Maslow and the Hierarchy of Needs- Where do you Stand?

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maslow and the hierarchy of needs

Back in 1954, Abraham Maslow presented the hierarchy of needs model. The model presents 5 stages of needs – you must pass through the lower level needs before progressing on to the levels of higher growth. Although the original 5 stage model has been expanded a number of times over the years, the basic principles of Maslow’s theory remain just as current today.

The 5 stages of Maslow’s original hierarchy of needs are:

  • Biological needs – shelter, warmth, food, water, sex, sleep , air
  • Safety – the freedom from fear, stability, security
  • Belonging/love – friends, family, spouse, lover
  • Self-esteem – recognition, respect, achievement of mastery
  • Self-actualization –fulfillment, creativity, realization of personal potential
  • Are you self-actualized?

Maslow was particularly interested in the group he called self-actualizers. He stated that only one in a hundred people would ever reach this level. To be at this level, you must first have moved beyond the previous levels, but you can move between levels – for example whilst going through a period of loss through divorce or bereavement, you might move temporarily back to level of safety.

Maslow studied a number of eminent people (including Albert Einstein and Abraham Lincoln) that he considered to be self-actualized and identified 15 key features of these people. They include qualities of acceptance of self and others, spontaneity, a well-developed sense of humor, high degrees of creativity, concern for the welfare of humanity, and the need for solitude. Self-actualized people, he said, have achieved their potential as a person and act out of this level. It means different things for each person but the key qualities are the same –in short, self-actualized people see life clearly and with a continual sense of appreciation, awe and wonder.

Being selfactualized sounds good, so how do you get there? Maslow also studied the types of behaviour that lead to self-actualization. He found many common threads here as well.

He identified 8 ways that you can self-actualize –

  • Concentration-“First, self- actualization means experiencing fully, vividly, selflessly, with full concentration and total absorption” (Maslow, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature 1971, p. 45). Most of us are only partly aware of what is occurring from minute to minute. To fully experience and be aware of the present moment and feel intensely involved in it is to be on the way to self-actualization.
  • Growth Choices-Life is a series of choices to be made – making honest decisions that open you to growth, even if they are the more difficult path, will help you achieve self-actualization
  • Self Awareness-Being aware of your inner self and acting in according with it, not others’ opinions.
  • Honesty-Each time you act honestly and take responsibility for your own actions, you are progressing along the path of Maslow’s need hierarchy.
  • Judgment-This means the ability to be courageous when making life choices – to trust your own instinct and go with your inner feelings when choosing anything from food and music to your choice of life partner.
  • Self-development-Self actualization is not an end-state, it is a process by which you are “working to do well the thing that one wants to do” (Maslow, 1971, p. 48). This means using your intelligence and talents to fully engage with both yourself and your environment and to strive towards your full potential.
  • Peak Experiences-Maslow talked a lot about peak experiences – ‘transient moments of self-actualization’. During an experience like this, you will feel completely at one with your environment, feel an increased sense of awareness, and an intense feeling of wholeness, acceptance and love.
  • Lack of Ego Defenses-As you get to truly know yourself you might find there are things you don’t like; things that stand in the way of relating to the world. To let these go may be difficult, but is necessary.

There are as many paths on the way to self-actualization as there are people in the world, but as a tool to really kick-start your process, the practice of meditation is unparalleled. Meditation allows you more direct access to your deeper layers of consciousness, altering and deepening your brain wave patterns and allowing you to dig beneath the layers of anxiety, resentment and fear that may have been building up for decades. Just sitting quietly for a few moments a day, allowing your mind to be still and becoming aware of your breathing can immediately change your feelings of self- awareness. As you practice regularly you will soon find yourself well down the path of self-actualization.


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