumers for profit purposes).

          Um, perhaps off on a tangent there, so yes, can defn be inclusive.

          • it’s a fascinating tangent shell and I think the more I discover about marketing theories the more I can see they provide useful metaphors for looking at our “stuff” and the reasons we have it in our lives.

      • i always thought what white people like was a joke – is it an actual movement? like slow food.

        • Yes, it was supposed to be a joke I believe. But then things turn into trends and I wonder who the joke ends up being on. I think I maybe don’t have much of a sense of humour about people perpetuating ridiculous stereotypes….

          • I should probably add that I’m more likely to be annoyed by them when they are simplifying things I identify with. But trying to ‘self actualise’ through my awareness of that annoyance re the problems with stereotypes generally.

    • natal saturn (long name hun!) what you describe is explained in Merleau-Ponty’s ‘Arc of Intentionality’ – that is that there is an inherent dissonance within the human being that means we are compelled to express the contents of our psyches. The more oppressed one is, the stronger this ‘intentionality’ becomes (the ‘arc’ is a hypothetical field around us which signifies the strength or breadth of one’s ‘world’ – or expression of inner being). The american slaves, for example, were oppressed in every way and found a way to expand their ‘arcs’ through song, dance etc – which went on to become entire cultures around music and sport – that is they came to use their bodies to expand their worlds. (apologies to any african americans here who may misinterpret my words).

      thus, even when the basics of survival are NOT met, the soul will out.

      • Thank you. I know of Merleau-Ponty but not that paradigm specifically. Yes, that’s a good explanation of what I’ve observed. Thank you.

        And yes, I should re-think my name for posting blogs…..

    • O and am VERY interested in your saturn conj moon etc if it’s not rude to ask, what do you do for a living (just industry or a loose description is fine if that’s an invasive question) – I was staring at that thinking how would that work and I’m wondering if it’s foster mum/dad? Or something to do with the legislation of parenting?

      • Thanks for your interest, whatever. I work in the arts with a background in theatre direction and before that I was a teacher. I am interested in the politics of representation (academic research) and I have this thing for the underdog, speaking up for marginalised positions (fuelled by the wound in my chart, I think and working class background) but with the Sagg sun I am too outspoken sometimes and get into trouble! Not that I do anything legally/ethically wrong (I am really strict about correct protocols- strength of Saturn in my chart?) but understandably, people feel uncomfortable when challenged.

        Whatever, it’s very kind of you to ask.

        • Oh nice thanks – your venus or neptune maybe balances out the saturn as well? The moon and the saturn together made me think something maternal or nurturing but at a management or legislative level. What you do seems like a constructive way to channel it – onya for finding your groove.

          • Thanks. It’s been a bit of a journey! I’m currently working as a curator.

            My venus is in Sagg as are mercury and mars, as well as sun. My neptune is in Scorp.

            PS I swapped my name in response to taurean alchemist. Hoping being addressed as Sun Sagg may make it easier but kept the rest as a response to your insightful interest, whatever. Thanks again.

  3. This is the most remarkable opinion about the Maslow theory, not forgetting he chose to conduct this study based on healthy minds & quite high achievers!
    People who have these experiences are actually displaying the traits of healthy minds even after suffering horrendous conditions of abuse & neglect.
    When people suffer under above conditions the basic principles of breathing, food & water become very important to the survival of the person, it is all they can rely upon for support in their survival. This shows physiological needs are far more important to the survival of a person than for eg. security. Which I believe most people think is the most important thing i.m.o.
    I also think this is a very positive sign that some (I understand not all) people can exhibit similar patterns of behaviours to those of healthy minds. It also gives hope to some people that they still have the opportunity to reach self actualization as their experiences do not always define the personality.

    • Yeh I think that’s an important point BG.
      The development and application needs/values like typologys are generally based on people who have food and clean running water and homes. So they’re only imagining what it would be like to go without those things. Very different to the creativity or spirituality you might find yourself accessing if you actually don’t have running water (and a home internet connection from which philosophise)

    • The other remarkable thing about Maslow’s theory Baristagem is not just how much it does explain, but how little it also explains. For example, what was Hitler doing in Germany during the war? Was he self-actualising? He certainly had all the other needs met (apparently). Some of his cohorts would say he most certainly was self-actualising, although history has proved that assessment to be quite questionable. Regardless of whatever deficiencies you have read that may have been missing in his upbringing, if he wasn’t self-actualising, where was on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?

      Another example is Ghandi, and you can add anyone else who has ever gone on a hunger strike for a higher cause. They are denying their basic needs, needs that according to Maslow (if you are a strict adherent) need to be met before an individual can progress to the next level, but he was definitely self-actualising, no two ways about it. So how did Ghandi manage to skip a few of Maslow’s hierarchies?

