Up until now, we've been dealing with the four lower levels of Maslow's pyramid. These levels make up what Maslow called the Deficit Needs, because if a person doesn't have enough of something--i.e., a deficit--they feel the need. Maslow's theory was that Self-Actualization occurs when a person not only meets the lower, deficit needs, but masters them.
When a person reaches Self-Actualization, they reach their full potential. People desire to be everything that they are capable of being, becoming more and more of what they are. It's a state of harmony and understanding. This is a broad concept for Self-Actualization, but when applied to individuals, it can be very specific.
One character might desire to be an author or a good parent. Someone else might want to be a pro football player or invent something special. When these things happen, among others, these individuals will have a Peak Experience. A Peak Experience is a profound moment when the person is supremely happy, full of love and understanding, where they feel whole, vibrant, and aware. Self-Actualizing people have many Peak Experiences.
When I started thinking about characters in our books, this theory can dovetail off of Debra Dixon's Goal, Motivation & Conflict (GMC). What our character most wants, his ultimate goal, could also be called his Self-Actualization. The conflict would be the Deficit Needs going unmet or being derailed. I figured the motivation to reach a person's Self-Actualization would originate from one of the Deficit Needs not being met--perhaps for a long time, like a childhood hurt of learning your birth parents gave you up for adoption, or a lifelong hurt of never feeling safe and always having to look over your shoulder. A person could be motivated to be the best financial provider for his family (Self-Actualization) because his father left them and his mother always struggled to make ends meet. See how this could fit with GMC?
I've said it before, but I'll say it again. Maslow had a theory. It may or may not float your boat, or it may be a useful way or organizing and prioritizing a character's needs. There has been little evidence found for why Maslow ranked the needs on his pyramid like he did. Some researchers didn't find evidence for a hierarchy at all.
One thing that is definitely true: characters can skip around or jump through the hierarchy, and as blogger buddy Livia Blackburne pointed out, the theory could explain why it's so interesting or admirable when a character skips around on the pyramid.
Livia wrote, "Girls swoon over Edward Cullen because he breaks the expectations of the pyramid -- ignoring his need for food in order to meet a 'higher' need. In the same way, we admire a monk who fasts for a month in order to get religious enlightenment. Jumping the pyramid makes you larger than life -- and in some cases, storyworthy."
Couldn't agree more and couldn't have said it better myself. Give a character enough of a motivation or conflict, and you can really play around with these levels.
Q4U: Have you ever purposefully had a character "jump the pyramid" (even if at the time, you didn't know that was what he or she was doing)? How'd it turn out for you?
BONUS Q4U: Any suggestions you might have of some topic you might want covered for Thursday Therapeutic Thoughts?