Safety First: Our Basic Needs Are Required Before Esteem or Actualization

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Reflecting on the recent traumatic experience of Hurricane Irma, I remembered learning in school about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Abraham Maslow proposed his theory of motivation in 1943. The theory simply states that humans have various needs that must be met before progression to the next level is possible. He defined five levels. From bottom to top they are:

  • Physiological Needs – Your most basic needs that are absolute essentials required for human survival: air, water and food.
  • Security Needs – At this level, we have a feeling of safety—physically, financially and overall.
  • Social Needs – These needs vary depending on your personality. They include emotional love, physical love, relationships, and social interactions to name a few.
  • Esteem Needs – Things that make you feel good, like awards, mentoring others, graduation, or other accomplishments that elevate your emotional well-being.
  • Self-Actualization – The point at which a person reaches fulfillment of his or her talents and potential.

Trauma threatens the two levels at the base of the hierarchy and leads to stress. Latter levels—sense of belonging, esteem, and self-actualization—cannot be achieved without the basic needs first being met.

You Can Go Up and Down Levels

For instance, in preparation for Hurricane Irma, I figured I’d probably lose power. I bought flashlights and and batteries. Reading is one of my favorite activities and I have plenty of books. I assumed it wouldn’t really bother me if the power went out. In fact, reading is one of my stress management tools. I can spend days just reading. The possibility of not having technological distractions interfering with my reading time excited me.

In reality, though, once my air and power were out, which meant difficulty sleeping, I couldn’t even consider reading. I thought this was odd. I love to read, and there really wasn’t much else to do.

It put things in perspective for me. Not having my basic needs met, or at least fearing that they could go away, made it impossible for me to focus on self-actualization. Despite being without power for almost a week, I could not read one single page!

Consider Where Others Are on the Hierarchy

Consider those who are less fortunate than you. People who struggle to find a hot meal on a daily basis or those who did lose their homes. The human survival instinct kicks in and takes over, making it the top priority to fulfill those physiological needs. Now consider someone who has a job, a family, and a stable life—but a new executive is brought in to “clean house.” That person’s sense of safety is threatened, and, as a result, high-level strategic thinking will be stunted.

When you have good stress management methods in place, recovering from a stumble down is possible. Take a moment to be grateful for the safety of your position and situation. As you interact with those around you in stressful times, consider what you can do to help restore that sense of safety for someone else.

One of my goals as a coach is to help people identify triggers that cause them to tumble down levels by putting stress management tools in place to  quickly regain footing. If you are interested in learning more about professional coaching, or realize you need tools for stress management, reach out to me. We’ll discuss how I may be able to help you as your life coach.

About the author

Robin Lavitch, MA, CPC, is the founder of Surpass Your Goals, a coaching practice for entrepreneurs, executives, tweens, school administrators, and more. Her capacity to connect with audiences, elicit thought-provoking ideas and clarify personal ambitions prepares people to apply that knowledge instantaneously to accelerate their own results in leadership, sales, and time management.

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