Sunday, March 30, 2008

Maslow and the Hierarchy of Needs

One of the many interesting things Maslow noticed while he worked with monkeys early in his career, was that some needs take precedence over others. For example, if you are hungry and thirsty, you will tend to try to take care of the thirst first. After all, you can do without food for weeks, but you can only do without water for a couple of days! Thirst is a “stronger” need than hunger. Likewise, if you are very very thirsty, but someone has put a choke hold on you and you can’t breath, which is more important? The need to breathe, of course. On the other hand, sex is less powerful than any of these. Let’s face it, you won’t die if you don’t get it!
Maslow took this idea and created his now famous hierarchy of needs. Beyond the details of air, water, food, and sex, he laid out five broader layers: the physiological needs, the needs for safety and security, the needs for love and belonging, the needs for esteem, and the need to actualize the self, in that order.
1. The physiological needs. These include the needs we have for oxygen, water, protein, salt, sugar, calcium, and other minerals and vitamins. They also include the need to maintain a pH balance (getting too acidic or base will kill you) and temperature (98.6 or near to it). Also, there’s the needs to be active, to rest, to sleep, to get rid of wastes (CO2, sweat, urine, and feces), to avoid pain, and to have sex. Quite a collection!
Maslow believed, and research supports him, that these are in fact individual needs, and that a lack of, say, vitamin C, will lead to a very specific hunger for things which have in the past provided that vitamin C -- e.g. orange juice. I guess the cravings that some pregnant women have, and the way in which babies eat the most foul tasting baby food, support the idea anecdotally.

2. The safety and security needs. When the physiological needs are largely taken care of, this second layer of needs comes into play. You will become increasingly interested in finding safe circumstances, stability, protection. You might develop a need for structure, for order, some limits.
Looking at it negatively, you become concerned, not with needs like hunger and thirst, but with your fears and anxieties. In the ordinary American adult, this set of needs manifest themselves in the form of our urges to have a home in a safe neighborhood, a little job security and a nest egg, a good retirement plan and a bit of insurance, and so on.
3. The love and belonging needs. When physiological needs and safety needs are, by and large, taken care of, a third layer starts to show up. You begin to feel the need for friends, a sweetheart, children, affectionate relationships in general, even a sense of community. Looked at negatively, you become increasing susceptible to loneliness and social anxieties.
In our day-to-day life, we exhibit these needs in our desires to marry, have a family, be a part of a community, a member of a church, a brother in the fraternity, a part of a gang or a bowling club. It is also a part of what we look for in a career.
4. The esteem needs. Next, we begin to look for a little self-esteem. Maslow noted two versions of esteem needs, a lower one and a higher one. The lower one is the need for the respect of others, the need for status, fame, glory, recognition, attention, reputation, appreciation, dignity, even dominance. The higher form involves the need for self-respect, including such feelings as confidence, competence, achievement, mastery, independence, and freedom. Note that this is the “higher” form because, unlike the respect of others, once you have self-respect, it’s a lot harder to lose!
The negative version of these needs is low self-esteem and inferiority complexes. Maslow felt that Adler was really onto something when he proposed that these were at the roots of many, if not most, of our psychological problems. In modern countries, most of us have what we need in regard to our physiological and safety needs. We, more often than not, have quite a bit of love and belonging, too. It’s a little respect that often seems so very hard to get!
All of the preceding four levels he calls deficit needs, or D-needs. If you don’t have enough of something -- i.e. you have a deficit -- you feel the need. But if you get all you need, you feel nothing at all! In other words, they cease to be motivating. As the old blues song goes, “you don’t miss your water till your well runs dry!”

The last level is a bit different. Maslow has used a variety of terms to refer to this level: He has called it growth motivation (in contrast to deficit motivation), being needs (or B-needs, in contrast to D-needs), and self-actualization.
These are needs that do not involve balance or homeostasis. Once engaged, they continue to be felt. In fact, they are likely to become stronger as we “feed” them! They involve the continuous desire to fulfill potentials, to “be all that you can be.” They are a matter of becoming the most complete, the fullest, “you” -- hence the term, self-actualization.

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