Attachment Centred Therapy


Maslow’s modified hierarchy (full)

I want to recognize the genius of Abraham Maslow. His way of seeing people was based on growth and possibility, or the idea of wellness, as reflected in the titles of his books, such as The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. He thought that it would be better to study what made people better rather than what made them ill. His vision was an alternative to either system in vogue at the time. Those two were the psychoanalytic tradition of Freud and others, and the ‘black box’ approach of the behaviourists. Briefly, in the psychoanalytic tradition, the focus was on the feelings and transferences, dreams, free associations, etc. that the client brought into the room. Psychoanalytic insight was useful in understanding why we do the things that we do that we don’t like, but ineffective in helping to change them.

In the behaviourist tradition, the belief and the focus was on changing the here and now by the stimulus/response effect observed and reported by Pavlov.[1] As we have seen already, this approach has its limitations, though they had already been transcended by the cognitive/behaviour approach of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy of Albert Ellis.

Maslow’s vision was different. His view of human beings was that we are driven by our needs. In that sense, he was a harbinger of attachment theory. His ideas and the contrast between them and the previous two predominant theories of psychodynamics and behaviourism are described in Frank Goble’s book, The Third Force.

Maslow proposed 5 levels of need: Physical, Safety and Security, Love and Belonging, Esteem of Self and Others, and Self-Actualization. Maslow wanted to have a more spiritual title for the last level, but he was afraid that such a term would turn off the psychological establishment of the time (a new spiritual orthodoxy, but hey, when in Rome …) so he borrowed a term from another therapist, that was already acceptable within the psychological community. He later came to regret the choice, because apparently some people, both at the time and still today, seized on the ‘self’ in self-actualization and either intentionally or ignorantly regarded it as ‘selfish,’ which is inherently and wildly incorrect. People who become self-actualized do so by reaching out and helping more and more people, thus, self-actualization is inherently altruistic and is based on helping others, not selfishly pursuing ones own interests to the detriment of others.

What Maslow intended with ‘Self Actualization’ I propose is really more adequately described as ‘Spiritual Awakening’.

Part of the difficulty in understanding this level is that self-actualized people go their own way. They find a path with heart and follow it. They aren’t too concerned about whom they may offend or what rubrics they might violate in the pursuit of truth. To take a different perspective, as Jesus put it, ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself.’ I will also argue that one cannot truly love others until one loves oneself. But I get ahead of myself.

Maslow’s Modified Hierarchy is based on the motivational force of unmet needs, which creates negative feelings, and the motivational force of met needs, which creates positive feelings. It is a psychophysiological approach to behaviour, meaning our physiological needs give rise to our psychological (mental, emotional and spiritual) functioning. These physiological needs move from the most basic keeping the body alive functions to the very highest activities of the mind and spirit.

I have made two additions to the Maslovian levels. In my modified form the hierarchy is: Physical, Nurtural, Safety and Security, Love and Belonging, Esteem of Self and Others, Spiritual Awakening, and Self-Transcendence. The two additions are Nurtural and Self-Transcendence. I believe that Maslow would be happy with these modifications. I will include my arguments for why they need their own category.

And remember that these needs are homogenous really, and so trying to separate them into distinct categories, while very useful, can also be misleading if we think of them as rungs on a ladder that we reach one at a time. Rather we must think of them as phases, or vibrations, much as the notes of a musical composition, that come in and out as the tapestry is woven. That said, here goes up the ladder with each level.

Physical — the need to survive

At the first level of need, physical survival, we can notice that a single person alone, with all of the supplies they need for physical survival, doesn’t need anyone else. Of course, this is largely impractical, and you would be lucky to survive on your own for any length of time with no one else’s assistance.

We do have those brave souls, made largely for tv, who go out into the wilderness to survive on their own. Some might say this disproves the previous assertion as to the need for others, but if we think for a moment, how many of those people went with nothing? I think, no one. Even those going to ‘prove’ their ability to survive alone typically take with them the accoutrements of civilization: knives, matches, firearms, sleeping bags, machetes, canteens. In short, whatever it is that they think they need they take with them. But they are not going out naked, barehanded, to survive. So, can we stop bullshitting ourselves about that?