      Maslow’s theory gets a bit troublesome when faced with individuals like this. Perhaps Maslow was more of a generalist than a specificist. His hierarchy provides the bare bones of needs, but people being people, will skip around the hierarchical tree a bit, circumstances permitting.

      Just something to think about.

      As for the chap in the picture, he is welcome to self-actualise me anytime.

  4. I know that this is off topic but ‘hubba hubba’. He’d satisfy some of my needs, wherever they’re placed within Maslow’s heirarchy.

  5. Ok interesting. My view is that these typological and behaviourial theorists, whilst always having been around in some form since we started developing organised communities, really took off at the turn of the century when the industrial revolution removed the means of production from the worker to the capitalist. The obvious offshoot from this was motivational studies which undertook to examine how to influence and motivate the worker-who-used-to-be-farmer/craftsperson etc to work for someone else and thus not receive the full benefit nor recompense for his labours. When you work for yourself, you remain highly motivated because on a base level your livelihood depends on it, but it also inherently brings about that sense of satisfaction from doing a job well and fully reaping the rewards of doing it well. The industrial revolution changed this paradigm. The law of supply and demand and econmics theories which held that capitalism worked best when it was for the capitalist and not the worker. Basically … a surplus of workers artificially depresses the income the capitalist is forced to pay in order to continue the operation, thus more profit and growth for the capitalist.

    Apologies for the extremely condensed and oversimplified Marxian slanted Industrial Revolution histography.

    SO the problem therefore was a. how to motivate workers who are not working for themselves and paid only a pittance of the actual work that they do and b. how to stimulate demand in the market place for goods and products that basically nobody really NEEDS.

    These theorists took to examine then the underlying needs of human motivation that could then be *cough* exploited … they might say that’s a bit harsh … so *enhanced* in order to meet these needs and from them offshoots in aspirational marketing and “character building” have developed. It’s no accident that in the past hundred years since we appropriated the capitalist rationist economic model that the cult of personality and aspirational object acquisition has taken over as the dominant paradigm for “how to live well”. Obviously it’s all a deliberately perpetuated illusion as we’ve managed to survive and thrive quite happily for hundreds of thousands of years without this stuff.

    • Love an oversimplified Marxist version of history.

      My oversimplified postmodern response would be that isn’t the point that the cult of personality and aspirational object acquisition is only one model of ‘how to live well’? There are other models that people apply, and more importantly a very broad understanding of what aspirational object acquisition, and ‘how to live well’ means. Particularly in a post-fordist economy where flexible labour practices mean motivation is often shifted back to the individual (who have to then come up with convoluted ways to ethically/morally justify their participation in a capitalist system that no longer even offers them job security, like ironic blogs the purport to critique their consumption practices.).
      I’d actually argue that this stuff was more relevant back in the hundreds of thousands of years when basic needs were harder to come by – now that us middle class westerners are rolling in cheap chinese commodities, needs hierarchies are less relevant.

      • I think capitalism as an economic model has democratised the ability to be whatever it is you aspire to in terms of wealth and status but one of the side effects is that the workers have lost their crafts and now know only how to operate inside the “machine” therefore there is no sense of personal achievement or creative expression.

        Hunter gatherer wiring in the brain is not satisfied therefore the “common” people (I use that term as loosely as it can possibly be used) are more likely to aspire to the wealth and status they have been led to believe is their birthright within the capitalist model because they have no way of satisfying themselves with the act of creation that has been removed from the equation.

        I don’t believe it’s purely about recompense for energy expended, I think there is an aspect within all our psyche’s that has to create or be expressed whether there’s cash involved or not. I often do work for low wages because I can see there would be a level of personal pleasure derived from practising my craft.

        • the idea that we have the ability to be whatever we aspire to be is a cultural lie that has been sold as the truth to keep us perpetually aspiring beyond our natural abilities. The fact is the playing field is not even not from a biological/genetic level, not from a social status level, nor from a socio-political level.

          • That’s an interesting angle – I think if a person sees the “machine” for what it is, decides what they want to be and it happens to be something that exists within the “machine” then they have the cypher to be able to crack the code. If you’re a person who wants what the machine has to offer there is no reason you won’t achieve that goal. You just have to know how to work the system.

            If you can’t see anything within the model we happen to have been born into that appeals or is within your physical or intellectual reach you go away and seek another system to dwell in – and they are out there. Or you find something that allows you to work within the system that is personally motivating and creatively satisfying. That takes a bit of knowing yourself or learning about yourself but I do believe if you can find that one thing that allows you to feel at one with the world – whatever it is – you have achieved the success you aspired to. I think the trick is working out what your idea of success is and being strong and motivated enough not to be distracted by anyone else’s idea of it.

