The Webster's Dictionary defines self-realizationism as:
"The ethical theory that the highest good for man consists in realizing or fulfilling himself usually on the assumption that he has certain inborn abilities constituting his real or ideal self."
Further, Webster's defines self-realization as:
"The fulfillment by oneself of the possibilities of one's character or personality."
However, such Dictionary explanations are not really very enlightening for anyone on the spiritual path. This is not really surprising, since the scholarly interpretation of what constitutes the Self is not on the same level as the interpretations of our Philosophers. While dictionaries normally refer to the entire person, the individual, or to a person in his best normal physical and mental condition, Philosophers refer to the Self as pure Consciousness, pure Awareness, pure Beingness, Atman, or even God. Philosophers have mentioned the act of self-realization for centuries. Ramana Maharshi talked about it and Shankara before him.
Most of us identify the Self with body and mind and therefore find it difficult to equate God with the Self. Simply equating God with the Self can sound like sacrilege or the product of a megalomaniac. But when the Self is explained as pure Awareness, which means without thought and without individual identification (ego) of any kind, then it is clear that megalomania and sacrilege is not really an option because that would require an ego. Understanding the Self as pure Awareness brings us closer to the understanding of self-realization. If the Self is pure Awareness, then all we have to do to realize the Self is to quiet our thinking. Where there is no thinking, there is no ego. Where there is no ego, there is the Self. After all, we do not really cease to exist when we cease to think.
This condition of being aware of one's Self reveals one's own eternal Being. Since God is pure Awareness and our Self is pure Awareness, the two really compare as the water drop compares to the large body of water. Thus, while it is not correct to say the Self is God, it is correct to say that the Self has the same qualities as God and is in no way different. God and the Self can only be understood as omnipresent Awareness.
Since the Self is already there at the center of our Being, Self-awareness is actually a more correct term than self-realization because realization implies a first Self that could realize another, second Self. However, there is only one Self and to realize the Self means to BE that Self. Only the ego can speak of realizing the Self but only the Self can be the Self. The trick lies in distinguishing the Real (the Self) from the unreal (the ego) and that is accomplished entirely by moving our attention away from the unreal and keeping it focused on the Real, the experience of I-AM.
Because we all erroneously identify with the ego, or the combination of body and mind, all efforts to realize the Self are falsely felt as an attempt of self-destruction. For that reason, in his "Autobiography of a Yogi" Paramahansa Yogananda quoted both Shankara and Ramana Maharshi.
Shankara: "Knowledge cannot spring up by any other means than the inquiry: Who am I?"