Our most basic need after birth is air. We know we die if we don’t get it. And by ‘air’ we mean specifically oxygen, but in the right proportion. Because if we get too much or too little oxygen in relation to the volume of ‘air,’ then that has negative effects, the most negative of which is death.[2] That’s right: too much of the good stuff we need to stay alive will kill us. We need the balance to be just right: The Goldilocks principle we first explored in conjunction with Grice’s Maxim of Quantity.

The same with food: too much or too little is not good for us, to the point of death if the conditions go on too long or are too extreme acutely. And water. I don’t know that we can have too much shelter, but too little in the wrong circumstances will definitely kill us. The same with elimination. If we can’t pee or pooh, well …

Our bodies tell us when we are unbalanced in these areas. By unbalanced, I mean deficits or surfeits that produce emotions that motivate behaviour to restore balance. Biology dictates our behaviour. Our behaviour is the modified in more or less degree in response to the degree of satisfaction or dissatisfaction that our biological urges create.

When we are born, except for air, which we are pre-programmed to receive, we have to rely on our caregivers to provide for our needs, hence the initial connection with attachment theory. If we don’t get those needs met, at least in a minimal way, we die.

Physical needs are individual only. That is, if I suffer from a want of those needs, you don’t, no matter how closely you are attached to me. You may feel lots of other feelings in response to my plight, but you won’t suffer from the unmet need. If you were put alone into a capsule and blasted into space, so long as your physical needs were met you would survive. Or you could be the only inhabitant of an island, as in Tom Hank’s movie, Castaway, or more latterly, The Life of Pi. But as these stories make clear, we are social creatures, and we crave companionship. Pi had the Tiger, Tom Hanks had Wilson.

And of course, a new born infant, no matter how many supplies they have on hand, will be physically incapable of survival alone. This leads us to our next level of need, one of those that I have added: Nurturance.


Maslow has been around for decades, and many people are familiar with the 5 levels that are typically presented in his hierarchy of needs. Since this is the case, I think it necessary to state my rationale for adding this extra level between the physical needs, deprivation of which will in death, and the safety and security needs to escape from external threats or to eliminate them by fighting back.

This level of need is in between. Deprivation of nurturing can but does not necessarily result in death. Deprivation will also result in other detriments physically, mentally and emotionally.

The first question is, why is another level needed? And correspondingly, why is it justified? A story will illustrate the first need.

My first awareness of the need for a separate level was in the early days of my private practice of therapy. A client came to me who had issues of sexual addiction and compulsivity. I realized as I explained Maslow’s Hierarchy to him that to place the sexual need in the physical needs category would be counterproductive to say the least. If it is in the same category as air, water, food, shelter, rest and elimination then it is a need that can only be deferred until some finite point where death occurs. Sex, therefore, does not appropriately belong in this category.

The needs at this level are dyadic. They involve two people in interaction with one another in a caring, nurturing way. This can be a life partnership, typically called marriage, or it can be a mother and child type of partnership. And yes, the mother/child dyad is a partnership. The child is, admittedly, the junior partner initially, but as the child grows older, the partnership becomes more reciprocal.

One could argue that, ‘Hold on a minute, if nobody has sex, the species will die out.’ That is true, but it is a separate consideration. That it is a need for us to reproduce in order for our species to continue. It is, therefore, a ‘specie-al’ need. If we want to engage in science fantasy, we can imagine a future in which no one had sex, but the species continues by using artificial insemination. But we are still left with the conclusion that no individual is going to die for lack of sex – despite those who think they might.

The answer then was to create a new concept of needs that combines the physical and feeling nurtured as well as allowing for full sexual interaction with appropriate sexually mature partners.

Nurtural needs precede safety and security needs

The second reason for placing this additional level here is that people often sacrifice safety and security in the pursuit of nurtural goals. The willingness to do this indicates that this level of need is more powerful, and hence more fundamental, than the need for Safety and Security.

Romeo and Juliet is Shakespeare’s timeless classic of two young lovers who are willing to give their lives in the pursuit of romance, driven by the reproductive potential. If you’re more into pop music, there is Running Bear and Little White Dove.[3] Or if you like history, there are Anthony and Cleopatra. History, literature, and music are filled with examples of people who place a greater value on nurturing than on safety and security.

This makes sense evolutionarily. You, as an individual, might die, but your genetic heritage will live on if you can just get to your lover and do the procreational act with him or her. This, too, is in keeping with our Attachment Law schema. The two primary needs from an attachment perspective, according to Crittenden and others, is first, to survive, and second, to procreate.

