What do you need?
When was the last time you asked yourself what you need?
We’re so good at running around asking other people what they want and need and so very bad at asking for what we need.
Sometimes we even imagine that other people ‘should’ just be able to meet our needs by magically ‘just knowing’, without us having to tell them. How many times have you found yourself getting upset at someone who has disregarded your needs, but when you have stopped to think about it, you realise that you hadn’t told them what you needed in a clear and direct way.
Sometimes we can be so unused to having our needs met that we don’t even know what it is we need, we just feel sad, lonely or grumpy.
Maslow was the first person who started to map human needs.His hierarchy argues that our most basic needs are physiological; food, water, shelter, warmth, air. It is only when these needs are met that we will then seek to ensure our safety. In the Balkan conflict there were stories of people killed by snipers whilst queuing for bread. Yes they knew the bread line could be in a sniper’s eye line and that they could die by the bullet, but they were equally sure that without bread and food they would die anyway.
Once we are safe then we look to finding our place in the world. Maslow called this our needs to ‘belong’. We all like to feel part of something, whether a family, a church, a school, a gang or a workplace. Humans are social creatures and we all need to belong to a greater or lesser extent.
When we have established our sense of belonging then we can meet our self-esteem needs. We might seek to meet these needs through achievements, recognition, a sense of status and accomplishment.
Finally, if we meet all of these other needs some of us might meet our need to self-actualise; to be the best of us we can be. Self-actualisation is a vague term but my understanding is that it is when we are fulfilling our higher purpose and have a sense of meaning in what we do.
Malsow thought that self-actualisation was rare and that we could only reach the upper levels of the hierarchy once we have satisfied out lower needs.
A different take on Maslow
I don’t agree. The band played as the Titanic sank.They weren’t safe and their physiological needs were not being met, but that had a sense of belonging, self-esteem and were self-actualising. Similarly, Viktor Frankl created his logotherapy which he writes aboutin his famous and moving book ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’ whilst in a concentration camp where he wasn’t safe, where he had lost his family and where his basic physiological needs weren’t being met.
So I think of this more as a pie chart where ideally we are getting all of these needs met but where the balance changes in line with what is going on for us. So this afternoon I can attend to my need to self-actualise whereas this morning I was meeting my own and the kids’ physiological needs.
So what does Maslow mean for you?
When I’m working with clients I use the hierarchy as a coaching tool to help them think about their needs so you might like to try this exercise too.
Start off by giving yourself a mark out of 10 for how well each need is being me. 10 means that the need is fully met and 1 is ‘not met at all’.
Once you’ve done that focus on the needs which are lower than you would like them to be ie the needs which are not being met well enough for you. Ask yourself what are the small tweaks you can make to your life so that you can meet that need better, so that you can increase its mark from say a 4 to a 5.
Commit to making those changes to meet your own needs more effectively.
Meeting your own needs
It is tempting when you are doing this to think about what other people ‘should’ be doing to meet your needs but that the problem with that thought is that you have no control over other people, only over yourself. You can, of course, ask someone else to help you meet a need (for example you can phone a friend and invite them for coffee to boost your need to belong) but they have the right to say ‘no’.
Asking someone else to meet your self-esteem needs by giving you a compliment, is a bit like asking them to help you grow by pulling on your ears.Your self-esteem comes from you. It comes from you acknowledging what you are good at, what you appreciate about yourself and it comes from taking risks and doing things that scare us and surviving.
Asking someone else to ‘let’ you paint, or dance, or write or garden so that you can self-actualise is giving away your power.If you want to paint, make the time and paint. Get up early, go to bed late..do whatever it takes to help you feel like you are being the best of you that you can be.
As children, we rightly expect our parents to meet many of our needs for us, but part of growing up is learning how to identify and meet our own needs. This isn’t selfish. On the contrary, the more you are able to meet your own needs, the more nurtured and generous you will feel and that can’t help but spill over to the people we come into contact with.
As they say on planes; ‘put your own oxygen mask on before helping anyone else’.