Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Fundamental Human Needs

My ponderings today revolve around human "needs" and how those needs are interrelated.  I am trying to objectively view my true needs to see if they are being met and how to meet them if they are not.  I am also trying to clearly define my needs to help separate them from my wants.  In order to be a healthy individual, needs must be met, whereas wants do not.

 Experts mostly agree on what the fundamental human needs are, although there are varying presentations for these needs and how they're interrelated.  Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs is often depicted as a 5-level (or 8-level) pyramid.  The first 4 levels are what Maslow calls "Defit Needs" which, except for the first level comprised of the basic physiological needs, when these needs are not met, the body gives no indication physically but a person will feel anxious and tense.

These levels are developed in stages, starting from birth.  An infant's focus is on the physiological needs, then safety, then attention, and later attention, all within the first couple of years.  Of course, all of these needs require constant attention to a certain degree.  If any of the lower needs are not being met, all needs that build upon it suffer until that need is once again satisfied.  Also, if a child is faced with significant problems during development, such as extreme hunger, loss of a family member, or significant neglect or abuse, a person may fixate on the needs in that level for the rest of their lives.  Neurosis may develop and cause the person to obsess about that need.

The first level is Physiological needs.  This level is our basic survival instincts, including maternal instinct.  These needs must be met in order to successfully meet any other needs.  The physiological needs consist of homeostatic needs such as breathing, drinking, eating, and excretion.  This need level also includes sleep, activity, and sex.  If any of these needs are not met, the needs can control a person's thoughts and behaviors and can (and will) cause a person to feel sickness, pain, and discomfort.

The second level in Maslow's hierarchy is Safety and Security.  A person must feel safe and secure from danger, to have predictability and order, and to have structure and stability.  When these needs are not met, fear, anxiety, and concern are the reactions. 

Social and Love needs make up the third level of the hierarchy.  This level consists of emotionally-based relationships such as friendship, intimacy, and family.  Ultimately, the third level is our need to love and be loved, to belong and to be accepted.  Loneliness, depression, and social anxiety are reactions to this need not being met.

The fourth and last level of the Deficit Needs is Esteem.  This can be broken into two categories – self-esteem and esteem or respect from others.    While a person needs self-esteem, self-worth, confidence, achievement, and independence, which are all internal feelings, a person also needs respect, recognition, appreciation, and attention from others.  Thwarting these needs brings out feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, low self-esteem, weakness, and helplessness.

The fifth level is comprised of Self-Actualization or Growth needs.  According to Maslow, or at least my interpretation of what he says, the fifth level is not fully reached until the needs of the lower 4 levels are satisfied.  Once a person reaches the self-actualization level, the needs on the lower levels are no longer prioritized.  The needs on the lower levels are only temporarily re-prioritized when one or more of those needs are no longer being satisfied, and attention will be focused on the unfulfilled needs while still attempting to maintain all the other needs which have already been satisfied.   If I understand correctly, once a person has reached the fifth level of needs and those needs are getting attention, they will always strive to be the best person they can be and to make the most of their abilities.  Also, people can meet certain needs from the fifth level, such as creativity, even when other basic needs are not being met.

This level is broken down into 4 separate levels in the 8-level pyramid as Cognitive, Aesthetic, Self-Actualization, and Self-Transcendence.  Cognitive is the need to know, understand, and explore.  Aesthetic is the need to be surrounded by beauty and symmetry.  Self-Actualization is the need to find self-fulfillment and realize one's own potential.  Finally, Self Transcendence is the need to connect with something beyond the ego and help others find self-fulfillment.

Clayton Alderfer took Maslow's Hierarchy and developed the ERG Theory.  He took Maslow's 5 levels and lumped them into three categories: Existence Needs, Relatedness Needs, and Growth Needs.  Existence Needs are comprised of the first two levels of Maslow's Hierarchy.  Relatedness Needs are comprised of the third level and the external esteem portion of the fourth level.  Growth Needs are comprised of the internal esteem portion of the fourth level and the fifth level.  Alderfer believes the ERG areas are not stepped in any way.  He believes that the importance of these categories may vary for each individual.

In essence, we as human beings are complex creatures and have a lot of needs.  Some of those needs can be met by outside sources, but most of them have to be recognized, realized, and fulfilled by each individual.  The people with whom we choose to share our lives influence and affect how our needs are satisfied (or not).  In order to be a healthy and whole person, one has to work to fulfill one's own needs in the most effective way possible without depending on another or others to fulfill them. 

I have a lot to ponder. 

References (ones that are not already linked above):


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