When the procreational act is successful, we create children. Individually, the child begins to identify this nurturing contact with pleasant feelings that signal to the child that they are worthy of being nurtured. When the nurturing contact is sufficient, the child develops a sense of self-worth. Basically, the universe is giving the child the message: you are worthwhile.

What is the evidence of your worth? The fact that Mom is willing to take you with her when she runs up the tree to escape the predator. That means she is willing to impair her own survival to protect you. That is the measure of your worth. This is what our evolutionary origins have pre-programmed based on the sheer fact of life or death. If Mom is holding you close and taking you with her, you will survive. If not, not. This, of course, is not literally true, but the child does not know that. It is, however, true more often than not, and so it has evolutionary value, which is why it has been programmed into us so strongly.

When we don’t get the loving response, expressed through the touching, smiling, cooing, or sympathetic, ‘oh dear what’s wrong’ look of concern and compassion – in short, sensitive caregiving – then we internalize a different message: we are not worth very much. So much so that, as we have already seen, in extreme cases we don’t need a predator to cause our deaths, simply not have the nurturing we need is sufficient.

For those fortunate enough to have good enough nurturing, they develop a sense of self-worth and can now move into the next realm, Safety and Security. When there is not good enough nurturing, then the child develops a sense of shame, of not being good enough. Then the child remains in a state of fear and anger regarding relationships, and will never achieve safety and security.

Just as with food and other physical needs, we have an optimal range for nurturing, too. To feel secure, we need to know that nurturing is available all the time, but over-nurturing is not good. As one of my clients, who was dealing with marital issues and sexual compulsivity put it: ‘Sometime after we were married, my mother said to my wife about me, ‘The problem is, you don’t worship him enough.’[4] This is a prime example of nurturing gone awry. Over-nurturing leads to a sense of entitlement and can also lead to a sense of resentment toward one’s partner, if they are not willing to go over-board, too.

When our nurturing is inadequate, we know it. Not cognitively, but we feel it in our being. It affects our belief about ourselves in that first core belief realm: am I a good and worthy person, or a bad unworthy person? And in some cases, the experience results in a grandiose sense of self-importance, as the previous example illustrates. This nurtural level also becomes the basis for our second level of core belief: whether I can be the real me, with my wants and needs and emotions, or whether I have to put on a false front in order to adjust to my caregiver, my attachment figure. These then lead on the third and fourth core beliefs as we develop and learn about the world.

Less than optimal nurturing, and the awareness of it, is what leads to the feeling of loss that we discussed in the previous section on grief. And when we don’t get our need for nurturing met then we continue to be undercut in our attempts to meet higher levels of need.


I imagine that some people may feel discomfort at including sexual reproduction on the same level as the nurturing needs of children. Let me address that issue. Failure to understand this connection is a major reason for our failure to deal adequately with the issue of child sexual abuse. But address it we must, and this is the place to do it: where it begins.

All attachment relationships are sexual. The birth of a child is the result of sex, and this kinship creates a strong emotional bond, ideally. The culmination of a sexual/attachment relationship is the successful reproduction of new members of the species. This comes about as the result of the child, now a mature adult, finding another mature adult with whom they have no kinship to mate with in order to produce offspring and then the cycle repeats. This latter relationship which is begun without any kinship connection creates offspring who are connected by kinship to both of those adults. Thus, the sexual connection is made by attachment and attachment makes the sexual connection. In the event of repartnering for whatever reason, the replacement partner may or may not become a surrogate attachment relationship.

Some attachment relationships are not strictly biological, or kinship, relationships. Surrogate attachment relationships operate to provide a relationship of security to the recipient(s). This could be a friend, a relative, or a therapist, for example. As a surrogacy, it is generally considered inappropriate for these relationships to have a sexual component, but that is because of the sexual nature of attachment relationships, not in contradiction.

The need for sex exists at the level of nurturing. Because our sexuality is present even in infancy and childhood, in the form of sexual organs, curiosity about sex and how babies are made, and in the seductive behaviour that children display in order to gain protection and comfort, some unfortunate people have mistaken this as an opportunity for making children into sexual objects or sexual partners. This is not good. Nor is it inevitable. Nor is anyone a ‘born pervert’. Rather, this is the result of attachment gone awry.

