anxiety · depression · health · mental health · mindfulness · psyhology · recovery · self-help

Maslow Got Me Low

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I’m very lucky to work for an employer that not only offers professional development courses and workshops, but also ones to help personal development.  A few months ago I attended a workshop called Optimum Wellbeing.  It was motivating, it was inspiring and all those things it should have been to make us want to better ourselves straight away.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t real-world-proof, so as keen as I was to be a better me when I left, reality caught up with me and I wasn’t able to immediately turn my life around as I’d naively hoped.

However, full of naive hope though I was, the cynic in me had already started a plan B in my head.  I would put the book that came with the course and the notes into my office and timetable small chunks of reading time to reflect back over the stuff in it.  Last week was my first timetabled spot to look over the stuff and as I flicked through the papers, my eye was caught by the bright colours of Maslow’s pyramid.  I’m no different to a primary school kid I guess, bright colours and you’ve got my attention!

I remembered finding this theory appealing in the workshop; the arrogant part of me immediately wanted to see how far up the pyramid I had reached.  For those who haven’t come across this theory before, it is called the Hierarchy of Needs– a great summary can be found HERE.  When I first came across it, the desperate-to-be-happy girl in me immediately interpreted it as a tick-list of achievements to get through before finding final happiness, peace and contentment or as he called it ‘self-actualisation’.

I started reading through the list of ‘characteristics of self-actualisers’ and was so happy to see I could already tick off so many things on the list.  Some characteristics I knew straight away I had, like ‘unusual sense of humour’ and ‘democratic attitudes’ even though I had never really used them to think about and describe myself.  But then, inevitably, there were the short-comings.  For example, the following did not apply to me:

-Accept themselves and others for what they are. (I have a hard time accepting myself and often have a confused/fluid perception of others)

-Able to look at life objectively. (I can only do this sometimes usually when it’s not my life)

I immediately started thinking about how to fix myself and forgot all about critical thinking.  Just because this theory was presented to me in an academic setting, it didn’t make it right.  Luckily, the Simply Psychology summary I used to read up on the theory ends with an excellent ‘Critical evaluation’ section which calls the whole theory into question, pointing out flaws in Maslow’s methodology (his data came from uncontrollable/biased sources such as biographies) and his limited sample (mainly educated white men).  I was letting conclusions from a very flawed study convince me that I was on the wrong path!

One thing I definitely learned from judging myself against the characteristics and behaviours Maslow claimed ‘self-actualised’ people had was that I need to reflect on who I am and who I want to be with a bit more kindness.  The truth is that I possess most of the characteristics and behaviours on his lists, but it just wasn’t good enough for me and Maslow got me low!

What theories have you come across in your attempts at self-improvement?

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