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Climbing the pyramid gently; how Maslow’s model can help

Climbing the pyramid gentlyAbraham Maslow was a psychologist who is responsible for the pyramid entitled ‘The Heirarchy of Basic Human Needs’ which is a model he designed in order to provide insights as to where people find themselves in their personal evolution. He found that most people live out their lives content with merely subsisting, living from day to day, stuck in old ways that were counterproductive to their well being or potential.

CEDRIC utilizes this model that is found on page 63 of  CEDRIC founder, Michelle Morand’s ground breaking book,Food is not the problem’ to help readers see where they are, and as a result, to help figure out a way to evolve past subsistence into a life that is not bounded by incapacity, but open to it’s full potential.  In Chapter 5 of FINTP, Michelle helps decipher the pyramid and teaches readers how to use it by finding oneself somewhere in the layers.

Base- Physiological needs

Second- Safety and security

Third- Love, Acceptance and Belongingness

Fourth – Esteem

Fifth – Self – Actualization

This is a very important chapter as without addressing where one is primarily, it would be close to impossible to figure out where one is heading. Maslow was curious as to why people didn’t live up to their potential or why they were happy merely going through the motions of experiencing their lives. He believed that each of us was capable of rising to a higher potential but we were held back by certain factors. The five basic human needs he identified were physiological, such as food and water; safety and security; love, acceptance and belongingness; and finally at the very top of the pyramid; esteem. These, placed from bottom (the wide base of the model) to the top (the peak) are a metaphor for components that make up the basic needs that humans find themselves constantly striving for but many people become so entrenched in their pursuit of the base two needs of security, and food that they are unable to develop skills that can elevate their personal sense of self worth to feeling worthy of love or capable of developing their potential.

Draw it out with me as you read. On the wide bottom base of the pyramid are basic physiological human needs like food, air, water, sleep. People can’t live without these and all of us start here. It’s the next level up that is a hurdle many can’t overcome. Being stuck in the level of the pyramid that outlines the basic need of safety and security means that people who are unable to feel safe or secure, waste a lot of their potential simply trying to stay alive and sane as all around them, threats seemingly undermine any attempts they make to overcome their situation.

In my years of working with non-profits around issues of women’s safety or lack of it, I saw many examples of that stuck place imposing its limits on its inhabitants because without safety and security, one can’t find the peace of mind to rise to the next level of Maslow’s model, that of love, acceptance and belongingness. I’ve witnessed a lot of broken people, mostly women, and quite often, their children, who didn’t have the self esteem that they should have, who didn’t have a sense of internal validation, and who needed external acknowledgment in order to feel that they were valid human beings. I wish I’d known about this pyramid then, as it would have helped me to understand just how stuck the people we were trying to help were. Not just by their bad luck or misfortunes, but many people were stuck because they hadn’t learned life skills of how to self-nurture or how to nurture others as they’d had no role models for that in their lives.

In fact, I have often witnessed how when people are in frustrating situations that blindside them, they instantly turn to junk food, the sweet sugars amounting to the only kind component of their lives, sweet on demand, unlike kith and kin who were unable to provide nurturance. The knee jerk response to finding oneself with their backs against a wall was to reach for some high fructose corn syrup laden treat. Whether this grounds the struggling person, or gives them a moment of respite, in the long run, it is detrimental to their health as highly stressed lives become impacted by a continuous stream of high calorie, low nutritional psuedo food.

Many who find themselves stuck in the level of constantly seeking safety are very vulnerable to abusive relationships, often embrace self-harming behaviours and are continuously unable to ‘climb out’ of the rut they find themselves in. The level of love, acceptance and belongingness becomes a pie in the sky objective that is almost akin to a fairy tale when one is focussed day to day on merely basically keeping themselves alive.

The concept of Maslow’s pyramid model of basic needs is presented in Michelle’s book as a format with which to better assess where we are in our process of healing. That we seek solutions and are able to feel deservent of the help is a big step for many who often are living, or come from such difficult lives that its hard to remember we are worth the trouble. Adults who were abused as children especially have difficulty with accepting their value as credible. That we are working with CEDRIC to overcome them is a huge step towards the light of our personal salvation and healing.

The message here is loud and clear. We have to stop listening to critical dialogue, both internally or culturally and override it with self nurturance and a self-developed sense of belongingness in order to rise up the model to where we begin to not only have the esteem we are capable of, but to have the freedom to attain the heights that its capable of us to achieve. It’s not enough to be content with a full belly if one is being abused in other ways. It’s not enough if there is no sense of personal self worth, no outlets for affection, nor any healthy affection returned.

