Maslow placed on top of the hierarchy of human needs, self-actualization, which to me is an abstraction of self-worth. Several constructs relate to self-worth, one is self-actualization and the other is self-esteem. These concepts form a triad of interdependent concept relations to understand the human being in his individuality or self-concept.
Psychologist, Daniel Johnston (2000), differentiates self-esteem as how one feels about himself, against self-worth which is how one values his self. My contention here is that Johnston claims that a person is born with self-worth. I could not believe that a psychologist from the traditions of natural science could say that self-worth is something someone born with. He even furthered, that one does not lose it, but only forgets it.
Maslow loosely defined self-actualization as not being a static state of reaching the full human potential, but the continuous use of those potentials creatively and gratifyingly. Self-actualizing people have clearer perspectives in life, less emotional but more dedicated to their vocations, and are driven to succeed through creativity, calculated risk taking, hardwork, courage and spontaneity. Nothing is taken from self-actualizing person; his self-worth is intact and even added on.
While self can be a construction, much more is worth a social construction. Worth is a value that one places on another. It requires one person to objectify himself to give that self value. In many cases, self-worth becomes a meaning commodified and negotiated, that in the exchange or in social interactions, people place value on another person. The individual in capacity to discriminate and choose between values consequently determines his self-worth. How one sees himself in value terms is self-worth.
Maslow (1971) believes that the individual as opposed to the social creates the being in him. This is expected for a scientist interested in the human behavior. On the other hand, this contrasts to the concepts of social constructionism and symbolic interactionism. Truly, we can create our identities as self-concepts, but as we are part of a symbolic exchange in our social interactions, our self-concept can be challenged and consequently reconstructed to something else.
What we are, how we see our selves in our state and how we feel about our being, are all about who we think we are. But our thinking process about ourselves are also influenced by other’s thoughts about us. These thoughts are shared to us through our social interaction and impacts the meaning we construct about our selves. In this, we find people differ in many ways.
While others succeed in their lives, some others remain idle or in the slump. A person who fails in a task, can think he is a failure. Here, the state of failing becomes an attribute of the being. Consequently, this can be projected to the person’s actions and interactions. In defense, he sees other’s as inhibitors of his success or unsupportive of his cause. So, the option he is left could be just to do what he can do and accept that failure is inevitable and that he would always be a failure.
This person has very low self-worth. None took away his worth, but nothing is also added to it. Instead, his self-esteem was violated to aggravate his self-worth. For such person to enjoy life with self-actualization, he would need others to increase his self-esteem that could make hims see his worth. Along with developing his affect is making him effective in doing tasks by reinforcing his competencies. But then what ever external effort is extended to this person, nothing will work unless he opens up to the challenge of changing his mindset about himself and the world around him.