Self-transcendence is a personality trait that involves the expansion or evaporation of personal boundaries. This may potentially include spiritual experiences[1] such as considering oneself an integral part of the universe.[2] Several psychologists, including Viktor Frankl,[3] Abraham Maslow,[4] and Pamela G. Reed [5] have made contributions to the theory of self-transcendence.

Self-transcendence is distinctive as the first trait-concept of a spiritual nature to be incorporated into a major theory of personality.[6] It is one of the "character" dimensions of personality assessed in Cloninger's Temperament and Character Inventory.[2] It is also assessed by the Self-Transcendence Scale[7] and the Adult Self-Transcendence Inventory.[8]

Nature of the trait

Several overlapping definitions of self-transcendence have been given. Viktor Frankl wrote, "The essentially self-transcendent quality of human existence renders man a being reaching out beyond himself."[9]

According to Reed, self-transcendence is:

the capacity to expand self-boundaries intrapersonally (toward greater awareness of one's philosophy, values, and dreams), interpersonally (to relate to others' and one's environment), temporally (to integrate one's past and future in a way that has meaning for the present), and transpersonally (to connect with dimensions beyond the typically discernible world).[10]

Maslow evaluates transcendence from several perspectives, such as time, space, culture, ego, opinion (opinion of others), and identification-love. "This means transcendence of the selfish Self. It also implies a wider circle of identifications, i.e., with more people approaching the limit of identification with all human beings."[11]

Although there has not been a great deal of research into the validity of self-transcendence as a measure of spirituality, one study found that self-transcendence was related to a number of areas of belief and experience that have been traditionally considered "spiritual".[6]


There is little research evaluating the validity of self-transcendence as a measure of spiritual aspects of personality. MacDonald and Holland found that people who were convinced that they had had a spiritual experience scored higher on self-transcendence compared to those who had not.[6] They also found that self-transcendence had positive and meaningful associations with four areas of spirituality: beliefs about the existence and relevance of spirituality; spiritual experience; paranormal beliefs; and traditional religiousness but that self-transcendence was largely unrelated to existential well-being.[note 1] Existential well-being was most strongly related to the Temperament and Character Inventory traits of high self-directedness and low harm avoidance. Self-directedness is associated with self-control and adaptability, whereas low harm avoidance is associated with emotional well-being. This suggests that self-transcendence may be a valid measure of areas of spirituality relating to spiritual beliefs, spiritual experiences, paranormal beliefs, and traditional religiousness, but is unrelated to having a sense of meaning and purpose in life, which is more related to other features of personality. Additionally, the dissolution-of-the-self in experience aspect of self-transcendence appears to have little relationship with spirituality and may be related to the trait's more pathological aspects.

Pathologizing of the trait

Some authors have pathologized the trait. While humanistic and transpersonal theories of psychology maintain that spirituality is an essential component of health and well-being, some psychologists have instead correlated self-transcendence with various aspects of mental illness. For instance, Cloninger and colleagues have proposed that self-transcendence may represent a subclinical manifestation of mood and psychotic disorders.[6]

Other researches have linked self-transcendence to delusions and mania.[13][14] Higher self-transcendence in people with bipolar disorder may reflect residual symptoms of the disorder rather than transpersonal or spiritual consciousness.[15][16]

MacDonald and Holland argued that two of the four sub-dimensions of self-transcendence identified in their study—belief in the supernatural and dissolution of the self in experience—probably account for the relationship between self-transcendence and psychopathology found by researchers.[6] Previous research found linkages between supernatural beliefs and schizotypy, so they suggested that dissolution of the self is likely to be linked to phenomena such as absorption, dissociation, and suggestibility, which have potentially pathological implications.

Given the lack of research validating the trait, some studies can appear contradictory. For instance, people with schizophrenia tend to have poorer self-rated quality of life compared to the general population. But a study of individual differences in people with schizophrenia found that higher scores on self-transcendence and self-directedness and lower scores on harm avoidance were associated with better self-ratings of quality of life. The authors suggested that this finding accords with previous studies finding that spirituality in people with schizophrenia is associated with better adjustment to illness.[17]

The disdain of psychopathology for spirituality led Andrew Sims to write a paper exploring the question of whether faith is a delusion from the standpoint of psychopathology. He concludes that it is not.[18]

Instead, he notes, a survey of 1200 studies and 400 reviews concludes: ‘In the majority of studies, religious involvement is correlated with well-being, happiness and life satisfaction; hope and optimism; purpose and meaning in life; higher self-esteem; better adaptation to bereavement; greater social support and less loneliness; lower rates of depression and faster recovery from depression; lower rates of suicide and fewer positive attitudes towards suicide; less anxiety; less psychosis and fewer psychotic tendencies; lower rates of alcohol and drug use and abuse; less delinquency and criminal activity; greater marital stability and satisfaction.'[19]


