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Self-transcendence theory

The Self-transcendence theory is a psychological theory that explores how people expand their personal Boundaries and connect with something greater than themselves. It is based on the idea that human beings have a natural tendency to seek Meaning and Purpose in life, and that this can be achieved by transcending the self and relating to a Higher reality.

Major figures behind the theory

Self-transcendence theory was influenced by various humanistic and transpersonal psychologists, such as Viktor Frankl, Abraham Maslow, Pamela Reed, and C. Robert Cloninger. The term Self-transcendence was first used by Frankl to describe the human tendency to reach out beyond oneself and find Meaning in life. Maslow later revised his hierarchy of needs and added Self-transcendence as the highest level of human development, beyond Self-actualization. Reed developed a theory of Self-transcendence that identified four dimensions of expanding self-Boundaries: intrapersonal, interpersonal, temporal, and transpersonal. Cloninger incorporated Self-transcendence as one of the three character traits in his Temperament and Character Inventory, and defined it as the identification of the self with the universe as a unitive whole. Self-transcendence theory has been applied to various domains, such as ageing, Spirituality, health, and wellbeing. They proposed that Self-transcendence is a character trait that involves the experience of spiritual aspects of the self, such as Awareness, values, dreams, Compassion, and Wisdom. Self-transcendence also involves the identification of the self with the universe conceived as a unitive whole, and the acceptance of nature and its source.


Self-transcendence theory has several components and dimensions that can be measured by different scales and inventories. Some of these components are:

  • Self-forgetfulness: the ability to Lose oneself in an activity or a relationship, and to experience joy and peace without Self-consciousness or Ego-involvement.
  • Transpersonal identification: the sense of belonging and Connection with other people, nature, and the cosmos, and the recognition of the Interdependence of all life forms.
  • Spiritual acceptance: the openness and receptivity to spiritual ideas and experiences, such as faith, intuition, transcendence, and Mysticism.
  • Enlightened: the attainment of Insight and Wisdom through self-knowledge, Reflection, and contemplation, and the expression of creativity and Compassion.
  • Idealistic: the pursuit of higher values and goals that transcend personal interests and benefit humanity and the world.

Self-transcendence theory has several implications for human development, wellbeing, and health. It suggests that Self-transcendence is a positive and adaptive trait that can enhance Psychological growth, coping, resilience, and happiness. It also suggests that Self-transcendence can facilitate spiritual development and foster a sense of Meaning and Purpose in life. Furthermore, Self-transcendence can promote positive health outcomes by reducing Stress, Anxiety, Depression, and Pain, and by increasing Immune function, Quality of life, and Satisfaction with Care.

Comprehensive Framework

Self-transcendence theory is a comprehensive and Holistic framework that can help us understand ourselves and others better. It can also inspire us to live more authentically, meaningfully, and harmoniously with ourselves, others, nature, and The divine.

Key Concepts

Transcendence theory is a Psychological framework that proposes that human beings have an innate drive to transcend their current limitations and reach higher levels of functioning and well-being. One of the key concepts in this theory is vulnerability, which refers to the openness and receptivity to new experiences, emotions, and perspectives that challenge one’s existing self-concept and world-view. Vulnerability is seen as a necessary condition for growth and transformation, as it allows one to encounter and integrate aspects of oneself and reality that were previously denied or avoided.


Another key concept in transcendence theory is wellbeing, which is defined as a multidimensional construct that encompasses both hedonic (pleasure-based) and eudaemonic (Meaning-based) aspects of Human flourishing. Wellbeing is not only a result of satisfying one’s basic needs and desires, but also of pursuing one’s higher potentials and values. Wellbeing is enhanced by engaging in activities and relationships that foster self-expression, Self-actualization, and Self-transcendence.


Self-transcendence is the third key concept in transcendence theory, and it refers to the process and outcome of expanding one’s Sense of self beyond the Ego-Boundaries and identifying with a larger reality that transcends one’s personal concerns and interests. It can occur in various domains, such as Spirituality, creativity, Altruism, Peak experiences, and Mystical states. Self-transcendence is considered to be the goal and highest expression of human development, as it leads to a more Profound understanding of oneself, others, and the cosmos.

Transcendence theory, Pamela Reed

Complex Relationship between components

The relationship between vulnerability, wellbeing, and Self-transcendence in transcendence theory is complex and dynamic. On one hand, vulnerability can facilitate well-being and Self-transcendence by exposing one to new possibilities and opportunities for growth and change. On the other hand, vulnerability can also threaten wellbeing and Self-transcendence by exposing one to Pain, fear, uncertainty, and loss. Therefore, vulnerability requires a balance between openness and protection, between risk and safety, between challenge and support. Similarly, well-being can foster Self-transcendence by providing one with the resources and motivation to pursue one’s higher aspirations and ideals.

Wellbeing can also hinder Self-transcendence by creating attachment and complacency that prevent one from transcending one’s comfort zone and current level of functioning. Therefore, wellbeing requires a balance between Satisfaction and dissatisfaction, between stability and change, between fulfilment and transcendence. Finally, Self-transcendence can enhance wellbeing by enriching one’s life with Meaning, Purpose, joy, and Connection. But Self-transcendence can also diminish wellbeing by creating alienation, isolation, Confusion, and conflict. Therefore, Self-transcendence requires a balance between Integration and Differentiation, between Unity and Diversity, between transcendence and Immanence.

Four Main Factors of Self-transcendence

Self-transcendence is the ability to go beyond one’s Ego and personal limitations and connect with Something greater than oneself. It can be understood as a multidimensional construct that involves four main factors: intrapersonal, interpersonal, transpersonal and temporal.

Intrapersonal factors refer to the inner aspects of Self-transcendence, such as one’s values, beliefs, goals, motivations, emotions and identity. They influence how one perceives oneself and one’s place in the world. Self-transcendence involves developing a more positive and flexible self-concept that is not bound by rigid or negative self-evaluations. It also involves cultivating a sense of Purpose and Meaning in life that transcends one’s personal interests and desires.

Interpersonal factors refer to the social aspects of Self-transcendence, such as one’s relationships, interactions, communication and empathy with others. They influence how one relates to others and how others perceive one. Self-transcendence involves developing a more Compassionate and altruistic attitude towards others that is not based on selfishness or Egoism. It also involves fostering a sense of belonging and connectedness with others who share similar values and goals.

Transpersonal factors refer to the spiritual aspects of Self-transcendence, such as one’s Connection with a higher power, a universal consciousness, a divine source or a transcendent reality. They influence how one experiences reality and what one considers as ultimate truth. Self-transcendence involves developing a more open and receptive attitude towards the transcendent that is not limited by dogmatism or scepticism. It also involves experiencing a sense of Awe and wonder that transcends rationality and logic.

Temporal factors refer to the temporal aspects of Self-transcendence, such as one’s Awareness of time, history, mortality and eternity. They influence how one views the past, present and future and how one deals with change and uncertainty. Self-transcendence involves developing a more holistic and Integrative Perspective of time that is not constrained by linear or chronological thinking. It also involves accepting the impermanence of life and embracing the possibility of transcendence beyond death.

Further reading

Here are some links that might be helpful:

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