Mar 12, 2009

Defining Needs with Maslow's Hierarchy

While Defining Needs is an essential ingredient of Method III, it is also often the most difficult of the Six Steps. Identifying real needs can prove to be very tricky.

An important theory about the nature of human needs was developed by the famous psychologist, Abraham Maslow.

He researched very “healthy” and productive people, people like Eleanor Roosevelt, Lincoln, Ruth Benedict, Albert Schweitzer and others. He found that these individuals had many common characteristics.

Among these were a zest for life, creative energy, a sense of humor, and higher and more frequent “peak” experiences. He called the possession of these characteristics Self-Actualization, the full and complete use of one’s potential.

Maslow essentially discovered that all people have five levels of needs. Self-Actualized people are those who get them met.
Maslow found that people are limited in their personal growth and development when deprived of needs-satisfaction at any level.

This is a good model for helping to provide a definition of what a need is since in everyday language, what are called “needs” are often really solutions.

Maslow’s Hierarchy is also a good tool for identifying personal needs and values, and for helping to set priorities to satisfy unmet needs.

Here is a simple story to illustrate how the hierarchy works:

Hungry (Level I) caveman disregards safety (Level II) and hunts dangerous game to get food. When hunger is satisfied, he takes care of security (Level II) by stashing the rest of the carcass in the back of his cave. What does he do then? He invites friends over for dinner and get-together for socializing (Level III). He throws the best outdoor barbecue his part of the forest has ever seen; quite an accomplishment (Level IV). Following this success, caveman becomes a gourmet cook and writes a cookbook which is promptly bought by every cave family in the forest. Caveman has reached his full potential. Having risen to a state of self-actualization (Level V), he becomes known as the wild Julia Child!

Let’s take a more in-depth look at why we need to satisfy each level of Maslow’s hierarchy in order to move up the ladder to reach Level V.

1. Level I Needs. Physical Survival: The “lowest” or most basic of the needs in the Maslow hierarchy has to do with our biological survival, those things that we cannot do without: food, air, water, etc.

Maslow found that people deprived of their Level I needs had a strong drive to meet these needs, often at the sacrifice of everything else.

2. Level II Needs. Security: If these biological needs are temporarily met, another set of needs emerges into consciousness: feeling safe, free of fear. 

We all have a need to feel safe in the world. Physically, we need to feel free from fear of illness, injury and premature death.

Equally, we all need to feel safe psychologically, free from the threat of ridicule and embarrassment.

3. Level III Needs. Social, Relationships: Level III needs result from the fact that we are all social creatures. We need relationships with others. Some of these relationship needs include:
  • Familial or belonging
  • Acceptance and understanding
  • Loving and affection
  • Intimacy
4. Level IV Needs. Success/Achievement, Esteem: Once our social and relationship needs are met, another set of needs emerges into consciousness-needs you and I and all of us have-the needs for productivity, achievement and accomplishment.

These can also be called esteem needs, in that the only continuous source of our feelings of self-worth, respect and esteem is our own satisfactory achievements.

5. Level V Needs: Self-Actualization: Maslow found that individuals who were getting their needs met at Levels I through IV experienced a drive to become what he called Self-Actualized.

Some of the characteristics of self-actualization are heightened awareness of living, completeness, wholeness, joyfulness, transcendent, unforgettable moments or periods of joy, unity and understanding.

Maslow discovered that self-actualizing people were continually meeting their basic needs for survival and security. They had satisfying, loving, long-lasting friendships. They had intimate and loving relationships with a few special people. They had a life’s work that was very important and gratifying to them.

It’s easier to meet our needs if we have a framework in which to recognize and organize them.

Our society tends to judge people at Level IV (Success, Achievement) without considering possible effects of deprivation at Levels I, II and III. When we consider how deprivation at these levels may be affecting others, it combats our view of people as essentially lazy, needing to be prodded to be productive, etc.

It’s easier to understand and accept shortcomings of ourselves and of others if they are seen as results of “needfulness” rather than “badness” or “laziness.”

The only way for the self or others to become self-actualized is to avoid developing a serious crippling of needs in the lower levels. 

Most segments of our society are okay on Levels I and II. Most serious deficits now occur at Level III (social needs) through inadequately satisfying relationships. The philosophy and methods of the P.E.T. course have their greatest impact here through systematically upgrading participants’ interactive skills to much higher levels than general culture, thus producing superior relationships. P.E.T. helps both parties in a relationship move upward in Maslow’s Hierarchy.

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