            I don’t want much of what the current paradigm has to offer but I’m grateful I was born now so I have the personal freedom to choose not to drink from the fountain. You have to be pragmatic. I have chosen to follow my own path within the system – parrallel to it. I feel like I’ve already succeeded because having realised I needed to step outside and run parrallel feels like success in itself. Then you use tools like astro to enhance your chances and it all seems to fall into place in one way or another. Nothing’s perfect you just go with it and see how it pans out. You have to know your personal limitations and work with them.

        • Yes, i would agree, capitalism has worked to democratise the ‘idea’ that we have the ability to be whatever it is we aspire to be, rather than that ability itself.

          And not so funnily, its now also working to valorise the type of moral justification for exploitation you are talking about in your final para there whatever, the post-fordist flexible labour thing i am waffling about below. Now we are ‘creative class’, we derive personal pleasure from being allowed to be creative and work on sunday afternoons and are paid poorly for that privilege.

          • What paradigm has ever pleased all of the people all of the time? There will always be someone who is enslaved, being burned at the stake, etc. It’s wrong but it’s reality. I feel grateful for the freedoms I personally have and the fact it’s not my turn this time – and if I see anyone suffering and it’s within my ability to help I will.

            I’m not morally justifying my creative work. I’m saying if I can see something would make me happy I’ll do it no matter what the $$ value (apart from you know stuff that takes you to jail). The thing with the theories is I have to be working within the confines of the system you’re theorising about for the theories to be valid. That’s what I mean about working parrallel – I’m living and using the system to achieve my own personal goals not goals others have put upon me.

            What most other people see as success isn’t what I see as success. So I go make my own. That’s what I’m talking about in terms of democratising. I’m free to make choices. I’m not forced to take work because it gives me the moral high ground. I choose to take some jobs because I can see there’s something in it for me creatively. If anything it’s me who’s exploiting the opportunity and using it as a way to expand my skills and repertoire. In my situation it’s not just about the capitalist exploiting the workers. If I don’t like the terms I am free to disagree and renegotiate – and often do. And for those who can’t do it themselves for whatever reason that’s what unions are for. Even though I’m able to negotiate myself I am always a member of a union when I have work and if I don’t use them to do anything for me it means my fees go towards helping someone else who did need to use their services.

            And with reference to food being expensive and the world going to hell etc. – we have to adapt. Buy seeds, plant them, grow some food – if you live in a place of drought grow drought tolerant food adapt to your climate – on your balcony, on the window sill, on the roof – every piece of your space is useful, community gardens – steal a roundabout that’s barren ground and plant food there. It doesn’t take that much time and it is creatively satisfying – and you might get to know some people in your neighbourhood.

            No land? get cheap vegetables by the box when there’s a glut and make preserves for winter. There’s ways to work around this system we’re in we’ve just forgotten what they are. We need to come together and share knowledge so those who aren’t “on top” can live happy personally satisfying lives. Let the people who give a shit about the system get on with whatever it is they want to do with it. The present global economic situation is an opportunity to take back some of what was lost with the industrial revolution. We can sit round complaining and theorising about what’s been taken and how hard done by we are or we can mobilise, plant the seeds of our discontent and take something back while the overseers aren’t looking. By the time it’s got its root down it’ll be too late for them to weed it out.

          • ahh, wasn’t intending to ‘judge’ your approach to your work Whatever. More pointing out that unfortunately the ‘system’ has created a box to put you in as well.
            But you are correct that in if you don’t buy into the system, or reject its boundaries, then the box disnae matter.
            Good luck with your studies.

          • LOL thanks shell – I didn’t take any offense just felt I had to explain myself because the theory re peeps of my kind was so not where my head or reality is at. If there’s a system you don’t like work out how to subvert it would have been a more economical response on my part. AND I just realised the tail has been wagging my revolutionary dog – Uranus is about to go direct and it’s transit is conjunct my MC at the moment whilst directly opposite is my natal Uranus conjunct sun (a revolutionary at heart) – being hassled by Saturn. Woof Woof.

      • Excellent point shell … obviously I was focusing on a pocket in history in order to illustrate the historical underpinings that lead up to where we are now from a capitalist western viewpoint of course. Prior to the postmodern critique that started in the 60s, the modernist view was that there were fundamental unified principles to all things and sought to find them and apply them in a practical way. The idea being of course that we would all be a lot happier campers if someone just told us the best way to live and we all just did as we were told for our own good. The post modernist blowback came about due to the alienation and perceived sterility of the modernist ideology in its practical application. A couple of wars and a few major depressions didn’t help either.

        But on an economic level today flexible labour practices have come about because quite simply the “you only get a small slice of the pie … but a job for life and cheap, affordable housing, food etc” idea has bottomed out. It doesn’t work anymore because food is not cheap and neither is housing or other basic necessities. I could go into a thing here about how debt has been used as a means to relieve this pressure cooker environment … but maybe another time.

