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There are numerous personality traits and different theories that examine these traits and self transcendence theory is identified as one of the more positively-oriented personality traits. Self transcendence is also the first trait that was recognized in a personality theory that included the concept of a spiritual nature.

Self transcendence is a concept of self that increases personal boundaries, which can result in the individual feeling as if he or she is an important part of the universe and even experiencing spiritual ideas and activities.

The Basics of Self Transcendence Theory

Several psychologists and psychiatrists have used self transcendence in their models of personality traits. One of the most notable is C. Robert Cloninger, who, along with others, developed a model for personality traits called the Temperament and Character Inventory, or TCI. The TCI is related to the Tridimensional Personality Questionnaire, or TPQ, which is related to other models of personality traits developed by other experts.

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Essentially, Cloninger’s TCI operates on the assumption that there are seven total dimensions of personality traits. These include four temperaments that are considered biological in nature and include:

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  • Harm avoidance (HA)
  • Novelty seeking (NS)
  • Persistence (PS)
  • Reward dependence (RD)

They also include three characters, which are concept-based and include:

  • Cooperativeness (CO)
  • Self-directedness (SD)
  • Self-transcendence (ST)

Each of these seven sections also has a sub-section, and the dimensions come from a questionnaire with a total of 240 questions on it.

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The TCI in More Detail

Of the seven TCI sections, each can also be broken down into further components as described below.

Cooperativeness (CO)

  • Social acceptance (CO1)
  • Empathy (CO2)
  • Helpfulness (CO3)
  • Compassion (CO4)
  • Pure-hearted conscience (CO5)

Harm Avoidance (HA)

  • Anticipatory worry (HA1)
  • Fear of uncertainty (HA2)
  • Shyness (HA3)
  • Fatigability (HA4)

Novelty Seeking (NS)

  • Exploratory excitability (NS1)
  • Impulsiveness (NS2)
  • Extravagance (NS3)
  • Disorderliness (NS4)

Persistence (PS)

  • Eagerness of effort (PS1)
  • Work hardened (PS2)
  • Ambitious (PS3)
  • Perfectionist (PS4)

Reward Dependence (RD)

  • Sentimentality (RD1)
  • Openness to warm communication (RD2)
  • Attachment (RD3)
  • Dependence (RD4)

Self-Directedness (SD)

  • Dependability (SD1)
  • Purposefulness (SD2)
  • Resourcefulness (SD3)
  • Self-acceptance (SD4)
  • Enlightened second nature (SD5)

Self-Transcendence (ST)

  • Self-forgetfulness (ST1)
  • Transpersonal identification (ST2)
  • Spiritual acceptance (ST3)

Along with other modalities, including genetics and molecular neuroimaging, the TCI is often used to investigate the personality from a neurological and scientific point of view. Cloninger and his colleagues sought to determine if different personality traits had a genetic component to them. He found that many of the traits did, in fact, do so. These include:

  • Novelty seeking (NS), which is associated with a low activity of dopamine
  • Harm avoidance (HA), which is associated with high amounts of serotonin
  • Reward dependence (RD), which is associated with a low activity of noradrenaline

People with Parkinson’s, for example, have low levels of dopamine and therefore score very low in novelty seeking (NS). These kinds of results are found over and over again in various types of psychological research.

People with Parkinson’s Have Low Levels of Dopamine

Different Theories and Concepts Can Merge with One Another

There are, of course, psychological concepts and theories that can overlap. Studies have shown that every one of the TCI dimensions is related to at least one of the dimensions in the well-known and often-used Five Factor Model, or FFM. These five factors are considered the most dominant personality traits and they are represented by the acronym OCEAN:

  • Openness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extroversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

The self transcendence theory comes into play here because as Cloninger argued, psychological well-being is dependent on certain things, most notably the development of the facets of the three character dimensions.

In his argument:

  • Self-directedness directly affects life purpose and autonomy.
  • Cooperativeness directly affects positive relations with others.
  • Self-transcendence directly affects self-actualization and personal growth.

In particular, self transcendence affected positive emotions when other character traits were also considered. However, self transcendence was found to be unrelated to negative emotions or even to the many other measures of well-being.

Back to Self Transcendence Theory

Psychology professionals besides Robert Cloninger have studied and theorized about the theory of self transcendence, and they have determined it to be the ability for a person to expand his or her self-boundaries in four main areas. These are:

  • Temporally, which means integrating your past and future so that it gives the present more meaning
  • Trans-personally, which means connecting with dimensions beyond those associated with the discernible world
  • Intra-personally, which gives people a greater appreciation of their spiritual side, including their dreams and values
  • Inter-personally, which gives people a better sense of their surrounding environment

The TCI’s self transcendence section put forward by Cloninger, et al., can also be broken down into four sub-categories, which help explain the concept in a little more detail. These are:

  • Religious and spiritual beliefs, including belief in a higher power
  • Belief in the supernatural, including the paranormal
  • Better inter-connectiveness, including a better sense of connection with others and the environment as well as with a higher power
  • The dissolution of oneself in various experiences, including losing the sense of your personal self while in experiences

This proves that when it comes to the term “self transcendence”, the experts agree that it means more than just a relation to spirituality. Indeed, the term covers a multitude of other beliefs as well, including the supernatural, so it applies to all aspects of spirituality, not just the religious aspect.