Healthy sexually mature adults and maturing adolescents do not feel sexually attracted to sexually and emotionally immature individuals. It is only when those wires have been crossed in this nurtural phase of development that this aberrant behaviour is created due to distortions of information processing. We must begin to understand the need for nurturing in this way in order to understand why it is that sexual and nurturing urges can go so wrong, and in order to be able to treat and prevent the kinds of sexual disorders that go under the broad category of paedophilia.

When people have not been properly nurtured in infancy and childhood, and I believe when they have been inappropriately sexualized by some other person prior to reaching sexual maturity, then their programming for this kind of behaviour can go wrong, sometimes drastically. Ironically, it is when children have been shamed and warned away from anything to do with sexuality that problems occur.

That appropriate sexual education and development is an integral part of childhood would be obvious but for the obscuration of ‘civilization.’ seems obvious to me. But this I mean the religiose and otherwise squeamish alarm about children and sexuality. I anticipate, however, that others may look askance at this issue. To those I suggest considering the following points.

First, how do children get here in the first place? Sex. Second, what is the first thing we want to know about a newborn child? Sex. Special care needs to be taken caring for children around their sexual organs. Children want to know where babies come from. They want to see what Mommy and Daddy look like down there. They want to touch and explore themselves to learn about their bodies.

We will do much better to stop shaming children for these perfectly natural – nurtural – behaviours. I believe that it is the distortion of this learning process via shame that creates the pathology that victimizes children in the next generation, so we must start with this generation to break the cycle.

To reiterate:

Sex is necessary for children to be born. It is the sex act that creates children. Duh…
2. The first thing we want to know is: is it a boy or a girl? That is sex.
3. The birth canal is the uterus and vagina, both sexual organs.
4. Children have a natural curiosity about sex that starts fairly young. Questions they might ask:
a) Where do babies come from?
b) Can I see you naked? Why not?
c) Why do girls have that and boys have this?
d) Why can’t I touch myself there?
e) Why is it nasty? Can’t we wash it?
I believe that much of our neurotic behaviour about sex is created by the misinformation and shaming that is perpetrated on children by adults who are well meaning about protecting them, but have their own unresolved issues of shame, embarrassment, nastiness, etc., which they then proceed to inflict on their children, and the children of others.

The trauma bond

What nurtural refers to in my use of the term and at this level of need is the need for human contact. After our individual physical needs, this is the strongest. It is the basis of ‘traumatic bonding,’ or ‘The Stockholm Syndrome.’ You may also find Patti Hearst’s account in Every Secret Thing[5] a fascinating and instructive read. It describes her experience of being kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army and her being reprogrammed into a member of the gang by Cinque and the other members. It is a fascinating read and well worth it if you want to understand the psychology of trauma bonding.

And now, in our exposition of needs and how they motivate us, we come to the third level. And we can think of this level as coming about as a result of the third member of our party: mother, father, child. A triumvirate. And the child needs protection from outside threats if it is to grow to maturity and successfully reproduce. Mom and dad will, of course, protect the child. But our little family will do better if we can find others with whom to band for our mutual protection. This brings us to our next level of need, Safety and Security.

Safety and security

In the traditional Maslovian model, Safety and Security comes after Physical, because what does it matter if all the physical and nurtural needs are met if a tiger kills you and eats you, or an enemy kills or captures you, or you die in a natural disaster.

Fear of loss of this protection leads to adaptations in order to attempt to achieve it. Some parents do protect their children sufficiently, but simply do not reassure the child so that the need can eventually become quiescent. Instead, it either gets elevated, as in the C, or suppressed, as in the A. This is why we identify the strategies of A3-8, C3-8, and AC (and any combinations thereof) as ‘insecure,’ because these people did not get the nurturing that they needed in order to allow them to move into safely and security.

We need to feel safe with the people we need to feel safe

People whose safety and security needs are unmet will be preoccupied by feelings of fear and anger. The A strategy denies both, and the C strategy emphasizes both. So even though a child may actually be safe, if they don’t feel safe, then they are not going to be able to become secure.

Our parents are the ones with whom we need to feel most safe. Yet many parents either intentionally or inadvertently cause their children to feel unsafe. This is the catch-22 of all catch-22s: you can’t feel safe with them, and you can’t feel safe without them.

Without this base of security, we have difficulty moving higher up the hierarchy of needs. Our social interchanges become awkward, uncertain, driven by fear and longing. And this interferes with our ability to move upwards to the next level of need.

