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Fulfilling Your Potential

By Peter Shepherd

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Transformation occurs when existing solutions, assumed truths and past decisions are exposed as unrealistic, and this new insight allows one to view from a more appropriate and empowering perspective. I shall endeavour to provide new materials in each of my articles in this' Tools for Heart Intelligence' series, that explain why people behave the way they do and how you can transcend these limitations.

One of the foundations of transformational psychology is Maslow's theory of human needs, developed in the 1970's. Maslow believed that people are not merely controlled by mechanical forces (the stimuli and reinforcement of behaviorism) or the unconscious instinctual impulses that psychoanalysis emphasises. Maslow prefered to focus on human potential, believing that humans strive to express their capabilities fully, and that this is the basis for happiness.

People who seek the frontiers of creativity and strive to reach higher levels of consciousness and wisdom, were described by Maslow as 'self-actualizing' individuals. Transformational psychology is not therapy, it is information and techniques to enable healthy persons to make their lives even better, to fulfill their potential - it is for you.

Maslow set up a hierarchical theory of needs in which the basic survival needs are the first priority, and the needs concerned with man's highest potential follow on when other needs have been met.

  1. Physiological Needs - The needs for oxygen, food, water and a relatively constant body temperature. These needs are the strongest because if deprived, the person would die.
  2. Safety Needs - Children often display signs of insecurity and their need to be safe. Adults, too, need the security of a home and means of income, and often have an underlying fear that these may be lost, e.g. in war or times of social unrest, or due to misfortune. Fear is the opposite flow to need. Accompanying any need for something is an equivalent fear of losing or not obtaining it.
  3. Mastery Needs - This is the need to be able to get one's own way, to establish some control over one's situation and environment, to express some degree of personal power, to be able to communicate and obtain objectives.
  4. Needs for Love, Affection and Belonging - People need to escape feelings of loneliness and alienation and to give (and receive) love and affection, and to have a sense of belonging with high quality communication (with understanding and empathy).
  5. Esteem Needs - People need to feel good about themselves, to feel that they have earned the respect of others, in order to feel satisfied, self confident and valuable. If these needs are not met, the person feels inferior, weak, helpless and worthless.
  6. Self-actualization Needs - Maslow describes self-actualization as a person's need to be and do that for which the person has a vocation. It is his 'calling', a full expression of his or her creative potential. It is to be autonomous and fully-functioning. If these needs are not met, the person feels restless and frustrated, even if successful in other respects.

One reason that a person does not move through the needs to self-actualization is because of the hindrances placed in their way by society. For example, education can act to inhibit a person's potential (though also of course it can promote personal growth). So can other aspects of the family and culture act to condition and funnel an individual into a role that is not fulfilling. To escape this conditioning, a person has to awaken to their situation, to realize that their life could be different, that there are changes that can be made in the direction of self-actualization.

To promote our personal growth, we can learn to be authentic, to be aware of our inner selves and to hear our inner feelings and needs. We can begin to transcend our own cultural conditioning and become world citizens. We can help our children discover their talents and creative skills, to find the appropriate career and complementary partner. We can demonstrate that life is precious, that there is joy to be experienced in life, and that if one is open to seeing the good - and humorous - in all kinds of situations, this makes life worth living.


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Next in the series 'Tools for Heart Intelligence'

2. The Highest Need


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