The reason why it is called self transcendence is that it relates to the act of transcending, or rising above the self and having a greater awareness of everything around you. This is why it affects both a belief in a higher power and a greater connection to other people, a person’s environment, etc. When you believe that there is something more important than yourself, you are participating in self transcendental behavior and beliefs.

Self Transcendence Versus Self Actualization

Self-actualization is one of the steps on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in human behavior, and it is similar to self transcendence with a few differences. Self-actualization is at the top of this hierarchy, and it is self-focused, not others-focused as self transcendence is.

In addition, self transcendence sees everything from a higher perspective and therefore enables people to be concerned about others just as they are about themselves. Positive feelings such as peace, joy, and a sense of awareness always accompany self transcendence in an individual. It also brings about a sense of serenity in their lives.

In self-actualization, the person searches for higher meaning in his or her life and more purpose. They strive to be better at everything and understand what is going on in the universe. It makes it easier to understand the two concepts when you consider that self-actualization is actually a byproduct of self transcendence. The former concentrates on the self while the latter tries to relate to everything in the universe while discovering that self.

Self Transcendence and Spirituality

In self transcendence theory, a person explores his or her spirituality, but that word means different things to different people. You can practice your spirituality with a belief in God and by going to church, or you can find any spiritual system that places an emphasis on one’s soul. After all, it is that soul that sets human beings apart from other species.

Many psychologists consider this an important part of everyone’s personality. They feel that people cannot be truly self-actualized unless they have reached the self transcendence phase. That phase, in turn, requires some sort of connection with a person’s spiritual side. In other words, they feel that spirituality must be nurtured in everyone, regardless of your personal beliefs.

Of course, this isn’t to say that all psychologists believe this. Certainly, there are people in the world who are productive and happy without being spiritual. However, for many people — some would say most of them — feeding their spiritual side is the perfect way to achieve this self transcendence.

If you feel the need to nurture your spiritual side but aren’t quite sure how to do it, below are some things that you can do to get started.

  • Practice mindful meditation. You’d be surprised at how spiritual regular meditation can be.
  • Keep a journal regularly. Record your thoughts and feelings to understand them better.
  • Dive into the deepest parts of your personality, including the dark parts. Knowing how to deal with the worst parts of yourself is just as important as exploring the best parts.
  • Determine how to get into “theta” — that peaceful state between being asleep and being awake — then try to duplicate that state often, especially when you’re stressed.
  • Improve your creative side, regardless of which medium you choose in the end.
  • Get in touch with nature regularly even if it only involves an occasional walk in the forest.
  • Try to do your best at everything you do; shoot for excellence in everything.

As you can see, the self transcendence theory does not say that church-goers are the only ones who achieve self transcendence. Anyone can be spiritual; it simply means that you have to decide for yourself what the term means to you so that you can find the best way to feed your spiritual need.

Can Self Transcendence Be Measured?

As with most other psychological concepts, self transcendence can indeed be measured. In fact, there are two scales that are commonly used to do so.

The TCI discussed above is the first of those ways. More specifically, it is the character portion of the scale that measures a person’s level of spirituality. If you are more spiritual, humble, and in tune with the universe, you will score high on the self transcendence scale of the TCI. This test assesses your values, your goals, and the motivations that determine your intentions and voluntary choices.

The second scale is the Self Transcendence Scale, or STS, which was developed by Pamela Reed in the mid-1980s. It is a 15-item test, and you rate each item on a scale of 1 to 4. The higher your score, the higher your level of self transcendence. It includes components such as how well you let other people help you and how well you adjust to physical changes, among others.

The Practical Side of Self Transcendence

Study after study has shown that people who are “more spiritual” are happier overall with their lives. In practical terms, this is the essence of having a higher level of self transcendence because it increases your levels of contentment and enjoyment with life. In reality, there are three actual levels of self transcendence, which are described below.

  • Seeking your calling; i.e., reaching beyond self-actualization and discovering a higher purpose and a greater good
  • Seeking the ultimate meeting; i.e., thinking beyond physical limitations and paying attention to invisible concepts such as faith, truth, and goodness
  • Seeking situational meaning; i.e., letting go of situational constraints and being mindful of the present by inspiring curiosity and openness

No discussion on self transcendence theory can exist without mentioning the spiritual side of a human being, which, according to most psychology professionals, everyone has. If you don’t feed your spiritual needs, you are not as likely to feel happiness and contentment in your life. The best part is that you can feed this need even if you aren’t a religious person or even an atheist.

Simply put, humans have an intrinsic need for spiritual values. A healthy spiritual lifestyle is something that is good not only for the individual but for society as a whole. Developing all three levels of self transcendence is one of the ways to grow spiritually, and there are now even ways to test how well you’re advancing in this concept.

Some Final Thoughts

Positive psychology is very popular nowadays, and this encompasses the self transcendence theory and its practical applications. After all, everyone is in this life together so why not concentrate on the good instead of the bad whenever possible? Self transcendence involves your spiritual side, which can be developed over time even if you are a non-theist.

Finding out more about this concept is very simple. If you’re interested in pursuing a greater degree of happiness, regardless of your starting point, the concept of self transcendence goes a long way in helping you do this.

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