Abraham Maslow is known for creating the theory of a hierarchy of needs. He wrote that human beings are motivated by unsatisfied needs, and that certain lower needs need to be satisfied before higher needs can be met. Maslow studied such people as Albert Einstein, Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frederick Douglas, rather than ordinary people. This was a radical departure from two of the chief schools of pyschology of his day: Freud and B.F. Skinner. Freud saw little difference between the motivations of humans and animals, and Skinner was all about behavior modification. We are supposed to be rational beings; however, we do not act that way all the time. Such pessimism, Maslow believed, was the result of Freud's study of mentally ill people. The study of crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a cripple philosophy of Motivation and Personality. Skinner, on the other hand, studied how pigeons and mice learn. His motivational models were based on simple rewards such as food and water, sex, and avoidance of pain. Say to your dog and give the dog a treat when it sits, and-after several repetitions--the dog will sit when you command it to do so. Maslow thought that psychologists should instead study the playfulness, affection, etc., of animals. He also believed that Skinner discounted things that make humans different from each other. Instead, Skinner relied on statistical descriptions of people.
Maslow's hierarchy of needs was an alternative to the depressing determinism of Freud and Skinner. He felt that people are basically trustworthy, self-protecting, and self-governing. Humans tend toward growth and love. Although there is a continuous cycle of human wars, murder, deceit, etc., he believed that violence is not what human nature is meant to be like. Violence and other evils occur when human needs are thwarted. In other words, people who are deprived of lower needs such as safety may defend themselves by violent means. He did not believe that humans are violent because they enjoy violence. Or that they lie, cheat, and steal because they enjoy doing it.
Needs are prepotent. A prepotent need is one that has the greatest influence over our actions. Everyone has a prepotent need, but that need will vary among individuals. A teenager may have a need to feel that he/she is accepted by a group. A heroin addict will need to satisfy his/her cravings for heroin to function normally in society, and will not worry about acceptance by other people. A need to be fed is an infant's prepotent need. According to Maslow, when the deficiency needs are met, at once other (and higher) needs emerge, and these, rather than physiological hungers, dominate the organism. And when these in turn are satisfied, again new (and still higher) needs emerge, and so on. As one desire is satisfied, another pops up to take its place. Needs continue to emerge.
Physiological needs are the very basic needs such as air, water, food, sleep, sex, etc. When these are not satisfied we may feel sickness, irritation, pain, discomfort, etc. These feelings motivate us to alleviate them as soon as possible to establish homeostasis, an equilibrium, or balance. Once they are alleviated, we may think about other things.
Safety needs have to do with establishing stability and consistency in a chaotic world. These needs are mostly psychological in nature. We need the security of a home and family. However, if a family is dysfunction, i.e., an abusive husband, the wife cannot move to the next level because she is constantly concerned for her safety. Love and belongingness have to wait until she is no longer cringing in fear. Many in our society cry out for law and order because they do not feel safe enough to go for a walk in their neighborhood. Many people, particularly those in the inner cities, unfortunately, are stuck at this level. In addition, safety needs sometimes motivate people to be religious. Religions comfort us with the promise of a safe secure place after we die and leave the insecurity of this world.
Love and belongingness are next on the ladder. Humans have a desire to belong to groups: clubs, work groups, religious groups, family, gangs, etc. We need to feel loved (non-sexual) by others, to be accepted by others. Performers appreciate applause. We need to be needed. Beer commercials, in addition to playing on sex, also often show how beer makes for camaraderie. When was the last time you saw a beer commercial with someone drinking beer alone?
There are two types of esteem needs. First is self-esteem which results from competence or mastery of a task. We all need self-esteem, and when coming from an abused background, it is often lacking in us. We need to build it in ourselves by mastering small tasks repeatedly. Second, there's the attention and recognition that comes from others. This is similar to the belongingness level, however, wanting admiration has to do with the need for power. People who have all of their lower needs satisfied, often drive very expensive cars because doing so raises their level of esteem. "Hey, look what I can afford-peon!”
The need for self-actualization is "the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming." People who have everything can maximize their potential. They can seek knowledge, peace, esthetic experiences, self-fulfillment, oneness with God, etc. It is usually middle-class to upper-class students who take up environmental causes, join the Peace Corps, go off to a monastery, etc. Or adults who work for the homeless, give service by helping as volunteers, have jobs as nurses, doctors, physical therapists and more. Many jobs have altruism as their basic core, and these are those types of jobs. Even going to a nursing home and reading a book to someone or writing a letter for one of them is a way to give.
Those of us who have never had the chance to graduate through these different levels are stuck and feel "less than" other people. We can gain the other levels if we work at those things we lack. It takes time and patience. And stubbornness. Finally, it is a good thing!
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