Week 32 – Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Week 32 – 27 April 2012

Having experienced a downturn in my moods in the journey of my life since the collapse of my marriage; I decided to escape temporarily by visiting my second eldest son living in Vancouver, Canada.  Whilst ever so happy to see him again and quite excited, I experienced a new wave of emotions the first few days as I battled a loss of sense of place. I had survived the emotional turmoil of my whole life being turned upside down by clinging onto my daily routine and nurturing myself with familiarity. That was now gone and my mind was again in turmoil. I had always enjoyed travel and experiencing exciting different things. What was wrong with me?

Away from all the chaos of my disrupted life, I now had some time to reflect upon things and I began exploring the theme of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. For those unfamiliar with the concept, Maslow was a psychologist who came up with a pyramidal concept of a hierarchy of needs. There were five initial levels that later evolved to seven that (working from bottom to top) encompassed basic needs (physiological, safety, love, esteem) and then the higher growth needs (cognitive, aesthetics and self-actualization). Maslow postulated that one’s lower needs had to be met before one could move on to the higher level needs. Here is a an outline of the hierarchy.

5.                                                        Self-actualization

4.                                      Esteem: achievement, independence

3.                          Belonging: love, family, relationships, intimacy, affection

2.                    Safety needs: protection, security, stability, financial security, order

1.             Biological and Physiological needs: air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sleep etc

It has been reasoned that at a time of crisis, say after a flood or earthquake, people’s needs return to those very basic – for food, water and shelter – as they begin to rebuild their lives. At those times they have little need for self-esteem or fulfilling their highest potential by self -actualizing. Gradually as basic needs are met, then one can move onto the higher levels of a safe environment, then companionship.

I had thought about this at times since my separation and I am learning that the ending of a marriage is similar to such a crisis, especially if it is unexpected and sudden as in my case. It rocks the very foundation of your life and threatens everything you ever had; self-esteem, family, companionship, emotional and financial security. As everything comes crashing down, to cope and survive you cocoon yourself by returning to the basics of life – living in the moment of waking, eating, walking, eating, and the comfort and security of a warm bed at night. You are thrown into a survival mind-set of fulfilling these basic needs because everything else is gone.

I was finding that it was helping me to actually accept this fact and I began rebuilding my life by starting with those basics needs and ensuring they were met first in a positive way to give myself a strong foundation before tackling those needs higher up – so refocusing first on breathing (it meant I was alive) and food (sticking to a good diet), my health, and a safe secure peaceful home environment. At the same time, although it’s a little higher up, focussing on my family.

I thought that after I had healed and become strong at those basic levels, as the pain eased, I could move on to my physical, financial and emotional stability; then hopefully my social needs and regaining my self esteem. I could try to begin to move up the levels and focus on getting my finances back on track and seeking out new friendships, new interests etc, one step (or one level) at a time……  That was my theory as I grappled with the concepts of my lost previous life and my now unsure financial future.

So here I was in Canada spending time with the missing link in my family, my second son, and away from the immediacy of my life’s trauma. Why was my mind racing in turmoil again? Why couldn’t I sleep?
Then I realised I was craving that lowest level of the hierarchy, that feeling of comfort and security in routine and a sense of place. By coming over to visit my son, I had been thrown into the unfamiliar.
When all your world is travelling along merrily, when you have your home and your life companion, your finances secure, your job to give you satisfaction, and some creative outlet; then taking a break from all that by travelling and doing different things is both rewarding and exciting. Less clear is the fact that you are actually taking your basic needs, your  security with you …… that is if you travel with your soul-mate ……..because your life’s security goes with you; and you have this inner core of happiness and stability that you take with you wherever you go.
After a marriage collapse, that is all gone and you are left with a shell of your former self. One props oneself up with superficial pillows to ensure that one does not break. And until those pillows are taken away you do not realise how easily that fragile shell can indeed break.
This is what happened to me in those first few days I was in Vancouver. My props were gone, my home, my routine, my sense of place.
In that fragile place, sometimes it seems a little sad to do things by yourself that you would normally enjoy and so you refrain from doing things, you hold back, because there is no-one to share things with. So you have to push yourself to take that first step. The first step is the hardest. So after a few days when i decided that this emptiness feeling was silly, I pushed myself to learn to navigate my way around the bus routes through North Vancouver to Vancouver, to shopping malls, to grouse Mountain and Capilano bridge. I got myself into a little daily routine of morning activities, then go out and about, then come back via the local shops for any shopping needs and then the evening meal with my son and his girl-friend.  I cocooned myself with the same basic needs level of food – shelter – warmth – security – companionship – routine albeit that I was now in a different environment.
And — believe it or not —-  with time to myself during the days — and away from my trauma —  it was here that I began drafting my blogs in earnest and I ‘published’ my very first post soon after.
So here is where I think that maybe Maslow got it wrong. Because here I was at the very bottom of his hierarchy needs, at the very basic level of survival, with all the middle levels crumbling at my feet; and that is when I went straight to the very top level – on to self -actualization (after-all that isn’t that where all of us bloggers are?) …. and that is when I began to heal.