Love and belonging

The best definition of love that I have ever come across is in Scott Peck’s book, The Road Less Travelled.[6] His definition of love is ‘being willing to extend yourself [take a risk] for the spiritual growth of yourself or others.’ Maslow seems to be using the term, at this level, to mean the affiliations that bind us to others in various ways that could be called affinity, affection, care, identity, possessiveness, brotherhood, sisterhood, humanhood, and so on. Certainly, those are aspects of what we usually call love.

The term ‘love’ is often used to describe a variety of different states. Patrick Carnes wrote a book titled, Don’t Call it Love, in connection with his field of speciality which is sexual addiction and compulsivity. So, let me do a brief explanation of my own understanding of what Dr Carnes is talking about as it relates to Maslow’s Modified Hierarchy.

Lust, limerence and love

There are three L’s that come into play in coupling: they are lust, limerence, and love. What these three have in common is that they seem to be Mother Nature’s way of insuring that we procreate. And, just as we have three basic attachment strategies that help us to adapt to the three broad variations in parenting, so we have three reproductive strategies to insure continuation of the species.


In terms of our hierarchy, lust is the first that we encounter. It is simply the desire to procreate, or recreate, in the sense of either making progeny or just having fun. Lust exists at the nurtural level. An obsession with lust and lustful behaviour is born out of inadequacy of nurturing, and so this unmet need is being carried forward into the next phase of development: freedom and exploration.

Lust is based strictly on superficial attraction. It treats sex as a strictly physical need. It is the basis for the hook-up, the one-night stand, the wham-bam thank you ma’am. It has no goal other than sexual satisfaction. It is devoid of any emotional or spiritual intimacy and those who practice it regularly, however successful, seem prone to depression, since a part of their being is starved of emotional satisfaction.


The next level is limerence,[7] and it, too, comes from unmet needs. When the child isn’t being shown love and affection, as I argued earlier, it creates the sensation in the child best described as ‘Oh shit! I’m gonna die now!’ To quickly review, when the need for nurturing is adequately met, that need goes quiescent as the child matures. The potential for connection is there but can be deferred indefinitely with no adverse effects to the person. But, when the need is repeatedly unmet during that developmental window (roughly from birth to 2 years old), the need becomes either denied (A strategy) or preoccupied (C strategy) but remains unsatisfied and so constantly present in the mind of the maturing child. When the child reaches sexual maturity and eventually goes to recreate the attachment scenario, the ‘Oh shit! I’m going to die now!’ sensation is activated, and this becomes the basis for limerence.

Because the limerent effect is rooted in the fear of death, when the limerent desire is reciprocated an extremely thrilling sensation is experienced. It is this high that is at the basis of what is so unfortunately labelled ‘love addiction’.

Addicted to Love

This is one of those areas where linguistically we have a lot of work to do! Indeed, I may be tilting at windmills to try to effect a change. But call me Don Quixote, here I go.

The iconic song, Addicted to Love by Robert Palmer is a good description of what is called ‘love addiction.’ It is the anthem of the ‘love addict.’ It describes the psychological and physiological symptoms of an addictive disorder. While I am tempted to describe these one by one, suffice to say that those symptoms are consistent with a state of high physiological and psychological arousal, as if one’s life depended on it!

Addiction can refer to something that we think is bad e.g., alcohol, other drugs, sex, gambling, food; or to something we think of as good or at worst benign e.g., dance, running, self-help books, etc. For clarity, we need to go beyond simply calling something an addiction. What we really mean when we use it in the bad sense is that it is a disorder, in the DSM sense, meaning that it interferes with other important aspects of life. In other words, It makes things overall worse, not better, yet it continues to be done compulsively.

After I had given a talk in the treatment centre where I worked on limerence, and the confusion created by calling it ‘love,’ a woman came up to me and asked: ‘Does that mean I don’t have to stop loving my children?’

‘That is exactly what I mean,’ I said. ‘What you are addicted to is the high of limerence.’

She taken on board that, being addicted to alcohol, she had to quit drinking alcohol entirely, and conflated that with the idea of being a ‘love addict’ as well and concluded that she had to give up love, meaning she could not love her children! Obviously, this is an absurd result.

It illustrates the absurdity of the term ‘love addiction.’ Love all you want to. I propose that one can never love too much, though one can do too much of many things that are mistakenly called love.

Remember, the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names.