        Personality, aspirational living such as this self actualised business is still used as the predominant motivational tool to keep people buying into the prevailing economic structure. It has nothing to do with reality because as you rightly pointed out in some cultures a person would consider themselves self actualised if they popped out ten babies and cooked the perfect goat curry or owned a thousand sheep. Here it’s about certain types of object acquisition and physical appearance. It’s all relative and none of it means anything. All it does is provide a prevailing consensus for a population to agree on “what’s right living” and to keep the whole system grinding along.

  6. Um yeh, apologies for the ranting – that fiesty aries moon is travelling through my 9th house now… and i’m procrastinating on channeling that energy into writing a kind of boring conference presso.

    • No need to apologise shell – it was all poignant and if anyone has a problem they do have the choice to simply ignore and go to another thread – or they let the tail wag the dog and have a go at you which is always astrologically insightful. I’ve found everything you’ve said to be stimulating and thought provoking – sure your presentation will be too. 9th house – you may become a guru and achieve cult status with whatever it is you say to your conference. Good luck.

      • o and I meant astrologically insightful in terns of your own as well as any detractor’s astro and the transits of the time – fascinating.

  7. “it’s all relative and none of it means anything”

    You are completely right Prowln.
    Thanks for the good wishes Whatever.
    A funny little commentary on the political and symbolic economy of our times this blog post has become. And perhaps an interesting example of Maslow’s trait?

    • yes shell re the commentary – I think we’re watching the fabric of our culture fray and weaken in spots. I dunno if it’ll tear completely but I’m thinking the crafty among us will be making and attaching colourful patches here and there.

  8. Am thinkin’ the guy in the pix is pretty dang self confident that he is self actualized even if he isn’t sure what it means.

    He’d just heard about it, that’s all, and then was asked to pose in his most self actualized pose. 😉

          • Now that IS too funny…

            Much of trait #6 sounds like it was written by an Aries.

            “They are strong enough to be oblivious to others opinions and affections;”

            So what, we are supposed to be above wanting to fit in or needing/giving love? Sounds like a monk on the path of renunciation to me. Perhaps Maslow spent time with some? I have never heard of him before Mystic. I think an Aries might ~like~ to think themself immune, but being human, can we really?

            “thus they shun honours, status, prestige and popularity.”

            Perhaps Maslow felt this a weakness in himself and as an Aries took the opposite direction? Cuz let me get this straight, you are an Aries for example, you have just discovered the most important thing in the world, won an Oscar, created a vaccine for every ill and you will not stand there and let someone recognize you?

            That to me is like denying the God within oneself. We inspire each other to be more than we are. Haven’t researched Maslow but wonder if he was trying to be humble or really was.

          • “thus they shun honours, status, prestige and popularity.”

            And here we are talking about him. Doubt he would shun it but rather be quite honored indeed.

          • Pretty interesting LL,

            I did a Solar (noon time) chart for him with what you provided and he has both Sun and Moon in Aries square Cappy Uranus.

            So interesting, very interesting! Maybe he was/is all he went on about. Cappy Uranus buckin’ all that stodgey Saturn stuff…Breakin’ free of the box like some mentioned above.

          • Doesn’t mean I agree with everything however…

            In contrast, My Aries Sun and Merc are sq. Saturn

            Sun 11th and Merc. 10th trine Uranus in 3rd.

            Suppose my Saturn influences are why I don’t automatically trust peeps who just pop off with stuff unless they’ve lived it.

    • I be actualizin’ a big fat smooch-a-rama right on the lips!!

      This is what happens when you’re in between laundry loads and too much time on your hands… 😮

    • Sun sign was Aries. I don’t know about sign and house for uranus…but he was born 1st April 1908 in Brooklyn, NY.

    • I couldn’t find a birth time, so no way of knowing what houses etc.

      April 1 is one of those distinguished birthdates don’t you reckon? I know some very big personalities born on that date, plus Maslow, Sergei Rachmaninoff & Milan Kundera.

  9. All, I have loved this discussion, love all the different views, the different focus’s people have, the different ideals we hold, the different aspirations! As a postmoderist of the Foucault strain, I am always intrigued at how capilliary power emerges among the population in different era’s – when this was written there was a greater focus on self actualising through the workplace (as I interpret the convo above), wheras now there is a growing trend for people to self actualise through their own exploration of the spritual world (again personal observation, no evidence to hand). However peoples perception of the topic, and the way people self actualise totally depends on the lense through which they view the world!
    Anyway – many thanks to all for a stimulating and exciting discussion. And thanks to Mystic for my new fave perv. So wish I was getting Lucky for Xmas…..