The chart’s next level is esteem. This is something that is extremely difficult for many of us to wrap our brains around. We have been so busy trying to be what others expect of us, we don’t understand what we expect of ourselves, and in doing so, we percieve that we are less qualified than others to participate in life. The reasoning of this struggle is often followed by a knee jerk response that builds a wall of protection around ourselves yet at the same time, works against us becoming more involved with others who are in a better position to help us with their nurturance.  Being stuck here is like a shoe in gum. The more we try to escape, the more entrenched it ensnares us.

There’s good news though, and Michelle is able to mine this for all its worth. Her own experience with being on the recieving end of abuse has become a model in itself, as unacceptable behaviour to ‘red flag’ and avoid both in her own actions, or to accept from others. She models this for clients and also gently indicates to CEDRIC participants when they are sliding into that stuck place subconciously. Moving past being stuck is a milestone in my development, and I’m sure that of many others, people who also find their lives unfolding more in keeping with what their potential is capable of, given the basic needs that  are finally available without shame and guilt attached.

The final component of Maslow’s pyramid is self actualization, the attainment of our full potential. Once we have become secure in where we are in our world, being loved by others, being loved by ourselves and able to cut the distortion of the negative messages that we percieve from within and without, so that we become unshakeable in our commitment to remain true to ourselves, only then can we move to the final stage of overcoming struggles that deny us the basic human needs. Self actualization is a human need that is elusive if you haven’t met the other criteria, but finally, after doing the work and overcoming the challenges, its possible, even imminent that one becomes their ‘Authentic Self’, being true to oneself, and being true to others.

Of course, this is a nutshell of Michelle Morand’s chapter on Basic Needs, but I wanted to just dangle the concept in front of you to tease you into becoming curious about what else you might be able to glean from this treasure when applied to your own evolution. It just might be the factor that helps you break through that tough wall of resignment to one’s hardships, and open you to living a life that allows you to soar to whatever heights your heart desires.

Many of us who have issues they are overcoming find it hard to be consistently good to ourselves. The dieting mentality encourages us to live by the tenets of  ‘no pain – no gain’ but this leads to yo-yo dieting, and over the long haul is ineffective in helping us keep weight off. By being true to ourselves, living our authentic lives taking responsibility for how we are nurtured, and indeed, seeing to it that we ARE nurtured in some way, even if it is just by ourselves to ourselves, we can get to that level where we may begin to make a difference in and to the world around us. We cease needing quick fixes like junk food, or diets, and we begin to feel more human, more accepted, more skilled in how to cope with challenges, and as a result, that penchant to gorge or purge disappears, leaving us much healthier all the way around. And this is where Michelle reassures us, the weight will drop off like it arrived, slowly and consistently, as our hurt inner selves are not dictating our needs, nor being fed, any longer.

What do you think you were meant to do with your one precious life? I suspect that like me, you have the potential to not only overcome your challenges, but to exceed anyone’s expectations and to use your gifts, talents and skills to make a valuable impact on the world around you. When we become whole in ourselves, we naturally attract others who are like minded and this has the potential of opening ourselves to relationships unlike anything we used to accept back in the day when anything went because we just didn’t know any better.

It’s been a tough climb to the apex of the model, personally, but my Bachelor’s Grad is June 1, a milestone in my personal journey, that of a woman who barely functioned with a Grade 9 education for most of her life, raising children in a struggle for resources continuously. I am graduating with more B’s and A’s than I had ever given myself credit for, prior to my academic evolution. Only now after looking back at my process, using this model, do I realize what an anomaly I was, running non-profit organizations, contributing to boards of Women’s Centres, and finally, returning to school at 44 to reclaim my rights to an education, all while I was stuck in the base of that pyramid.  I am at the light at the end of my tunnel, now that my children are grown, and my life is unfolding in colours I could scarcely imagine back in the days when I was struggling to rise above mere existence in a black and white life.

Keep a copy of FINTP close at hand with a pen nearby and perhaps even a journal for scribbling your thoughts.  I am becoming the woman I’ve always wanted to be and I know that given a little encouragement and time, you too will find yourself climbing out of the doldrums of a temporarily stuck life to the light of your eventual self-acquired balance and highest ability.  By using Maslow’s pyramid as a model, we are able to work past mere subsistence and start laying out goals and plans for a future that we are deservent of.

I’ll be here at the top of the pyramid, waiting for you. Take your time, be good to yourself, know that ‘pie in the sky’ is not the only treat you are allowed, dare to dream and I’ll see you soon!

Tina Budeweit-Weeks is a member of the CEDRIC Success Team in the role of staff writer and executive assistant for Michelle Morand. Her philosophy has always been one of self-nurturance and dignity. In support of the complex difficulties clients may experience around regaining a healthy balance, Tina’s writing is designed to sympathize, support, encourage and inform. Although there are many similarities in Tina’s process, she is not a client, but a hard working, behind-the-scenes member of the team, dedicated to helping the CEDRIC Centre stay current and effective.

Posted in: CEDRIC Centre, Relationship with Others, Relationship with Self

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