Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a great learning tool. Each level in the pyramid represents a state of human development. The bottom four phases are called, The Deficiency Needs. They are called the Deficiency Needs because if you don’t have them, you’re not going to move up. The size of the piece represents the foundational importance of that needs. Each need must be met and fulfilled to move up to the next higher need in order. Any phase that is unresolved is repeated over and over until the person attains what is needed to complete that need. You must learn how to complete all the lessons within each phase and maintain them to move up the pyramid. Each phase has skills and techniques specific to each individual that must be mastered.

The Physiological Needs at the bottom are the basis of all human existence. Physiological Needs are air, water, food, and shelter. Everyone must fulfill this need to stay alive. Around the world today, we know of people struggling to fulfill this need. Many people don’t have sufficient food or water – some in this country and many in some other countries. Homeless people struggle within this phase. There are many people who will spend their entire lives trying to fulfill this fundamental phase of development.

The second level is Safety Needs. This is a sustainable environment. You must feel safe and secure in your life to move upward from this level. This is an interesting phase. Think for a minute about all the people in the world who never move beyond this phase. How many people, even in this country, live in fear for their safety? All the abused children and domestic violence victims face the challenges that keep them stuck in this stage of development. Consider Iraq: all those people face the fear of being bombed or shot regularly. Their main focus is to survive and stay alive. Many U.S. soldiers who have come from higher levels of development have now regressed to this lower level phase of survival temporarily. It’s difficult to predict what stage they will be in once they return home. Trauma can keep people stuck in lower levels of fear for quite a long time.

The third phase is Belongingness & Love. In this phase, resolving the challenges of acceptance, belonging, family, and friendships are the goals. The first two phases are more concrete in nature. They are directly related to survival – life and death principals. If you have them, you can life; if you don’t, you might die. This third phase seems less intense because its principles are more abstract. Though don’t be fooled. This is a very difficult phase to fulfill for many people. (Note the size of the pieces in the pyramid is getting progressively smaller which correlates to the size of the population who encounter it). Think about the average teenager in this country. What is that they are trying to do? They try real hard to fit in, be accepted, find love, and be original but still belong. This is a huge challenge for some. Some teenagers spend years “trying on” new characters to see what fits. Then, once they think they have found an identity that they like, they become adults and have to do it all over again. This phase can last a long time. Young adults go to college and are challenged to belong and fit in there. Then, they seek a relationship that will fit. Then, they have to fit in with a new family (in laws).

As adults, we all have to find a job that fits. When we have children, we still need to fit in and belong to even larger groups, and so on. There are many diverse challenges and a lot of problem-solving and learning in this phase. (When a child is born to a parent struggling in an earlier phase of development, it can take the child longer to progress through the stages. Some theorists believe that “humans in extremely negative (abusive) environments in early life suffer the loss of irreversibility.” Sadly, this means that they may never progress out of the very early foundational stages).

Once all the lower levels have been successfully completed, we are ready to move into the Esteem Needs. This is the phase where we begin to live well. We have everything we need physiologically. We are safe and not living in fear. We fit with our family and our social groups. We feel loved and secure, and finally, we feel good about where we are in life. Most people at this level have proven some degree of economic success and like who they have become, what they have, and how they have earned it. It’s a period of satisfaction and positive self-esteem. You are aware that you have skills because you have proven them to yourself and others. All this takes about 40 years or so.
Just when you think that life is grand, you wake up one morning, look around at your family and your nice stuff and say, “Is this all there is.” Welcome to Midlife Crisis – you have progressed to the Need to Know & Understand phase, or the stage of Questioning as I like to call it. This is an extremely intense period. Its principles can be both abstract and concrete. The circumstance might be totally in your mind, or you could lose everything you have. It’s a period of self-discovery -a journey within. I have found it to last about 10 years or so from the very beginning to the very end. This stage is what we will explore in this workbook, but for now I will complete the rest of the pyramid.

*Note: When someone else’s circumstances or choices force you into a crisis prematurely, it could still represent a Midlife Crisis. This can occur through the loss of a loved one – death or break up; or through the loss of a job or other identity roles. In this case, it may take even longer to satiate the deficiency need levels. Additional work will need to be completed in order to advance this individual through the deficiency needs before the difficult work of the Questioning phase can begin. Often, separation anxiety sets in first, which is universal to most mammals in varying degrees. Separation anxiety has three stages: anxiety, depression, and acceptance. We will discuss this later in another lesson.

Moreover, some individuals get very stuck and are never able to satiate the lower levels. Often times, these individuals dip down from Esteem Needs and remain stuck in Belongingness & Love Needs. They feel that the person who left them or “caused” their crisis has destroyed their sense of belonging and love. They become bitter, which is a harsh principle of fear, and are never able to acknowledge their bitterness or fulfill their sense of belonging and love again. They spend years in a limbo state of existence filled with fear, anger, and angst. Eventually some people settle in and accept that this is going to be their life. Others become cynical, untrusting, and doubtful. They see life’s experiences as a series of unfulfilled needs.
Following the completion of Midlife Crisis, questioning and self-discover, the next stage is Aesthetic Needs. This is the stage for the search of beauty and wonderment in life. Life is amazing! It’s a lovely period of gratitude that follows the pain of midlife crisis.

Self-Actualization and Transcendence are the peak experiences of life. This is the 3-5% of the population who has successfully discovered that life truly has meaning. They have learned that the purpose of life is a life of purpose. Now, when life sends challenges (and it still does), you have a huge back of tricks (problem-solving and coping skills) to keep you from regressing too far down the pyramid. This level has a high correlation to spirituality. Most people at this level believe in a higher power. Many live a life of service to that higher power with a commitment to help other people reach a similar level or beyond. Life truly is a blessing and all the struggles were merely opportunities to progress!

Life provides the challenges for the lessons that need to be problem-solved, learned, resolved, and completed. Once you have learned all the skills in each phase, you naturally move upward to higher level challenges. Coping skills are learned along the way to help you sustain the increasingly difficult challenges that you will face. Growth is not linear, however. Life is full of up and down challenges just to keep you on your toes. It’s a constant test of problem-solving and coping skills. The fact is life will kick your ass sometimes, just because it can! It’s your attitude and how you handle that lesson that determines your growth.

Lotus Holistic Life experts can help you grow through your lessons quicker and less painfully with Holistic Life Coaching or any of our Self-Help e-Workbooks. We are here to help you through the rough spots of your journey!

Author's Bio: 

Cherie has years of experience helping clients grow toward the lives they deserve. Lotus Holistic Life offers goal-oriented, Holistic Life Coaching as well as a variety of Self-Help e-Workbooks to help guide people through life's "rough spot" and on to harmonious living!