24 Characteristics of the Self-Actualizing Transcender (Maslow Theory Z Summary)

Aug 30 · 19 min read
Sloww Maslow Theory Z Transcender
Sloww Maslow Theory Z Transcender

Looking for the full book summary of Maslow’s “The Farther Reaches of Human Nature”? How about deep dive notes on self-actualization or transcendence?

This post includes Maslow’s highlights on self-actualizing transcenders from The Farther Reaches of Human Nature— primarily from his writing on Theory Z.

Post Contents:

  • Overview of Self-Actualizers vs Transcenders
  • 24 Differences Between Transcenders and Self-Actualizers

As always, all quotes are from the author unless otherwise stated, and I’ve added emphasis to quotes in bold.

Self-Actualizers vs Self-Actualizing Transcenders from Maslow’s The Farther Reaches of Human Nature

In the work near the end of his life, Maslow begins to realize there are differences between the humans at the top of the hierarchy of needs. Specifically, he sees two kinds of people:

  1. Healthy self-actualizers (non-transcending), and
  2. Self-actualizing transcenders (or simply, “transcenders”)

Maslow describes each of them and gives some real-life examples:

  • “I have recently found it more and more useful to differentiate between two kinds (or better, degrees) of self-actualizing people, those who were clearly healthy, but with little or no experiences of transcendence, and those in whom transcendent experiencing was important and even central. As examples of the former kind of health, I may cite Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, and, probably, Truman and Eisenhower. As examples of the latter, I can use Aldous Huxley, and probably Schweitzer, Buber, and Einstein.”
  • “May I mention one more such technique that I saw at its best in Aldous Huxley, who was certainly a great man in the sense I’ve been discussing, one who was able to accept his talents and use them to the full. He managed it by perpetually marveling at how interesting and fascinating everything was, by wondering like a youngster at how miraculous things are, by saying frequently, ‘Extraordinary! Extraordinary!’ He could look out at the world with wide eyes, with unabashed innocence, awe, and fascination, which is a kind of admission of smallness, a form of humility, and then proceed calmly and unafraid to the great tasks he set for himself.”

A bit about the self-actualizers:

  • “…are more essentially practical, realistic, mundane, capable, and secular people, living more in the here-and-now world; i.e., what I have called the D-realm for short, the world of deficiency-needs and of deficiency-cognitions. In this Weltanschauung, people or things are taken essentially in a practical, concrete, here-now, pragmatic way, as deficiency-need suppliers or frustrators; i.e., as useful or useless, helpful or dangerous, personally important or unimportant.”
  • “‘Useful’ in this context means both ‘useful for survival’ and ‘useful for growth toward self-actualization and freedom from basic deficiency-needs.’ More specifically, it means a way of life and a world view generated not only by the hierarchy of basic needs (for sheer physical survival, for safety and security, for belongingness, friendship, and love, for respect, esteem, and dignity, for self-esteem and feelings of worth), but also by the need for the actualization of one’s personal, idiosyncratic potentialities (i.e., identity, Real Self, individuality, uniqueness, self-actualization). That is, it refers to the fulfillment not only of one’s species-hood, but also of one’s own idiosyncratic potentialities. Such people live in the world, coming to fulfillment in it. They master it, lead it, use it for good purposes, as (healthy) politicians or practical people do. That is, these people tend to be ‘doers’ rather than meditators or contemplators, effective and pragmatic rather than aesthetic, reality-testing and cognitive rather than emotional and experiencing.”

This differs from self-actualizing transcenders:

  • “The other type (transcenders?) may be said to be much more often aware of the realm of Being (B-realm and B-cognition), to be living at the level of Being; i.e., of ends, of intrinsic values; to be more obviously metamotivated; to have unitive consciousness and ‘plateau experience’ (Asrani) more or less often; and to have or to have had peak experiences (mystic, sacral, ecstatic) with illuminations or insights or cognitions which changed their view of the world and of themselves, perhaps occasionally, perhaps as a usual thing.”
  • “…what I have referred to as ‘peakers’ rather than ‘nonpeakers’, and Yea-sayers rather than Nay-sayers, life-positive rather than life-negative (in Reich’s sense), eager for life rather than nauseated or irritated by it.”

Maslow also busts some myths and concludes: 1) You can find transcenders in any profession, and 2) Even people below the level of self-actualization can have transcendent experiences.

