Many of you have heard the name Maslow and may have a vague recollection of his Hierarchy of Needs theory and model. It is a concept put forth by a psychologist named Abraham Maslow. He introduced his concept of a hierarchy of needs in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” and detailed his idea in his subsequent 1954 book Motivation and Personality. His theory states that we have a set of needs that drive our behavior as humans. As the needs at each level are met or achieved, we become driven by the next set of needs in the hierarchy. Those needs at the bottom of the hierarchy are fundamental to survival and then evolve to become more social and psychological in nature as they progress through the model (Maslow, 1943). Let’s go over the different needs in the hierarchy depicted below.

Figure 1. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Physiological Needs -The first and most primal needs are those at the bottom of the hierarchy, which is imminent to our survival. Most of these needs are vital to a human’s ability to function and avoid death in what can be a hostile world of survival. In order to stay alive, we are motivated or driven to secure food, water, and shelter to sleep in. Physical health and stability are necessary for these tasks, so we are driven to remain as healthy as possible. Sex, although not vital to survival, does perpetuate and ensure the survival of the species. These physiological needs represent our basic needs for survival.  

Safety/Security Needs – Once our physiological needs have been satisfactorily met, we become motivated to fulfill our needs for safety and security. In this stage of the hierarchy we strive to secure employment, secure resources for ourselves, establish the security of a home and property, and develop some financial security. We become more focused on finding safety for our bodies and ensuring or health over time. Socially, we become interested in law and order to further the goals of our own safety and security. The behaviors and tasks we engage in bring about a sense of safety.

Love/Belonging Needs – Maslow says the needs at this level of the hierarchy are much more social in nature. These include the need for friendships and the need to affiliate and join with religious or social groups. Meeting these needs provides a sense of belonging within a group. The need for love is fulfilled by developing a romantic relationship and sexual intimacy. For many, the need for love may be further cultivated by starting a family. These needs for love and belonging are being met with and through other people and groups. Once our survival and safety needs are met, Maslow says we are driven to create a sense of belonging. As a social creature, we seem compelled to fulfill this need.  

Esteem Needs – The needs at this level foster an individual’s sense of worth and self-esteem. This can be accomplished through many venues, but the goals often focus on social recognition, accomplishments, and attaining the respect of others. The ability to capture this fosters the person’s self-confidence and self-esteem. Once the lower needs have been met, we turn toward fulfilling our individual need to feel good about ourselves.

Self-Actualization – Maslow contends that the highest level of needs in his hierarchy is the need for self-actualization. At this level, people are much more self-aware and tend to focus on their own personal growth. They become much less concerned with other’s opinions and instead seek to fulfill their own potential. They become more objective and let go of prejudices. They depend on their own experiences and may be seen by others as non-conformists. They become more socially compassionate and accepting of others. They seek to express their creativity and inventiveness. Maslow would suggest that at this level we are driven to become who we were meant to be.

Is Self-Esteem a Need for the Modern Person?

As we understand and conceptualize Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we come to see self-esteem as an innate human need. Once our more imminent physiological, safety, and social needs have been satisfied, our need to feel good about ourselves comes to the forefront. Deficits in self-esteem often render people susceptible to mental and emotional conditions such as anxiety and depression which limit a person’s ability to perform optimally in competitive work environments and relationships. A medical metaphor might be like some dealing with fibromyalgia or rheumatoid arthritis. Although they can still do things, their functioning is greatly hampered and limited. Having adequate self-esteem not only helps us feel better but helps us to be more successful and effective in our endeavors. The evolution of our culture and society seems to have turned to meet these needs in the past 10-20 years. Not so long ago, many people defined themselves, and felt good about themselves, through group affiliations. In the recent past, much of society has been criticized and mocked for being so self-centered, entitled, and self-absorbed. Perhaps what we are seeing is simply a shift in focus to the next phase of Maslow’s hierarchy; our esteem needs.

Maslow went on to differentiate between two types of esteem needs. He talked about lower-level esteem needs and higher-level esteem needs (Maslow, 1954). The lower level of esteem needs are focused on obtaining the respect of others, building status, recognition, fame, attention, and approval from others. These may be viewed as externally derived self-esteem which are the different types of validation from others which we see many people chasing to bolster their self-esteem. We see this in many of the social media venues where people seem vested in obtaining “likes, shares, and friends”. Maslow alluded to the limitations this type of self-esteem can bring, in part due to the fact that those esteem needs are contingent on others, rather than oneself.

Maslow’s high-level self-esteem is one where the person accepts themselves internally and develops self-respect (Maslow, 1954). Goals are often about the need for strength, competence, mastery, independence, and freedom. He says these two hierarchies of self-esteem are interrelated rather than sharply separated. Maslow suggests that people need self-esteem derived from other people, as well as self-esteem that comes from yourself (Maslow, 1954). It would seem there is a ratio of internally and externally derived self-esteem. He believes both of these needs must be fulfilled in order for an individual to grow as a person and move to self-actualization. Based on Maslow’s theory we might conclude that our ability to generate more internalized worth could be the impetus needed to move toward self-actualization.

In talking about his hierarchy of needs, Maslow also talks about deficiency needs and growth needs. He believes physiological, safety, belonging, and esteem needs all arise out of a deficiency. Meeting these needs fulfills something we are missing. We seek them out to avoid unpleasant consequences or feelings. We seek them out to help ourselves feel whole. These needs would be seen in contrast to growth needs which Maslow says emerge in self-actualization. Growth needs do not stem from a deficiency, but rather from a desire to grow and expand as a person. These people are already fulfilled and nonetheless want to expand upon where they are currently. When we are able to fill ourselves up and be self-sustaining with internalized worth, we are poised to really begin growing and actualizing our true potential.

Resolving issues with depression, anxiety, identity, and worth is critical to achieving your esteem needs. Working on issues in therapy and conquering yourself is the quickest path to the self-esteem you may be seeking. If you are interested in talking with one of our psychologists or psychiatrists to start addressing concerns, please call us now at 763-416-4167, or request an appointment on our website: WWW.IPC-MN.COM so we can sit down with you and complete a thorough assessment and help you develop a plan of action that will work for you. Life is too short to be unhappy. Find the peace of mind you deserve.

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