I believe it is important to understand some of the leading theories in human developmental psychology in order to attain a certain level of mental and emotional wellness in our lives. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a theory in psychology that dates back to 1943. It was devised by Abraham Maslow in a paper called A Theory of Human Motivation. We will take a brief look at Maslow’s theory in order to better understand the various stages of growth in humans.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs contains five stages. It is often depicted visually as a pyramid with the bottom layer consisting of basic physiological needs and the top being self-actualization. The bottom four layers layers are referred to as “difficiency needs” by Maslow. It was his arguement that if these lower-most needs were not met that a person would feel anxious and tense without any indication from the body.

The Difficiency Needs

1. Physiological Needs – These include basic needs of survival such as air, water, food, sex and sleep. Maslow believed that these were the most instinctive needs and that without them (with the exception of a few) the body would not be able to function. We require the means of survival to have time to concern ourselves with the needs higher up in the hierarchy.

2. Safety Needs – Once physical needs are taken care of, the individual’s safety needs start to take over in their thought process. These needs have a lot to do with people craving certainty and some sort of order in their lives. They consist of personal security, job security, health, resources and property.

3. Social Needs – After physical and safety needs are taken care of, people tend to focus on feelings of love and belonging. Social needs revolve around community, friends, family and intimacy. In the absense of large (clubs, office culture, religious groups, sports teams, gangs) or small (family members, intimate partners, colleagues) social groups people start to feel lonely, socially anxious and depressed.

4. Esteem – Humans share the need to be wanted, liked and valued by others. This affects our self-esteem and self-respect. We need to engage ourselves in order to have a sense of personal accomplishment and gain confidence in ourselves. Maslow made note of two versions of esteem needs, a lower one and a higher one. The lower one is the need for the respect of others, the need for status, recognition and fame. The higher one is the need for self-respect, the need for strength, competence, mastery, self-confidence, independence and freedom. The higher one is said to be more important because it rests more on inner competence. Not fulfilling these needs can lead to an inferiority complex, weakness and helplessness.

The Growth Needs

5. Self-Actualization Needs – Maslow and others (Carl Rogers) emphasized the importance of self-actualization. This is a prrocess of growing into and achieving one’s potential. It is said to be the main drive or purpose behind all other goals in a person’s life.

Maslow and Wellness

When I first studied Maslow’s hierarchy it really stuck with me. It wasn’t until many years later that I truly understood it and tried to fit and shape it into my own life. If we work towards achieving the difficiency needs we can eventually put ourselves in a good position to self-actualize. It is unfortunate that many people fail to do so either by lack of opportunity or lack of effort.

Having a good understanding of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs will enable us to attain a base level of overall wellness. I believe it is important to understand the stages of human growth and development in order to easily identify areas in which we can improve. We will be taking a look at Erikson’s stages of development another day to further understand basic human development. This will set a good foundation on which we can build towards a holistic understanding of wellness.

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