  • “Because it will be so difficult for so many to believe, I must state explicitly that I have found approximately as many transcenders among businessmen, industrialists, managers, educators, political people as I have among the professionally ‘religious,’ the poets, intellectuals, musicians, and others who are supposed to be transcenders and are officially labeled so. I must say that each of these ‘professions’ has different folkways, different jargon, different personae, and different uniforms. Any minister will talk transcendence even if he hasn’t got the slightest inkling of what it feels like. And most industrialists will carefully conceal their idealism, their metamotivations, and their transcendent experience under a mask of ‘toughness,’ ‘realism,’ ‘selfishness,’ and all sorts of other words which would have to be marked off by quotes to indicate that they are only superficial and defensive. Their more real metamotivations are often not repressed but only suppressed, and I have sometimes found it quite easy to break through the protective surface by very direct confrontations and questions.”
  • “I find not only self-actualizing persons who transcend, but also nonhealthy people, non-self-actualizers who have important transcendent experiences. It seems to me that I have found some degree of transcendence in many people other than self-actualizing ones as I have defined this term. Perhaps it will be found even more widely as we develop better technique and better conceptualizations. After all, I am reporting here my impressions from the most preliminary of explorations. In any case, it is my tentative impression that I am more likely to find cognizing of transcendence not only in self-actualizing but also in highly creative or talented people, in highly intelligent people, in very strong characters, in powerful and responsible leaders and managers, in exceptionally good (virtuous) people and in ‘heroic’ people who have overcome adversity and who have been strengthened by it rather than weakened.”

24 Differences (in Degree) Between Transcenders and Merely Healthy People from Maslow’s Theory Z

In general, Maslow highlights the differences between the two kinds of people like this:

  • “Nontranscending and transcending self-actualizers…share in common all the characteristics described for self-actualizing with the one exception of presence or absence or, more probably, greater or lesser number and importance of peak experiences and B-cognitions and what Asrani has called plateau experiences (serene and contemplative B-cognitions rather than climactic ones).”

Maslow goes on to list 24 characteristics that distinguish the two types:

  • “But it is my strong impression that the nontranscending self-actualizers do not have the following characteristics or have less of them than do the transcenders.”
Sloww Transcenders Infographic Maslow Theory Z
Sloww Transcenders Infographic Maslow Theory Z

1. “For the transcenders, peak experiences and plateau experiences become the most important things in their lives, the high spots, the validators of life, the most precious aspect of life.”

2. “They (the transcenders) speak easily, normally, naturally, and unconsciously the language of Being (B-language), the language of poets, of mystics, of seers, of profoundly religious men, of men who live at the Platonic-idea level or at the Spinozistic level, under the aspect of eternity. Therefore, they should better understand parables, figures of speech, paradoxes, music, art, nonverbal communications, etc. (This is an easily testable proposition.)”

3. “They perceive unitively or sacrally (i.e., the sacred within the secular), or they see the sacredness in all things at the same time that they also see them at the practical, everyday D-level. They can sacralize everything at will; i.e., perceive it under the aspect of eternity. This ability is in addition to — not mutually exclusive with — good reality testing within the D-realm. (This is well described by the Zen notion of ‘nothing special.’)”

4. “They are much more consciously and deliberately metamotivated. That is, the values of Being, or Being itself seen both as fact and value, e.g., perfection, truth, beauty, goodness, unity, dichotomy-transcendence, B-amusement, etc. are their main or most important motivations.”

5. “They seem somehow to recognize each other, and to come to almost instant intimacy and mutual understanding even upon first meeting. They can then communicate not only in all the verbal ways but also in the nonverbal ways as well.”

6. “They are more responsive to beauty. This may turn out to be rather a tendency to beautify all things, including all the B-Values, or to see the beautiful more easily than others do, or to have aesthetic responses more easily than other people do, consider beauty most important, or to see as beautiful what is not officially or conventionally beautiful. (This is confusing, but it is the best I can do at this time.)”

7. “They are more holistic about the world than are the ‘healthy’ or practical self-actualizers (who are also holistic in this same sense). Mankind is one and the cosmos is one, and such concepts as the ‘national interest’ or ‘the religion of my fathers’ or ‘different grades of people or of IQ’ either cease to exist or are easily transcended. If we accept as the ultimate political necessities (as well as today the most urgent ones), to think of all men as brothers, to think of national sovereignties (the right to make war) as a form of stupidity or immaturity, then transcenders think this way more easily, more reflexively, more naturally. Thinking in our ‘normal’ stupid or immature way is for them an effort, even though they can do it.”

