Self-actualization happens when you realize your full potential.

Life is a journey of self-discovery. Some people are fortunate to meet soulmates who enhance your life as it unfolds, and the lives of other people who journey alongside you at school, work, home, or in your community. There are people you meet who will intrigue you, and draw you into their lives. There are many others you will forget or who will have little to no impact on your life. The complexities of social relationships are profound. The complexities of intimate relationships are even more profound.

Close emotional friendships are intimate ones. Sharing personal experiences, perspectives, and feelings with trusted friends is sacred – acts of trust not to be betrayed without great disappointment and emotional injury. To share information with a trusted friend is an act of faith that demonstrates your confidence in your friend’s loyalty, care, and commitment to the history you have shared together, and the future you hope to share as you age.

A trusted confidant will reveal even their deepest secrets with you knowing that you will respect and honour that the story belongs to you and that you will not take liberties to share it with others. Not all intimate relationships are sexual in nature. It is possible to have deep close emotional attachments with friends without these relationships ever becoming sexual. Intimacy by definition refers to the “closeness” of relationships, not the activities in which people engage in with one another. It is possible to have sexual relationships that are devoid of intimacy. In the same way, it is possible to have friendships that are kind, caring, and perhaps even loving, but qualitatively less intimate or close than others. Some friendships are based on similar interests and hobbies where you gather with one another to play a sport, listen to live music, or visit a gallery. You may have many friends to call upon to join you in recreational activities, but still feel lonely or as though something is missing.

Close emotional relationships usually develop through progressively deeper conversations with one another that include discussions about your perspectives on things, and how you feel about them. Long-term intimate relationships grow increasingly closer over time as you and your friend share more and more about your life with one another. The ability to maintain long-term intimate friendships as your own self-awareness deepens is a special experience. Where your friend also happens to be your spouse, lover, and co-parent, the depth of intimacy may also begin to feel spiritual and mysterious in nature.

When you arrive at a stage in your life that validates your full potential at school, work, business, family and relationships, you enter a developmental phase referred to as “self-actualization”. In this phase, you no longer need validation from people around you to feel important, visible, or seen. There is an internal sense of self-worth, belief, and confidence that grows healthy and strong when you are able to enjoy and appreciate the fruits of your own labour. Success becomes a measure of personal bests, rather than merit ascribed by someone else through processes of evaluation that often feel inauthentic.

Celebrating your experiences of personal bests will result in improved mood, improved relationships with self and others, and a general increase in feelings of happiness and joy. Self-actualization feels good. Having close friends who journey towards self-actualization with you doubles the joy. Conversations move from ruminations related to feedback from colleagues, bosses, or friends, to deepened self-awareness and reflections about what you need, want, and deserve in your lives. There is less time spent on trying to unpack feedback from the social noise created by jealousy, envy, and ignorance, and more time talking about the good stuff of life, and sadly, as we age and lose people we love, the hard stuff too.

Shedding a layer of inauthenticity and secrecy may take time in psychotherapy with a trusted, skilled, and insightful clinician. Some people spend years lying to themselves about duplicitous affairs at work or in life. Finding safe spaces to release feelings of shame associated with years of lying, stealing, or cheating is a perquisite to self-actualization. Your authentic self deserves liberation from layers of deceit and shame. Your intimate friends and closest loved ones deserve the authentic love that flows from a soul freed from the shackles of injury caused by years of misguided feedback, poorly graded or wrongful assessments of your productivity or value on a team, or the serious problem of relational or emotional abuse caused by bullies at work who want your job, and who chase out high quality candidates through intentional backstabbing, relentless attempts to irritate and bother you, and mean-spirited interference or theft of exceptional work obviously superior in quality.

Only you will know when you have met your full potential. You will feel empowered and content with your authentic self. You will apologize less for your weaknesses, past regrets or failures, and grow in self-compassion and love. The inner harsh critic will vanish almost completely, replaced by a nurturing self-accepting and loving tone. You will value yourself more, and not be so shaken or upset by the feedback, especially maligned from others – who will never truly know you as well as you know yourself. In truth, you have always been the most qualified to assess your own best self and accomplishments. It is important to know your own mind, and to never lose sight of your own authentic sense of self.

Lisa Romano-Dwyer BSc, MSW, PhD, RSW

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