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Hierarchy of Needs

Tom Chapin
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1990-02-24

>I know many people whose emotional needs vary widely from my own
>- not just how they go about filling them, but the very needs themselves.

While I don't want to make Maslow the primary expression of my own views, I feel he comes reasonably close here, so I'll go a bit with him...

He speaks of a "hierarchy" of needs. When the more primary needs are satisfied, they no longer appear as needs, so if someone's emotional needs are satisfied, their apparent level of need will differ from that of someone else. They might have had much of the need satisfied by having an emotionally rich childhood, so they might be in light maintenance mode in adulthood, concentrating on other needs. While someone who was deprived in childhood may still be starving.

As an interlude, the needs he speaks of are:

Only after the lower needs are met can the higher ones be attended to, but after the lower needs are met, the higher ones *will* surface. Notice the order carefully. Many many folks on here have claimed that, if you "need" love, then all you have to do is develop your self-esteem. Their well-intentioned advice is as misplaced and as unintentionally heartless as someone telling a drowning person that they don't "need" air, they just need to love themselves and everything will turn out ok. Until your need for love is met, esteem cannot develop no matter how much well-intended advice is given in that regard.

Contradictory to the well-meaning, but absolutely wrong, notions of many Net folk who may be more adept at fulfilling the needs of computers than humans, the deficiency of love can be just as fatal as the deficiency of food or water. The physiological effects, long recognized in children, are called "marasmus" ("failure to thrive"), and marasmus is often fatal. "Love hunger is a deficiency disease, like salt hunger or the avitaminoses ... It would not occur to anyone to question the statement that we "need" iodine or vitamin C. I remind you that the evidence that we "need" love is of exactly the same type." (_Toward a Psychology of Being_)

>The world may not be a zero-sum game, but we're all dealing with only
>finite resources, like time.
>The balance ... lies within the individual's conscience ...

To a limited extent I can go along with this, but it appears to suggest that, even if the world is not zero-sum, we are. And leaving it only to the individual's conscience will last only until someone's conscience permits them to satisfy their needs by taking from someone else, forcibly.

Even if it means flying in the face of the American religion of individualism, I feel we must push in the direction of a communal spirit, where satisfying others' needs will be recognized as leading to our own satisfactions, while cutting ourselves off will be seen as cutting ourselves off. As you said, we need a balance, but I think the balance at this time, here, has been shifted toward justifying and promoting isolation. And I think most folks can, if they wish to get scared, see the results all around us.

>Why should you refuse? Because if you don't, your own needs may go unmet.

I see this as the "half empty, half full" dilemma. If you refuse the needs of the other, you may be able to fulfill your needs in the short run, but in the long run you will contribute to creating a world where even your own needs will be denied. It's so easy to see the short-term benefits from refusing, and so hard to calculate the long-term ones. So easy to deny that there are any long-term benefits at all if one's conscience starts to bother.

>Does that mean that those who can't meet their needs themselves should blame >others who can't (or won't, the choice as always resides in the individual) >meet their needs?

Blame is something we get taught very early in this society. Everyone seems to learn it, and in this sort of situation both sides tend to be equally adept. Like most addictions, one "shouldn't" do it, but it's rather difficult to stop once it gets started, especially since it is a social disease spread during all forms of emotional painful discourse.

>Should they start to cling, hoping that maybe someday this person will be able to/choose to meet their needs?
>Or should they just accept that this person isn't going to meet their needs for whatever reason and just go on?

I've seen a few occasions where people, knowing the facts, tried to cling. But in most situations I know about, clinging accurred because the other person gave mixed messages (whether out of politeness, internal confusion themselves, or for purposes of emotional manipulation), and the receiver of those messages had no reasonable way of knowing where the truth lay, and no way of knowing whether the message-giver was saying yes, no, maybe, or never. Unfortunately, once one succumbs to the easy temptation of giving mixed messages, one's future credibility is shaken, and it takes a long time before one's messages can again be understood.

I'd state it as a general rule that obsession (the meaning of clinging) is not a response to the death of a relationship or the denial of a need, but rather a normal response to having no idea what the real situation is, and an attempt to find a trustworthy channel of communication. If openness and trust are there, obsession won't be, but if confusion is there, obsession will be too.

Unfortunately it takes exorbitantly longer to reestablish trustworthy channels of communication after they have been broken than it takes to keep them open in the first place. But again, the short-term benefits of mixed messages are so easy to calculate, while the long term pains are so hard to foresee.



Tom Chapin -- tjc@mvp.net
rev: 2005-May-25