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Friday, June 02, 2006

self esteem : Sorry Dr Maslow

Abstract: This article makes the claim that Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs does not give Self-Esteem a high enough priority Sorry sir, while I respect your work, I think you got it wrong....

In the 1950s Abraham Maslow wrote a book entitled "Motivation and Personality" in which he outlined his now famous 'Hierarchy of Needs.'

Over the years since its introduction that model has gained wide acceptance as a tool in understanding motivation. It has been used in areas as diverse as Marketing and Christian Evangelism as well as Psychology.

Maslow rightly holds a place of high regard in many circles.

However, I do believe, that when it comes the sequence of needs Maslow got it wrong... at least in the position in which he places Self-Esteem.

According to Maslow, the order of the Hierarchy of Needs ran in the following ascending order basic survival needs, safety and security needs relationship needs Self-Esteem self-actualisation.

Diagramatically, Maslow's Hierarchy is represented by a triangle with 5 'layers' reading from the base to the apex.

I want to suggest a change.

I would rather place the need for Self-Esteem at the very base of the hierarchy, even before the basic physiological needs of food and water.


I firmly believe that unless the self-esteem needs of people are met there is a strong chance that they may even arrive at the point where they ignore their need for the basic necessities of life.

Take, for example, a person suffering from one of the eating disorders that affect some young people. I suggest that the problem which manifests itself in those disorders stems from the fact that those people do not an appropriate level of Self-Esteem. They feel the need to be something other than what they are in order to be more acceptable.

Depression is another example. People suffering this terrible condition often draw back from their interactions with other people and thereby ignore their relationship needs. But even more basic than that, they might also become oblivious to the dangers associated with situations into which they put themselves; like walking across busy roadways without bothering to consider oncoming traffic etc. As a result their safety needs don't get taken into consideration.

Again I suggest some, not necessarily all, of the underlying causes of depression relate to the person's level of Self-Esteem.

I would even go so far as to say Self-Esteem needs that go unfulfilled form the basis of the majority of problems people in our modern western world face in life today

So, if your life has not turned out the way you had hoped; if the worldly success coming your way leaves you unfulfilled; if you look to the future with disillusion because you can only look back at the past in disappointment; if life means endurance rather than enjoyment... there is every likelihood the underlying issue relates to your need for higher levels of Self-Esteem.

Big call. Yes I know.

And if you think I overstepped the mark in my revision of Maslow's Hierarchy, I admit that I am working from a different understanding of Self-Esteem from Maslow.

Maslow understood Self-Esteem as "strength, achievement,competency and mastery, confidence in the face of the world, the desire for reputation and prestige, status, fame and glory, dominance, recognition"

I came to my understanding of Self-Esteem by reading the writings of people whose reseach into the concept of Self-Esteem has continued for the half a century since Maslow's ground-breaking work. In that time, as you might expect, constant work has led to a certain amount of refinement and development of Maslow's original concepts.

For me, Self-Esteem relates to your belief that you have the capacity to achieve whatever you consider worthwhile and the sense of being worthy to benefit from the results produced by those efforts. I believe much of what Dr Maslow calls Self-Esteem belongs more appropriately in the area of relationship needs. From his list of attributes of a person with Self-Esteem it is my position that only the aspect of confidence can really stake any claim for consideration as a component of Self-Esteem.

Perhaps Maslow's understanding of Self-Esteem led to the popular idea that some people have so much Self-Esteem they become absolutely unbearable!

Such an eventuality is, in my considered opinion, not likely. Rather, I believe those people who display an attitude which can be best described by the phrase "full of themselves" actually operate from behind a front, attempting to hide a sense of Self-Esteem that is, in reality, sadly lacking.


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