Self-Actualization vs. Self-Image Actualization

Theme of the following quotations: We distort our inborn natures when we mistakenly assume that the path to personal development and virtue is a path of fitting oneself into molds suggested by conventional society, teachings, or the examples of luminaries. To do so is to actualize an image of how one should be, rather than one’s authentic self.

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“The same thing’s happening to you as happened to the crow.”

“What happened to the crow, Zorba?”

“Well, you see, he used to walk respectably, properly – well, like a crow. But one day he got it into his head to try and strut about like a pigeon. And from that time on the poor fellow couldn’t for the life of him recall his own way of walking. He was all mixed up, don’t you see? He just hobbled about.”

~ The character of Zorba in Zorba the Greek,
by Nikos Kazantzakis (1883–1957),
Greek author, poet, and philosopher


No man … can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude without finally getting bewildered as to which may be true.

~ Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864),
American Author,
in The Scarlet Letter


We cannot deliberately bring about changes in ourselves or others… people who do so typically end up dedicating their lives to actualize a concept of what they should be like rather than to actualize themselves. This difference between self-actualizing and self-image actualizing is very important.

~ Fritz Perls (1893-1970),
gestalt psychologist


…The neurotic process… is a problem of the self. It is a process of abandoning the real self for an idealized one; of trying to actualize this pseudoself instead of our given human potentials.

~ Karen Horney,(1885-1952),
American psychotherapist,
in Neurosis and Human Growth


He [MN: Carl Rogers] saw human beings as having a deep need for the respect and appreciation of others, a need which often conflicts with the other felt needs the person has. Such conflict does not itself constitute psychological disturbance, according to Rogers; there is such disturbance only when a person denies or distorts their own felt needs so as to develop a self-concept which fits the ‘conditions of worth’ of those around them.

~ Campbell Purton ()
contemporary English experiential psychotherapist,
in Person-Centered Therapy


Similarly, in Christianity, Christ is an exemplar who dwells in every Christian as his integral personality. But historical trends lead to the imitatio Christi whereby the individual does not pursue his own destined road to wholeness, but attempts to imitate the way taken by Christ.

~ Carl Jung (1875-1961),
Swiss depth psychologist,
in Memories, Dreams, Reflections


There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better for worse as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882),
American author, poet, and philosopher,
in Self-Reliance


If one is greedy, envious, or violent, it takes honesty to know, to understand, that one is greedy, envious, or violent. To pursue an ideal of non-greed, non-violence, away from ‘what is’, is, in fact, an escape which prevents one from discovering and acting directly upon what one is. To understand this obvious fact needs an extraordinary perception.

The understanding of what one is, without distortion, is the beginning of virtue – whatever one is, ugly or beautiful, wicked or mischievous. And virtue gives freedom. It is only in virtue that one can live, one can discover ‘what-is’. But it must be clearly understood, again, that there is a basic difference between being virtuous and becoming virtuous.

Being virtuous comes from the understanding of ‘what-is’, whereas becoming virtuous – cultivation of virtue – means covering up ‘what-is’ with what one would like to be.

~ Ramesh S. Balsekar (1917-2009),
Indian Advaita Vedanta teacher,
in The Only Way to Live


“Why not let me be anything? Why should I try to be so religious?”

“I said nothing about religion. Religion means other people are on your path too: They’ll drag you down. No, you must be your own person, and you must resist following others’ ideals. Filling yourself with the thinking of other people limits you. You must realize your own nature by yourself. Self-disciplinary realization is the key. You say you want to be free to be anything, but you can’t. You must only be free to be yourself. You must know yourself, bring what is within yourself to fruition.”

~ The character of Grand Master teaching little Butterfly,
in The Chronicles of Tao
by Deng Ming-Dao,
contemporary Chinese author


If someone is guiding you, that is suspicious, because you are relying on something external. Being fully what you are in yourself becomes guidance.

~ Chogyam Trungpa (1939-1987),
Tibetan meditation master, scholar, and artist,
in Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism


What the superior man seeks is in himself. What the mean man seeks is in others.

~ Confucius (551–479 BCE),
Chinese philosopher,
in The Confucian Analects


To be as good as someone else is no high ideal. I am myself.

~ Paul Robeson (1898-1976),
American actor, singer, athlete, civil rights advocate,
in The Undiscovered Paul Robeson
by Paul Robeson Jr.


~ Note: If you have found these quotes to be supportive, you may be interested in my book How to Be Yourself: A Guide to Living an Authentic Life which contains more than 300 quotations such as these which are organized into different topics related to authenticity. The book is available on Amazon in print and ebook format. (See top right cover image for a link to more info). ~

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