Middle-Range Theory of Self-Transcendence:

A graphic representation

by Kevin M. Gulliver, MSN, RN, CNE

March 31, 2007

Pamela G. Reed, PhD, RN, FAAN has developed a middle-range theory on Self-Transcendence, a human development theory which is particularly relevant to persons who are experiencing significant life events such as end-of-life. This model is based on Martha Rogers’s Science of Unitary Human Beings, and was influenced by the developmental theories of psychology as well as the nursing theories of Jean Watson, Rosemary Parse, and Margaret Newman. The graphic representation of the model presented here is based on the Caring Moment model developed by Jean Watson (Watson, 1985).


Figure 1. Person Experiencing High Self-Transcendence.

            Figure 1 depictions are this author’s conceptualization of the Theory of Self-Transcendence. Figure 1 depicts a healthy person with “continuously fluctuating imaginary boundaries” (Reed, 1991, p. 69). The person exists within time, however time is not a linear concept. Past, present, and future interact with the person and influence their perception of personal boundaries. These boundaries fluctuate over time as the person develops and becomes increasingly complex (Reed, 1991, p. 71). Figure 1 represents the person as a transcendent open and multidimensional entity. With tanscendent development the persons boundaries become less distinct and the person is able to identify self well beyond the physical and present moment. The present moment presents opportunities for growth and development (Reed, 1991, p. 70). These opportunities may include significant life events which bring into focus the persons physical mortality (Reed, 1991, pp. 71-72). These events have a great potential to facilitate self-transcendent development. Self-transcendence is not dependent on chronological age as these significant life events may occur at any time. The present is noted in the center of the multidimensional person as beams radiating outward. These beams represnt those attribites which contribute to the individuals development through introspection, reaching out to others, and integration of the past and future into the present; respectively inward, outward, and temporal processes (Reed, 1991, p. 71). As the person becomes more transcendent, time may become less prominent and the person may begin to perceive their boundaries absent of the physical restraint of time.

           Figure 2 represents one of an infinite number of potentialities for persons who are unable to successfully achieve self-transcendent development. In this image the person has more distinct boundaries, the future is not well integrated into the present, and there is an abundance of identification with the past. The future is more diffuse and difficult to perceive. The person’s relationship to the external environment is contracted and lacking integration with the persons internal sense of self. This life perspective results in low levels of self-transcendence as the person becomes primarily oriented on the past and their current physical existence. There is a strong sense of self, however it is primarily oriented on the physical presence of the self, without relevance to others, the environment, and things intangible.


Figure 2. Person Experiencing Low Self-Transcendence.

           The person depicted in Figure 2 might be depressed or suicidal, which has been correlated with low levels of self-transcendence (Reed, 1991, p. 75). A dying patient may be represented by either Figure 1 or Figure 2. Since physical death is an aspect of human existence, the person who enters end-of-life with a high level of self-transcendence may be depicted by Figure 1. A person at end-of-life with low self-transcendence may be represented by Figure 2. In a study which explored spiritual well-being, the theorist identified a correlation between spiritual well-being and higher levels of self-transcendence (Reed, 1991, p. 75).


Reed, P.G. (1991). Toward a nursing theory of self-transcendence: Deductive reformulation using developmental theories. Advances in Nursing Science, 13(4), 64-77.

Gulliver, K.M. (2007). Theory of Self-Transcendence Graphic Image.

Watson, J. (1985).Nursing: Human science and human care. CT: Appleton-Century-Crofts. 3rd printing 1999. NY: NLN (Jones and Bartlett).


Updated 04/09/07