Self Actualization

Maslow’s hierarchy of need is a stripped down analogy of what we, as human beings, need in life. There are 5 progressive levels of this pyramid and it starts with the most basic needs; food, air, water, sleep. Second up is safety and security, this is followed by social; love and belonging. The fourth tier is esteem; you are respected and you have respect for others. The last tier is self actualization; the need for development.

Maslow called the bottom four levels of the pyramid ‘deficiency needs’ because a person does not feel anything if they are met, but becomes anxious if they are not. It is not until all 4 deficiency levels are met that a human can focus on the last level and even then, self-actualization (per Maslow) requires uncommon qualities such as honesty, independence, awareness,objectivity, creativity, and originality. I, like many others, learned of Maslow’s hierarchy in an intro psych class decades ago. I believe it makes great sense though I don’t know that I buy into the idea that only a few privileged people will achieve this enlightened state.

My entire life has been chaotic from as long as I can remember. My twin brother and I rounded out the last six children in my family and we’re primarily raised by a sister that was 10 years older than we were. (can you imagine raising two year old twins when you were 12?) It has been my experience that having such a rough upbringing has resulted in several long term issues as an adult. Through my work, I have become very familiar with the ACE’s studies and I believe I don’t need to say much more than, my ACE score is an 8.

One area that has daunted me the most is purpose. I have struggled almost all of my adult life to fill a a vast void with distraction, service to others, material things, etc. Though this void wasn’t present when I didn’t know where I was going to sleep or how I was going to get formula for my oldest son 25 years ago. This makes sense when you look at the pyramid. As things settled for me over the years, I have been most fulfilled when in my role as a mother, working with abused and neglected children, being a foster parent, a gestational surrogate, etc. My level of contentment revolved around service to others. My ex husband (Wusband) was an excellent support person and would remind me that I could not distract my way to happiness or fill it with material things. I wasn’t sure what was missing in my life but a large something was and the more things settled, the bigger the void became.

If you look back at the pyramid, you can see that one of the most core needs is belonging. Love/loving/loved and inclusion are paramount. I certainly have been loved by many others in my life but I struggled for decades with self love and acceptance. It wasn’t until I came out three years ago (at 40) that I began to feel comfortable in my own skin but then the focus was on family, minimizing harm to my children, half who were still under 18, and adapting to a new role. My soon to be ex husband and I concocted a plan on how and when to tell the kids and what life was going to look like as co parents after 18 years of marriage. It was not an easy road to go down and while my Ex knew I had some “tendencies” my children had no idea and were practically blindsided. I spent the first 18 months out of that relationship distracting myself with another and as you can imagine, that blew up with fantastic success! I did feel more comfortable as a lesbian, in public, at home, work,you name it, than I ever have as a straight woman but there was still something missing.

After the complete annihilation of what my life used to look like along with some extremely stressful life events, things began to settle down during the last 18 months. While I was busy working on a new non-profit (distract,distract,distract!), being a mother, an employer, an advocate, a friend, and a partner, my life shifted gears yet again. It feels as if it almost happened without my participation or knowing. All the desires to fill the void had been gone and for who knows how long? I wasn’t paying attention. What finally clued me off was a bout of insomnia a few days ago when I realized I no longer had that feeling that something was missing. I can be pretty oblivious.

So this is what it looked like… Laying in bed, trying to fall asleep and thinking about how I would like to add alternative titles to this book I am working on and give a little explanation as to why, “My sisters/cousins” would have been appropriate or “Leave my liver out of this!” and finally settled on the one I chose (no telling) and why. When reflecting on the alternative titles,I felt nothing. And I mean, nothing except contentment. This is a brand new experience for me. When I realized this void I had been dragging around forever had somehow disappeared and I didn’t even recognize when or how it happened, I felt blindsided myself. How did this happen? What have I done so differently? I had embraced myself. I was able to do so because I am in a healthy and happy relationship. Not just with myself but just about everyone else in my life. My wife is incredibly supportive and loving and creates a safe space for me to be me. There is no drama, there is no toxicity, there is no pretending to be someone I’m not. There is no judgement. There is no need to search for something as I completely unknowingly had satisfied all 4 need levels of Maslow’s pyramid. Don’t get me wrong, this was not an easy task and it came from identifying and pursuing my needs as well as recognizing and adjusting toxic relationships (family and friends) and loads of therapy. I am sure there is a lot more to it but that’s my limited insight.

The last three years have been quite an experience and I do believe I had to go through all of the bad to get to the good. I am extremely optimistic about the future and pushing the limits of what I am capable of now that I have this new found freedom. I feel more certain now than ever that early retirement=finish book. I am not saying I have achieved “Self Actualization” but I do know I have never been closer.

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