8. “Overlapping this statement of holistic perceiving is a strengthening of the self-actualizer’s natural tendency to synergy — intrapsychic, interpersonal, intraculturally and internationally. This cannot be spelled out fully here because that would take too long. A brief — and perhaps not very meaningful — statement is that synergy transcends the dichotomy between selfishness and unselfishness and includes them both under a single superordinate concept. It is a transcendence of competitiveness, of zero-sum of win-lose gamesmanship. The reader who is interested enough is referred to what has already been written on the subject.”

9. “Of course there is more and easier transcendence of the ego, the Self, the identity.”

10. “Not only are such people lovable as are all of the most self-actualizing people, but they are also more awe-inspiring, more ‘unearthly,’ more godlike, more ‘saintly’ in the medieval sense, more easily revered, more ‘terrible’ in the older sense. They have more often produced in me the thought, ‘This is a great man.’”

11. “As one consequence of all these characteristics, the transcenders are far more apt to be innovators, discovers of the new, than are the healthy self-actualizers, who are rather apt to do a very good job of what has to be done ‘in the world.’ Transcendent experiences and illuminations bring clearer vision of the B-Values, of the ideal, of the perfect, of what ought to be, what actually could be, what exists in potentia — and therefore of what might be brought to pass.”

12. “I have a vague impression that the transcenders are less ‘happy’ than the healthy ones. They can be more ecstatic, more rapturous, and experience greater heights of ‘happiness’ (a too weak word) than the happy and healthy ones. But I sometimes get the impression that they are as prone and maybe more prone to a kind of cosmic-sadness or B-sadness over the stupidity of people, their self-defeat, their blindness, their cruelty to each other, their shortsightedness. Perhaps this comes from the contrast between what actually is and the ideal world that the transcenders can see so easily and so vividly, and which is in principle so easily attainable. Perhaps this is a price these people have to pay for their direct seeing of the beauty of the world, of the saintly possibilities in human nature, of the non-necessity of so much of human evil, of the seemingly obvious necessities for a good world; e.g., a world government, synergic social institutions, education for human goodness rather than for higher IQs or greater expertness at some atomistic job, etc. Any transcender could sit down and in five minutes write a recipe for peace, brotherhood, and happiness, a recipe absolutely within the bounds of practicality, absolutely attainable. And yet he sees all this not being done; or where it is being done, then so slowly that the holocausts may come first. No wonder he is sad or angry or impatient at the same time that he is also ‘optimistic’ in the long run.

13. “The deep conflicts over the ‘elitism’ that is inherent in any doctrine of self-actualization — they are after all superior people whenever comparisons are made — is more easily solved — or at least managed — by the transcenders than by the merely healthy self-actualizers. This is made possible because they can more easily live in both the D- and B-realms simultaneously, they can sacralize everybody so much more easily. This means that they can reconcile more easily the absolute necessity for some form of reality-testing, comparing, elitism in the D-world (you must pick a good carpenter for the job, not a poor carpenter; you must make some distinction between the criminal and the policeman, the sick man and the physician, the honest man and the fake, the intelligent man and the stupid one) on the one hand, and on the other hand, the transfinite and equal, noncomparable sacredness of everybody. In a very empirical and necessary sense, Carl Rogers talks about the ‘unconditional positive regard’ that is a priori necessary effective psychotherapy. Our laws forbid ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment; i.e., no matter what crime a man has committed, he must be treated with a dignity not reducible below a certain point. Seriously religious theists say that ‘each and every person is a child of God.’ This sacredness of every person and even of every living thing, even of nonliving things that are beautiful, etc., is so easily and directly perceived in its reality by every transcender that he can hardly forget it for a moment. Fused with his highly superior reality-testing of the D-realm, he could be the godlike punisher, the comparer, noncontemptuous, never the exploiter of weakness, stupidity, or incapability even while he realistically recognized these gradable qualities in the D-world. The way of phrasing this paradox that I have found useful for myself is this: The factually-superior transcending self-actualizer acts always to the factually-inferior person as to a brother, a member of the family who must be loved and cared for no matter what he does because he is after all a member of the family. But he can still act as stern father or older brother, and not only as an all-forgiving mother or motherly father. This punishment is quite compatible with godlike transfinite love. From a transcendent point of view, it is easy to see that even for the good of the transgressor himself it may be better to punish him, frustrate him, to say ‘No,’ rather than to gratify him or please him now.”

