Hierarchy of Needs

As discussed in the prior section, the human need for self-actualization was first introduced in 1934 by Dr. Kurt Goldstein.  Twenty years later, Dr. Abraham Maslow fully developed this concept and incorporated it into a theoretical framework on human motivation, which became . . .

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

This framework was represented as a pyramid containing five levels of human needs, where the largest and most critical needs (i.e., sustaining one’s existence) were at the base — and at the summit, the need to be all that one can be.   In other words, the human needs which are essential are at the bottom and those that are discretionary are at the top, and in between there is a gradual mix from one to the other.

3D Pyramid

The Deficiency Needs

Dr. Maslow described the needs leading up to self-actualization as “deficiency needs”, in that if any of these were substantially unfulfilled, the possibility of developing one’s potential would be forever elusive.  Working our way from the bottom up, here’s a summary of those levels, and keep in mind these are needs which apply to EVERYONE:

  • Physical Needs –These are necessary to survive, whereby their deprivation will assuredly result in death.  These include the air we breath, the water we drink and the food we eat, as well as shelter and clothing for our protection from the elements.   As living beings, we also fundamentally require sleep and the ability to excrete metabolic waste.
  • Safety Needs — After the Physical Needs are substantially met, safety of one’s being next takes precedence, and comes in many forms.  Collectively, they represent our yearning for a relatively predictable and orderly world in which inconsistencies and lack of fairness are rare, and the just and familiar are frequently experienced and therefore come to be expected.  These include the need for personal security, financial security, health and well-being and protection from accidents, illness and crime.  Death can result when these needs remain substantially unmet.
  • Love /Belonging Needs — Once our core survival needs have been met, we focus our time and attention on relationship-based (or social) yearnings.   These include fulfilling our need to love and be loved, and the sense of belonging and  of being accepted by others.  These needs pertain to friendship, intimacy with others and being with one’s family.  When these needs are substantially unfulfilled, loneliness and depression typically set in, and in extreme cases can result in suicide or emotion-laden homicide.
  • Esteem Needs — After we have substantially met our core survival and social needs through a firmly established sense of belonging, our esteem needs kick in and become more pronounced, and have two dimensions.  The first pertains to the need to be respected by others for who we are, and to be favorably recognized for what we have accomplished and for what we are capable of.  Fulfillment of these needs often take the form of fame, prestige and social status. The other dimension is entirely introspective and relates to our need for self-respect and self-esteem.  When both dimensions of our esteem needs are met, we exude a recognizable self-confidence for we believe we have mastered what we do, and have “contributed” to society.  At this point, we are well-positioned for self-actualization because of an inherent belief that we can do so much more . . . which is ALWAYS true.  On the other hand, if our esteem needs remain substantially unmet for a long period of time, psychological maladies can set in, such as depression, a debilitating lack of confidence, or self-destructive behavior.


After Dr. Maslow’s death in 1970, others took up his work, and over time, three other levels of needs were identified for inclusion in the Hierarchy of Needs — two of them precede the need to “self-actualize” (Cognitive and Aesthetic needs) and one of them sits atop the pyramid (i.e., that which we ultimately strive for), and are referred to as Transcendence needs.  The resulting revised Hierarchy of Needs is thus illustrated below.

Transcendance Pyramid

Discretionary Needs

The Cognitive and Aesthetic needs assist in one’s quest for self-actualization; however they are not imperatives, but they certainly make the journey easier and far more enriching and enjoyable.  And the need for Transcendence effectively takes self-actualization to the ultimate “next level”.

  • Cognitive Needs (i.e., The Need to Know and Understand) —  These needs pertain to a person’s thirst for knowledge, as well as need to understand of the world around them, based on that knowledge.  These needs can be reasonably met, but never completely fulfilled for the more one’s knowledge grows, the more insatiable the need for more knowledge seems to be, along with a pronounced yearning for yet a “better” understanding their world.
  • Aesthetic Needs — The need for symmetry, order and beauty are thought to also be prerequisites for self-actualization for they relate to developing an appreciation for what is beautiful in this world (be it art, nature, wildlife, music or just the clear blue sky), and a realization of what the finer things in life are.
  • Transcendence Needs –There are a variety of definitions and interpretations of this term, however in the context of human needs, it pertains to those who have achieved self-actualization and feel the need to “give back” by helping others on the path to self-actualization.  This is accomplished through a limitless variety of means, ranging from mentoring others to many forms of philanthropic pursuits.

What’s Next?

Now armed with an understanding of our needs, why we are on this earth, and how self-actualization can bring lasting happiness, how does one “make this happen”?  You are invited to proceed to the next section titled “Applying the Concepts“.

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