In two previous articles, we examined the importance of environment to creating healthy, whole, and connected, living beings. In the first article, we looked at the so-called “alpha wolf” and determined that alpha behaviour is toxic behaviour, a “mental illness” caused by the destruction of a wolf’s family ties and its confinement in an artificial (zoo-lab) environment. In the second article, we looked a bit more closely at the environment. In that article, we pointed out that environment includes your physical environment (your house, your yard, your neighbourhood street) and your social environment (all the people in your environment with whom you interact). At the end of that second article, we made a simple statement; if you want to be a healthy and fully connected human, you need environments where all your essential needs are met. At the end of that article, we were left with two questions. What are your essential needs and what happens when you do not meet them?
As for what your essential needs are, consider that growing humans are a lot like any other growing and living thing. Take a plant for example. If you want to grow a healthy and strong plant, you do not deprive it or assault it. Instead, you meet all its essential needs. You give it enough water, food, and sunlight, and you protect it from pests and environmental assaults (rabbits, people walking on it, etc.). If you meet a plant’s needs it will grow up healthy, strong, and beautiful. If you do not meet a plant’s needs, it will grow up stunted, deformed, and it might even die.
How badly a plant stunts depends on how much deprivation and assault it experiences while growing up. The more deprived the plant’s environment, the more it is exposed to animals and pests that stomp it or want to eat it up, the less “optimal” will be its growth. It is not rocket science. You don’t even have to be a gardener to know this is true. And it is the same for all living beings. Meet their essential needs and they will grow up healthy and strong. Deprive them and they will wither, stunt, and die.
If this true, and in our view there is absolutely no reason to argue it isn’t, the only question for us as individuals and as a species is, what are our essential human needs?
This is not a new question. Some scholars have tried to answer it. If you Google “human needs,” you will be confronted with Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Basic Needs. In this hierarchy, which Maslow proposed way back in 1943, Maslow suggested humans had five basic need categories. For Maslow, the basic needs were the physiological, safety, social, esteem, and “self-actualization” needs (Maslow 1943). Physiological needs include the need for air, food, water, shelter, etc. Safety needs include the need for stability, a home to live in, and a secure family environment. Social needs include your need for friendship, family, and connection with others. Self-esteem needs include your need to feel good about yourself, to feel powerful and be respected. Finally, your self-actualization need was your need to actualize your “self,” to be who you were meant to be. As Maslow said in his original article, “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if [they] are to be ultimately happy. What a [person] can be, [they] must be. This need we may call self-actualization.”
Maslow organized these needs into a hierarchy because he felt that you need to satisfy your “lower” needs before you moved onto your “higher” needs. He called the lower needs “prepotent” upon the higher ones. Thus if you wanted to “self-actualize,” you first had to meet all, or most, of your previous basic needs.
This hierarchy, or some variation of it, is pasted all over the Internet and it appears in psychology texts the world over. I have a version of it over here in this article. While this hierarchy might be a decent starting point for understanding what our essential needs are, we cannot end with this. The problem with the hierarchy as commonly presented is, it is incomplete and, in some areas, incorrect, and it is so for at least three reasons.
Reason number one, the common representation of Maslow’s needs is incorrect because Maslow modified his hierarchy later on when he added the need for “transcendence” (Maslow 1943, 1962, 1969a, 1969b). Any hierarchy of needs that misses this important addition, like this one on Psychology Today, is an incomplete and incorrect representation of Maslow’s basic hierarchy of needs.
Reason number two, the common representation does not include Maslow’s second hierarchy of needs, which he also introduced in his 1943 article, which was his Hierarchy of Cognitive needs (detailed here). In this second hierarchy, Maslow included the need to know and the need to understand as basic biologically rooted needs. He was absolutely correct to do this, since humans obviously have these needs.
Reason number three, psychologists have convincingly argued that these needs are not hierarchical but instead more of a matrix which you work on throughout your life, filling in the gaps here and there as you try to move forward towards health and connection. Obviously, there is some “prepotency,” as Maslow would have suggested. You will have a hard time self-actualizing while you are working 80 hours a week like slave, and you cannot “transcend” while you are starving to death. Still, you do not have to have all your esteem needs met before you move on to self-actualization, and even people who hate themselves and others can have short-bursts of “transcendence,” as case studies like Charlie Manson or Jim Jones will surely attest.
Although there is a lot of truth in Maslow’s original conceptualization, there is no doubt Maslow’s triangle has been misused and is out date, and should therefore not distributed anymore. For these reasons, in this article, we mash Maslow’s two hierarchies together, with a couple of minor changes which will be explained next time, into a single block of Seven Essential Needs that humans must meet if the species is to heal and grow up healthy and strong. This block of needs includes all the needs in Maslow’s basic hierarchy of needs and all the needs in Maslow’s cognitive hierarchy of needs. These needs are listed below, and a graphic is provided as well.
Seven Essential Needs
- Physiological needs — The needs for food, water, air, sex,…
- Safety and stability needs — The needs for safe and stable environments
- Love and attachment needs — The needs for unconditional love, support, and belonging. The need for attachment to a family, group, society.
- Truth needs — The need to know and understand the world
- Self-Esteem/Power — The need to feel good about oneself, to feel powerful and efficacious in the world.1
- Alignment — The need to be in alignment with your Highest Self. The need to express who you truly are. The need to actualize your inner self and potential.2
- Connection — The need to make a strong and pure connection with your Highest Self.
These seven essential needs answer the question which concerns this article series, which is, how do you create an environment where humans can grow healthy, strong, and connected, and not twisted, angry, and deformed, like the alpha wolves in the original article. The answer for humans, just like for wolves, just like for plants, is never deprive humans of what they need to grow and thrive, and protect them from trauma and assault. In other words, create environments were all the essential needs are met. When you do that, you get healthy, strong, and compassionate beings connected to their Highest Self. When you don’t, you get some version of the stunted, toxic, alpha wolf.
Simple, basic, and painfully self-evident; but pregnant with a cornucopia of implications, some of which we’ll explore next time when we look in more detail at these seven essential needs.
1 “I would define power as the feeling of self-respect,” says Abraham Maslow, “Eupsychia—The Good Society,” Journal of Humanistic Psychology 1, no. 2 (1961): 2.
2Abraham H. Maslow, “How We Diminish Ourselves,” The Journal of Humanistic Education and Development 29, no. 3 (March 1, 1991): 117–20.
Abraham Maslow, “Eupsychia—The Good Society,” Journal of Humanistic Psychology 1, no. 2 (1961): 2.
Maslow, A. H. 1943. “A Theory of Human Motivation.” Psychological Review 50(4):370–96.
Maslow, A. H. 1962. “Lessons from the Peak-Experiences.” Journal of Humanistic Psychology 2(1):9–18.
Maslow, A. H. 1969a. “The Farther Reaches of Human Nature.” Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 1(1):1–9.
Maslow, A. H. 1969b. “Various Meanings of Transcendence.” Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 1(1):56–66.