14. “My strong impression is that transcenders show more strongly a positive correlation — rather than the more usual inverse one — between increasing knowledge and increasing mystery and awe. Certainly by most people scientific knowledge is taken as a lessener of mystery and therefore of fear, since for most people mystery breeds fear. One then pursues knowledge as an anxiety-reducer. But for peak-experiencers and transcenders in particular, as well as for self-actualizers in general, mystery is attractive and challenging rather than frightening. The self-actualizer is somewhat apt to be bored by what is well known, however useful this knowledge may be. But this is especially so for the peaker for whom the sense of mystery of reverence and of awe is a reward rather than a punishment. In any case, I have found in the most creative scientists I have talked with that the more they know, the more apt they are to go into an ecstasy in which humility, a sense of ignorance, a feeling of smallness, awe before the tremendousness of the universe, or the stunningness of a hummingbird, or the mystery of a baby are all a part, and are all felt subjectively in a positive way, as a reward. Hence the humility and self-confessed ‘ignorance’ and yet also the happiness of the great transcender-scientist. I think it a possibility that we all have such experiences, especially as children, and yet it is the transcender who seems to have them more often, more profoundly, and values them most as high moments in life. This statement is meant to include both scientists and mystics as well as poets, artists, industrialists, politicians, mothers, and many other kinds of people. And in any case, I affirm as a theory of cognition and of science (for testing) that at the highest levels of development of humanness, knowledge is positively rather than negatively correlated with a sense of mystery, awe, humility, ultimate ignorance, reverence, and a sense of oblation.”

15. “Transcenders, I think, should be less afraid of ‘nuts’ and ‘kooks’ than are other self-actualizers, and thus are more likely to be good selectors of creators (who sometimes look nutty or kooky). I would guess that self-actualizers would generally value creativeness more and therefore select it more efficiently (and therefore should make the best personnel managers or selectors or counselors) and yet to value a William Blake type takes, in principle, a greater experience with transcendence and therefore a greater valuation of it. Something like this should be true at the opposite pole: A transcender should also be more able to screen out the nuts and kooks who are not creative, which I suppose includes most of them. I have no experience to report here. This follows from theory and is presented as an easily testable hypothesis.”

16. “It follows from theory that transcenders should be more ‘reconciled with evil’ in the sense of understanding its occasional inevitability and necessity in the larger holistic sense, i.e., ‘from above,’ in a godlike or Olympian sense. Since this implies a better understanding of it, it should generate both a greater compassion with it and a less ambivalent and a more unyielding fight against it. This sounds like a paradox, but with a little thought can be seen as not at all self-contradictory. To understand more deeply means, at this level, to have a stronger arm (not a weaker one), to be more decisive, to have less conflict, ambivalence, regret, and thus to act more swiftly, surely and effectively. One can compassionately strike down the evil man if this is necessary.”

17. “I would expect another paradox to be found in transcenders: Namely, that they are more apt to regard themselves as carriers of talent, instruments of the transpersonal, temporary custodians so to speak of a greater intelligence or skill or leadership or efficiency. This means a certain particular kind of objectivity or detachment toward themselves that to nontranscenders might sound like arrogance, grandiosity, or even paranoia. The example I find most useful here is the attitude of the pregnant mother toward herself and her unborn child. What is self? What is not? How demanding, self-admiring, arrogant does she have a right to be? I think we would be just as startled by the judgment, ‘l am the best one for his job and therefore I demand it,’ as by the equally probable judgment, ‘You are the best one for this job and therefore it is your duty to take it away from me.’ Transcendence brings with it the ‘transpersonal’ loss of ego.”

18. “Transcenders are in principle (l have no data) more apt to be profoundly ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’ in either the theistic or nontheistic sense. Peak experiences and other transcendent experiences are in effect also to be seen as ‘religious or spiritual’ experiences if only we redefine these terms to exclude their historical, conventional, superstitious, institutional accretions of meaning. Such experiences could indeed be seen as ‘antireligious’ from the merely conventional point of view or as religion-surrogates, or religion-replacements or as a ‘new version of what used to be called religion or spirituality.’ The paradox that some atheists are far more ‘religious’ than some priests can be easily enough tested and thus given operational meaning.”

19. “Perhaps another quantitative difference that may show up between these two kinds of self-actualizers — I am not at all sure of it — is that the transcenders, I suspect, find it easier to transcend the ego, the self, the identity, to go beyond self-actualization. To sharpen what I think I see: Perhaps we could say that the description of the healthy ones is more exhausted by describing them primarily as strong identities, people who know who they are, where they are going, what they want, what they are good for, in a word, as strong Selves, using themselves well and authentically and in accordance with their own true nature. And this of course does not sufficiently describe the transcenders. They are certainly this; but they are also more than this.”

