People have basic needs–you know that. What you might not realize is that those needs must be fulfilled in a certain order. Abraham Maslow articulated this with his Hierarchy of Needs, which in its most basic form goes like this:
- A person’s physiological needs for food, water, shelter, sleep, and freedom from extreme pain must be satisfied before s/he can give attention to:
- Interpersonal safety, financial security, and bringing pain down to a livable level, all of which must be in place before s/he can have the energy to address:
- The need for love and belonging, including the ability to do his or her part in a relationship. The ability to participate in relationships is essential for:
- The need for esteem from others and self-esteem, which include being able to become competent at something (work, school, a talent) AND feel good about it.
All of the above are the basic human needs. Not privileges, not luxuries: needs. These are the needs articulated as the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Only when these are satisfied can a person address the final, highest level need: Actualization, which in regular language means striving to be all you can be.
Right now Congress is dickering about money, as they so often do, and it’s come to the attention of my clients who receive Social Security that their payments might be affected by this debate. Now, on top of the issues they’re working on in counseling, they’re worried that their income might stop. Instead of spending our session time moving forward on problems in level 2, or 3, or even 4, they’ve plummeted back to Level 1: They’re afraid they’ll be homeless and hungry.
With a fear like that, all higher-level progress stops until it’s resolved. Clients who could have been two to four weeks further along in their growth spent that time plateaued at best, and some regressed.
Social Security income allows people to, at the very least, work on their level 2 challenges and hope to progress to level 3, 4, and ideally 5. For people on Social Security due to disability, that stable income allows them to concentrate on regaining their wellness. Cutting Social Security payments should not have been an option at all, and even if the debate is just posturing and they know in the end they will resolve it, that very debate process has done harm to the people whose incomes hang in the balance.
These folks have been forced to not only watch but participate in yet another installment of the soap opera we know so well: As the Legislature Turns. The actors–congresspeople who obviously have their level 1 and 2 needs met–put on expensive suits each day and perform their most ostentatious linguistic convolutions, disrupting their constituents’ pursuit of happiness while satisfying their own level 3 and 4 needs for love, belonging, and esteem. Meanwhile, their viewers–my clients and millions of others–languish in their level 1 hell until the ending is finally revealed.
So if you ever go through a period when you can’t seem to get ahead in life, get ahead of your troubles, make progress in counseling, make progress on a project, etc., have a look at Maslow’s hierarchy. It might be that you’re trying to, or being forced to, do things out of order.