Getting Stuck On a Need

From birth and well into our childhood, each of our needs should be satisfied by the people in charge of us. But as we approach the end of our childhood, most of us understand and accept that we are solely responsible for the satisfaction of each of our needs. Without thinking about it too much, we seem to understand that these needs are arranged in some kind of order. If we can’t afford food, we probably can’t afford to date. If we can’t pay rent, joining a social group is not going to be top of mind. But once we satisfy these lower needs we are free to work on the satisfaction of these higher, being, needs. And yet, so many of us cannot seem to get past these lower need levels.

The house isn’t quite big enough or in the right neighborhood. The job doesn’t quite pay enough to feel secure in its need satisfying capabilities. For many of us, our deficiency needs have been satisfied many times over, and yet we still seem to believe it to be deficient. We seek perfection in areas where good enough really is good enough.

So how can we know when we have satisfied a particular need, and are free to move forward? One person’s satisfaction could be another’s complete failure. 

Do We Find Comfort on a Certain Need Level?
We find the right job or career, we fall in love, get married, and have a couple kids. What more could we ask for. For many of us, this seems to be all we need. And it very well may seem like we are living a content and satisfied life, but the reality is that we are either confusing the external esteem we feel with internal self-esteem, or we are masking its need altogether.

This can be a very alluring trap that we must be able to recognize for what it is. We can enjoy the comfort of satisfying a certain need level, but we cannot get stuck there. That comfortable feeling will not last, for we were meant to experience more from life, much more.

Do we even know that higher need levels exist?
For many of us, the existence of a higher need level may be a complete mystery. We all know that we have deficiency needs that must be satisfied, and we are raised to believe that we should find someone to love and start a family. For many of us, this is where the needs levels seemed to come to an end. This is all we are supposed to do to live a happy and fulfilling life. In fact, it is perfectly conceivable that our need to feel good about ourselves and even our need to feel like we are living the life we are supposed to be living could be rolled up into the previous needs. For our ancient ancestors, this was more than enough.

For many of us, the feeling of self-esteem and self-actualization can come from the satisfaction of these lower needs, but for many others we need more, and that empty feeling in our gut may be telling us so. Knowing that there are higher needs levels to explore may provide just the challenge we need to take control of our lives again.

Do we deserve to experience the higher need levels?
Sadly, many of us may know that there are higher needs levels and we may even feel a longing to satisfy them, but we may feel that satisfaction of those needs is reserved for someone more deserving. Falling in love is for the lucky few, self-esteem is for the most popular people, and living a self-fulfilling life is for the richest oligarchs or the rarest Zen-Buddhist monk. But this is the belief structure that keeps all of us from satisfying all of our needs and ultimately reaching self-actualization.

We all have the ability to satisfy each of our needs. For some, this belief was nourished from birth through adulthood, for others it was not. But regardless of our upbringing, we all must understand that we not only have the ability to satisfy each of our needs, but we have the right to. We just need to realize that the path that one person takes may not, and most likely will not, be the right path for another.  

Do We Fear Failure at the Next Need Level?
Most of us have been raised to understand just how we can satisfy our deficiency needs. If we go out and get a job, or a career, and we are good enough at it, we should have little problem acquiring food and adequate shelter. With the right input, we will get the output we desire. But with our higher needs, the process is not so straightforward. There is a level of uncertainty in our ability to find someone to love and who will love us back. Which people will accept us for who we are and which ones will reject us. And discovering what achievements will bring a feeling of self-esteem is unknown for most of us.

The satisfaction of our higher needs can only come through experience and exploration. This trial and error comes with a level of fearful uncertainty that can keep many of us from even trying. While failure is always going to be a part of this process, it is not the end, and it certainly is not permanent. In fact, without the fear of failure, the act of trying would feel pretty uninspiring. Nothing in life will be handed to us, and whatever is, really isn’t worth having.


Not getting what we want is much different from not getting what we need. Satisfying our needs is what propels us through life, it’s what we are supposed to be doing. Going after what we want is a diversion, and when we think what we want is what we need, it can become a roadblock. In many parts of the world, satisfaction of our deficiency needs has become rather straightforward and should be accomplished as quickly as possible. Satisfying our higher needs should take longer, much longer. In fact, we could spend a good chunk of our lives making sure we get it right. The good news is that our higher needs are highly interrelated and not linear.

We don’t need to find the love of our life before we start working on our self-esteem, in fact feeling good about ourselves may make the love and belonging part go much smoother. And searching for the ways that will make our lives more fulfilling, some call this our purpose, may introduce us to the “right” person for us to fall in love with. None of these levels can be bypassed, but they can be integrated.