  1. ^ Existential well-being refers to having a positive sense of meaning and purpose in life and a sense of inner strength. Although considered by some to be an aspect of spirituality, some researchers have argued that existential well-being taps general psychological well-being and is not clearly related to the "spiritual" as the term has been traditionally understood.[12]

See also


  1. ^ De Fruyt, F.; Van De Wiele, L.; Van Heeringen, C. (2000). "Cloninger's Psychobiological Model of Temperament and Character and the Five-Factor Model of Personality". Personality and Individual Differences. 29 (3): 441–452. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(99)00204-4.
  2. ^ a b Cloninger, C.R.; Svrakic, D.M.; Przybeck, T.R. (December 1993). "A psychobiological model of temperament and character". Archives of General Psychiatry. 50 (12): 975–90. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1993.01820240059008. PMID 8250684.
  3. ^ Frankl, Viktor E. (1966). "Self-transcendence as a human phenomenon". Journal of Humanistic Psychology. 6 (2): 97–106. doi:10.1177/002216786600600201. S2CID 144208833.
  4. ^ Koltko-Rivera, Mark E. (2006). "Rediscovering the later version of Maslow's hierarchy of needs: Self-transcendence and opportunities for theory, research, and unification" (PDF). Review of General Psychology. 10 (4): 302–317. doi:10.1037/1089-2680.10.4.302. S2CID 16046903.
  5. ^ Reed, P. G. (1991). "Toward a nursing theory of self-transcendence: Deductive reformulation using developmental theories". Advances in Nursing Science. 13 (4): 64–77. doi:10.1097/00012272-199106000-00008. PMID 2059006. S2CID 2099622.
  6. ^ a b c d e MacDonald, D.A.; Holland, D. (2002). "Examination of the psychometric properties of the temperament and character inventory self-transcendence dimension". Personality and Individual Differences. 32 (6): 1013–1027. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(01)00107-6.
  7. ^ Reed, Pamela G. (1991). "Self-transcendence and mental health in oldest-old adults". Nursing Research. 40 (1): 5–11. doi:10.1097/00006199-199101000-00002. PMID 1987557. S2CID 37939669.
  8. ^ Levenson, Michael R.; et al. (2005). "Self-transcendence: Conceptualization and measurement". The International Journal of Aging and Human Development. 60 (2): 127–143. doi:10.2190/XRXM-FYRA-7U0X-GRC0. PMID 15801386. S2CID 35589606.
  9. ^ Frankl, Viktor E. (2014) [1969]. The will to meaning: Foundations and applications of logotherapy. Penguin.
  10. ^ Reed, P. G. (2003). "The theory of self-transcendence". In Smith, M. J.; Liehr, P. (eds.). Middle range theories in nursing. New York, N.Y.: Springer. p. 147.
  11. ^ Maslow, A. H. (1969). Various meanings of transcendence. J. Transpers. Psychol. 1, 56–66, at 59.
  12. ^ Koenig, Harold G. (2008). "Concerns About Measuring 'Spirituality' in Research". The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 196 (5): 349–55. doi:10.1097/NMD.0b013e31816ff796. PMID 18477877. S2CID 30273892.
  13. ^ Harley, James A.; Wells, J. Elisabeth; Frampton, Christopher M. A.; Joyce, Peter R. (2011). "Bipolar Disorder and the TCI: Higher Self-Transcendence in Bipolar Disorder Compared to Major Depression". Depression Research and Treatment. 2011: 1–6. doi:10.1155/2011/529638. PMC 3140026. PMID 21789279.
  14. ^ MA, Courtney E. Ackerman (4 June 2018). "What is Self-Transcendence? Definition and 6 Examples (+PDF)". Retrieved 28 February 2024.
  15. ^ Harley, James A.; Wells, J. Elisabeth; Frampton, Christopher M. A.; Joyce, Peter R. (2011). "Bipolar Disorder and the TCI: Higher Self-Transcendence in Bipolar Disorder Compared to Major Depression". Depression Research and Treatment. 2011: 1–6. doi:10.1155/2011/529638. PMC 3140026. PMID 21789279.
  16. ^ Harley, James A.; Wells, J. Elisabeth; Frampton, Christopher M. A.; Joyce, Peter R. (2011). "Bipolar Disorder and the TCI: Higher Self-Transcendence in Bipolar Disorder Compared to Major Depression". Depression Research and Treatment. 2011: 1–6. doi:10.1155/2011/529638. PMC 3140026. PMID 21789279.
  17. ^ Margetić, Branka Aukst; Jakovljević, Miro; Ivanec, Dragutin; Margetić, Branimir (2011). "Temperament, character, and quality of life in patients with schizophrenia and their first-degree relatives". Comprehensive Psychiatry. 52 (4): 425–30. doi:10.1016/j.comppsych.2010.08.007. PMID 21683179.
  18. ^
  19. ^ Koenig HG, McCullough ME & Larson DB (2001) Handbook of Religion and Health. Oxford University Press.