20. “I would suppose — again as an impression and without specific data — that transcenders, because of their easier perception of the B-realm, would have more end experiences (of suchness) than their more practical brothers do, more of the fascinations that we see in children who get hypnotized by the colors in a puddle, or by raindrops dripping down a windowpane, or by the smoothness of skin, or the movements of a caterpillar.”

21. “In theory, transcenders should be somewhat more Taoistic, and the merely healthy somewhat more pragmatic. B-cognition makes everything look more miraculous, more perfect, just as it should be. It therefore breeds less impulse to do anything to the object that is fine just as it is, less needing improvement, or intruding upon. There should then be more impulse simply to stare at it and examine it than to do anything about it or with it.”

22. “A concept that adds nothing new but which ties all the foregoing in with the whole rich structure of Freudian Theory is the word ‘postambivalent’ that I think tends to be more characteristic of all self-actualizers and may turn out to be a little more so in some transcenders. It means total wholehearted and unconflicted love, acceptance, expressiveness, rather than the more usual mixture of love and hate that passes for ‘love’ or friendship or sexuality or authority or power, etc.”

23. “Finally I call attention to the question of ‘levels of pay’ and ‘kinds of pay’ even though I am not sure that my two groups differ much, if at all, in this regard. What is crucially important is the fact itself that there are many kinds of pay other than money pay, that money as such steadily recedes in importance with increasing affluence and with increasing maturity of character, while higher forms of pay and metapay steadily increase in importance. Furthermore, even where money pay continues to seem to be important, it is often so not in its own literal, concrete character, but rather as a symbol for status, success, self-esteem with which to win love, admiration, and respect. This is an easily researched subject. I have been collecting ads for some time now which seek to attract professional, administrative, or executive employees, ads for Peace Corps and VISTA-type work, and sometimes even for less skilled, blue collar employees in which the attractions that are set forth to lure the applicant are not only money but also higher-need gratifications and metaneed gratifications, e.g., friendly co-workers, good surroundings, a secure future, challenge, growth, idealistic satisfactions, responsibility, freedom, an important product, compassion for others, helping mankind, helping the country, a chance to put one’s own ideas into effect, a company of which one can be proud, a good school system, even good fishing, beautiful mountains to climb, etc. The Peace Corps goes so far as to stress as an attraction low money wages and great hardships, self-sacrifice, etc., all for the sake of helping others. I assume that greater psychological health would make these kinds of pay more valuable especially with sufficient money and with money held constant as a variable. Of course, a large proportion of self-actualizing people have probably fused work and play anyway, i.e., they love their work. Of them, one could say, they get paid for what they would do as a hobby anyway, for doing work that is intrinsically satisfying. The only difference I can think of, that further investigation may turn up between my two groups, is that the transcenders may actively seek out jobs that make peak experiences and B-cognition more likely. One reason for mentioning this in this context is my conviction that it is a theoretical necessity in planning the Eupsychia, the good society, that leadership must be separated from privilege, exploitation, possessions, luxury, status, power-over-the-people, etc. The only way that I can see to protect the more capable, the leaders and managers from ressentiment, from the impotent envy of the weak, of the underprivileged, of the less capable, of those who need to be helped, ie., from the Evil Eye, from overturn by the underdog, is to pay them, not with more money, but with less, to pay them rather with ‘higher pay’ and with ‘metapay.’ It follows from the principles so far set forth here and elsewhere that this would please both the self-actualizers and the less psychologically developed, and would abort the development of the mutually exclusive and antagonistic classes or castes that we have seen throughout human history. All we need to do to make practical this post-Marxian, post-historical possibility is to learn not to pay too much for money, i.e., to value higher rather than the lower. Also it would be necessary here to desymbolize money; i.e., it must not symbolize success, respectworthiness, or loveworthiness. These changes should in principle be quite easily possible since they already accord with the preconscious or not-quite-conscious value-life of self-actualizing people. Whether or not this Weltanschauung is or is not more characteristic of transcenders remains to be discovered. I suspect so, mostly on the grounds that mystics and transcenders have throughout history seemed spontaneously to prefer simplicity and to avoid luxury, privilege, honors, and possessions. My impression is that the ‘common people’ have therefore mostly tended to love and revere them rather than to fear and hate them. So perhaps this could be a help in designing a world in which the most capable, the most awakened, the most idealistic would be chosen and loved as leaders, as teachers, as obviously benevolent and unselfish authority.”

24. “I cannot resist expressing what is only a vague hunch; namely, the possibility that my transcenders seem to me somewhat more apt to be Sheldonian ectomorphs while my less-often-transcending self-actualizers seem more often to be mesomorphic. (I mention this only because it is in principle easily testable.)”

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