Friday, March 23, 2007


Everyone should know about Maslow's heirarchy of human needs. Doctors should know about it, husbands should know about it. It would make life so much easier. We should know about it.

Sometimes it seems to me that only two sorts know about it, same as only two sorts really ever study human frailty through counselling or NLP or any other framework:

1. Those who would help you to soothe your wounds and provide for your needs and insecurities (counsellor, healer types who you never get to see unless you've already flipped and had a meltdown)

2. Those who would manipulate you by creating needs and insecurities and then prodding you in the wounds. That would be the evil antithesis and the dark side as represented by, *ahem*, arseholes, torturers and salesmen.

I don't know if I see the triangle the way Maslow saw it (or the way others see Maslow) because I haven't gone reading. Just looking at the darn thing, it all seems pretty obvious.

You need to be completely satisfied in a lower layer to be able to put your attention to a higher one. Its that simple. You need to not be in a panic about whether people even like you before you can think about projects to attract applause. You need to be secure that you have enough air to breathe (not suffocating) before you can be arsed to worry about anything else at all like whether you have something nice for tea.

As you grow up you build layers (compare the bottom three to ages zero, five and ten). At any point in life, damage to any layer will force you to sideline anything above that and rebuild. This is where salesmen come in on the baddy side, because their whole focus is to turn a product into a desire and turn your desire into a percieved need. If you only want something then you may or may not treat yourself. If you can feel that you need it then the sale is as good as made. Their task is to make you percieve a deficiency in your safety, your sense of belonging or your ego and chance to shine.

Some people cite apparent exceptions to the triangle; heroic types who can function at the top, altrusitic level, without material possessions or even *enough* food/water/air, even with death impending.

The funny thing is, however, that we allow ourselves to assume our pyramids are all of roughly the same dimensions and this is a big mistake. We can go through an entire, comfortable life, assuming that we 'need' this or that and for many the distinction between the bottom two levels never needs considering. They, we, get completely mixed up with the minimum requirements for survival (empirical fact) and our much more subjective and individual requirements to feel safe and comfortable.

This is the dreaded comfort zone and the one where addictions attack. Shopaholic, chocaholic, workaholic, alcoholic, name your poison; it sits here and tells you you HAVE to have it, so that if you go without you lose the ability to focus on anything else.

Some people have wide, wide bases to their emotional structures snd need everything 'just so'. Some who seemingly dwell constantly in the self actualisation peak of achievement would have genuine panic attacks at the loss of things they categorise as basic human rights, such as waterproof shoes, or three meals a day, or at least one holiday a year. Going without these things would before long become distracting or even disabling for them. Cheer up. Look at superstars - the types who have apoplectic fits because the wrong colour smarties were delivered to the hotel room. There but for the grace of God.

Others find to their surprise that although they always assumed they were normal; under this unwitting facade they find they have the slimmest, tallest pyramids; more like needles. When these people are attacked then as far as the world is concerned, more and more is seen to be taken from the base of the structure in a way that ought to cause a total cave in, but in reality its all just breeze block and not the supporting wall.

You can never tell how sleek and minimalist each level of your true pyramid happens to be, until someone takes a chunk out of it. You never know whats going to go beyond being challenging to breathtakingly unbearable, until it does.

What Maslow doesnt seem to approach is the concept that on balance, personal survival is not always essential, or rather, once you are high enough up the pyramid you can reorganise the foundations and overcome animal instinct. If this theory holds water then the bottom level named 'physiological' should really be named 'principles'. Your principles are what really matter to you and in an undeveloped state physiological needs (obviously) come first. There is, however, room to insert a kind of basement level here - to consciously decide that there are morals and standards that matter even more than physiological comfort or survival. Instantly this relegates physical requirements to desires rather than needs and they function as a sublayer of safety and security. To put it another way they simply cease to be the bottom line.

If you believe in the pre-existence of the eternal soul then you may like to call this life path or soul purpose; some predetermined state of self that was there all along and needed only to be seen. In that case when I say there is room to insert a lower level, you would say there is the capability (only if it is your path) to discover a lower level that was hiding there all along. Either way its not for everybody.

Its only a concept. Perhaps at the final moment the only thought crossing the mind of an apparent hero is not "I did it my way" but "Oh shit".

God only knows, and thats not blasphemous as you would have to be everybody ever, or at least be with them, to have a clue.

Enough waffling. We are not all heroes; most of us far from it. If, however, someone is being unreasonable, if you are tempted to bite their head off, then before you do, compare their behaviour to the triangle. It may just be that against their best intentions, you are not their main focus.


Blogger Dita said...

Damn, I have a lot of those "two's" in my life...the need creators.

Other than my mother, an amazing woman in her own right, you chickies ARE my heroes!

2:55 PM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

You know what, Dita, I am going to blow all my credibility now by admitting I had no real idea what I was writing nor why because that built itself in the compose window. It was a tiddly pom that shaped up as it went along and I guess if not an act of lunacy then one of faith.

Apparently that means it was meant for you.

7:25 PM  
Blogger Miss Cellania said...

Excellent post, whether you or someone you are channeling wrote it. This pyramid is well understood by dictators and kings. Keep your populace poor and hungry, or in dread fear of the boogieman, and they won't bother demanding their civil rights.

10:14 PM  
Blogger zilla said...

Loved this -- am familiar with it, too. My favorite part, though, was the final paragraph. Truly wise, woman.

And now for the grumpy part: why the hell are we so far away from each other? I'd really love to be chatting about this sort of thing with you over a cup of tea. Or a stiff vodka gimlet -- you know how I am.

12:32 AM  
Blogger Naj said...

You may find these articles interesting:

The costly pursuit of self-esteem by Croaker and Park;

the healthy pursuit of selfesteem by DuBois and Flay

3:43 PM  
Blogger Lotuslander said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:26 PM  

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