Abraham Maslow was born in 1908, to immigrant Russian parents and rose to become a prominent humanistic psychologist in the latter 20th century. While he valued the core humanistic philosophies of being authentic, compassionate, and client-centered, he is most widely known for his hierarchy of needs. Maslow’s hierarchy is made up of five levels of physical and psychological needs, consisting of the following: physiological needs; safety and security needs; love and belonging needs; esteem needs; and finally, self-actualization. People ascend through this hierarchy to become fully alive and fulfilled.
The physiological needs are basic bodily needs, such as sleep, movement, nutrition, sex, and avoiding pain. People literally cannot focus on anything else unless these needs are met. Many of these needs are requirements for living.
The safety and security needs represent the need for protection and stability in your life. Every person needs to feel safe, physically and emotionally, in their environment. Chaos, fear, and constant stress prevent people from being able to create and maintain relationships. Ongoing lack of safety and security can result in serious medical conditions such as heart disease, depression, and stress-related conditions.
Love and belonging are needs which are met through friends, family, and relationships with others. When this need goes unmet, feelings of loneliness and rejection occur. The pursuit of marriage and creating a family demonstrates the role of this need in the lives of most young adults. Some spend their lives at this level, trying to establish strong connections and relationships.
The esteem needs are the need to be recognized, respected, and have respect for others. A higher level of esteem needs revolve around self-esteem, personal freedom, and feelings of achievement. Career advancement, hobbies, and civic responsibilities, such as volunteering, are examples of behavior that surrounds meeting these needs.
The highest level of personal development is self-actualization, which is a self-feeding need that pushes individuals to be as much as they can be. Few reach this stage. Maslow considered this stage to be generally fleeting, what he termed “peak moments.” Even those who self-actualize at times do not stay forever on top of the pyramid- life events compel us all to descend to meet other needs as circumstances arise. During times of self-actualization, people feel fulfilled, ready to explore, without anxiety and employing a good sense of humor and creativity in all they do.
In order to move up through the hierarchy, one must have the underlying needs fulfilled. The present needs and those stages closest to them are the salient needs. Those below are considered to be fulfilled, and those above are to become salient in the future. Not everyone reaches self-actualization; some may not have the lower needs met, while others may not be able to make the psychological leap necessary to become a self actualized person. The majority of people live their adult lives working on their love and belonging or esteem needs.
People often move between levels in their daily lives. For example, a healthy adult with a promising career may generally feel fulfilled, safe, and secure. However, if they were to lose their house in a flood, they would temporarily find themselves struggling with safety and security needs, and likely quickly resume their previous level of functioning once they had a new place to live. Movement between levels can be seen more commonly during breakups, when people who once felt loved and secure suddenly feel rejected or struggle with loneliness before adjusting. On a mundane level, even the most self-actualized person will need to attend to the call of their basic needs several times a day; even Buddhas need to eat!
Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs represents a good working map of motivation, achievement, and fulfillment. In understanding which level a person is operating at, you can understand what they need most in the present, and predict how they will behave. Maslow’s hierarchy is a flexible, compassionate, and understandable model of human behavior and the psyche, and remains an important theory in modern psychology.