Self-Fulfillment: Definition & Explanation

Instructor: Deborah Teasley

Deborah has 4 years of teaching experience and a master's degree in program development & management.

What is your ideal version of yourself? How will you go about achieving your personal goals? In this lesson, we will discuss the theory of self-fulfillment, its role in a society, and how people in different societies have viewed its merits.

What is Self-Fulfillment?

Each of us has goals that we hope to achieve in our lifetime. What skills do you wish to acquire? What characteristic flaws do you want to overcome? Do you want to have a family? Do you strive to have a successful career? How do you wish to impact the community you live in? What is the legacy you wish to leave behind? These goals all come together to form our ideal life and the concept of self-fulfillment. Self-fulfillment, also known as self-realization or self-actualization, is the combination of the hopes we have for our lives as well as the plan we create for achieving them.

History of Self-Fulfillment

The Greek philosopher, Socrates, supported the idea of self-fulfillment and preached it through the Socratic Tradition.
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The idea of self-fulfillment dates back to Ancient Greece. The Greek philosopher, Socrates, preached this through the Socratic Tradition. He believed that everyone could discover their beliefs and values through something called self-examination. For example, think of a time when you had a strong emotional response to something such as crying during a scene in a movie or feeling angered by a political point of view. Why do you feel this way? This is self-examination, or the process of reflecting on your own behaviors and feelings and the motivations behind them.

This ideology stayed within the Greek culture and played a significant role during the Hellenic Age, also known as the golden age of philosophy. During this time, Alexander the Great spread their culture to create a vast and diverse empire. The people were not unified by traditional means, such as a political system or nationality. Instead, they were brought together by a fundamental value that was embedded in their education system. They embraced subjects like history, mathematics, art, and music all of which focused on one simple philosophy--attaining self-fulfillment and understanding.

We can also find the idea of self-fulfillment in more modern theories of psychology. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs was designed by the psychologist, Abraham Maslow, during his study on human motivation in the 1940s. Unlike other psychologists who were studying people with mental disorders, Maslow chose to study people who were successful in life. From his work, he concluded that human motivation was rooted in discovering our true potential through personal growth. In other words, we strive to attain self-fulfillment.

A pyramid representation of Maslows Hierarchy of Needs.
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Critiques

Even though self-fulfillment had a strong influence on the field of philosophy and led the Greeks through a golden age of self-discovery and enlightenment, there have been concerns raised about its usefulness and feasibility in modern times. Physiologist, Sigmund Freud, felt that the pursuit of self-awareness was an expression of the narcissistic ego and supported the idea of egoism, or the ethical theory that human behavior is motivated by self-interest. He felt that if a person is so interested in themselves, it leaves little to no room for other values. In other words, if you are focused entirely on doing what is best for you, are you able to recognize what is in the best interest of others?

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