Calling limerence love creates confusion as to what love it. Love is not selfish. It is selfless. Love is what we do when we reach out to others in a helpful way. Limerence, on the other hand, is totally selfish because it is based on the mistaken belief, carried over from infancy and early child hood, that you have to have this person in order to survive. That is not a conscious belief, but rather unconscious. It creates the emotional urges, the pre-occupation, the high arousal states when the limerent object is near, and so on. Even though it is unconscious, people often express this belief in various ways, such as, ‘I can’t go on without you,’ ‘I will just die if he/she leaves me,’ and other such nonsense. Although, in extreme cases, people do kill themselves and sometimes others as a result of the loss of a significant other. But the mere fact of losing a relationship with someone isn’t going to cause death, per se.

This unsatisfied need to have our attachment figure’s care and attention more or less constantly is what creates the illusion of safety and security with ‘The One’ effect. By ‘The One’ I mean that one person that we believe we need in order to survive. In childhood, this was quite true. Without ‘The One’, that is, mom (practical attachment figure) we would have died. Now the illusion of this other person (potential attachment figure) is what gives us the thrill of ‘romance’ when we find him or her, our ‘Limerent Object’, and receive some indication of reciprocal interest from the LO. It is also what gives such power to feelings of despondency, low self-worth, and hopelessness when our overtures are spurned.

To reiterate, to the child, Mom is ‘The One’. When we have the limerent effect, that tells us that the other, the LO (limerent object), is ‘The One’.

So, let’s don’t call it ‘love’. Let’s call it limerence, when that is what it is. In other cases, possessiveness, dependency, selfishness, or other preoccupying behaviours can be mistakenly called love. Let’s stop doing that.

Sometimes, when I have explained the connection between attachment insecurity and limerence, clients have expressed a reluctance to stop seeking the ‘thrill’ of limerence. I can understand that. It is addictive. It gives you an immediate high that is rewarding to the brains pleasure centres. When I encounter this difficulty, I then ask the client to perform a simple inventory.

First, quantify, as best one can, all of the pleasure gained from limerent relationships. Some of my clients have been through the limerent illusion of finding ‘The One’ many times, others only a few. Next, quantify, as best one can, all of the pain, disappointment, heartache, and diminishment of self-worth that comes from the ultimate disillusion and dissolution of the relationships ending. Then finally compare the two. I have yet to find anyone who had any doubt about concluding that negative feelings – the pain, the heartache, the despair – far outweigh the pleasure.

As long as you are seeking the thrill of finding ‘The One’ – the illusion that this person is the one who will save you – then you are doomed to fail. Because, as Dr Tennov observed, this thrill of limerence is never going to last. It can’t. It is biologically impossible, I submit.[8]

Remember, it is the illusion of escape from death that creates that delicious pleasure that accompanies limerence. It is false.

So what is one to do instead?


‘Love is being willing to extend yourself for the spiritual growth of yourself or someone else.’ Scott Peck, The Road Less Travelled.

The third level is love, and this is found at Love and Belonging, where we are now. True love is something that grows over time. That is because life is going to be filled with endless spiritual challenges. So, when you and your partner are willing to extend yourselves for your mutual spiritual growth, then your love for one another will continue to grow.

The essence of the Love and Belonging level is affiliation, or identity, for the long-term benefit that will come to us via this affiliation. We begin to identify and affiliate ourselves with others not on the basis of biological kinship fulfilling the nurtural needs or banding together to avoid a common threat fulfilling the safety and security needs, but rather for the promotion of our optimal well-being by banding together as a community to satisfy our common and mutually supportive interests and goals.

This is based on trust and value. That is, I can trust you to provide me with certain goods or services. You trust me to do the same. If I buy my groceries from you, you will expect me to pay for them and not steal from you. We trade with one another and that becomes the basis of community. Of course, trade must be understood in broad terms. Trades also include the mutual interactions that we do in our friendships, in clubs and organizations, and so on.

This friendly interaction adds value to our lives. It allows us to specialize. If I am good at making widgets and you are good at making widget holders then we can each do our part cooperatively by making and marketing our widgets with holders to people who use the widgets to harvest food which we then buy with the money they paid us for the widgets and round and round we go.

Surprisingly, this creates ‘value,’ and we can all profit and prosper much better than we could operating alone. We co-operate.

In a more general sense, what value means is that we are able to create value by the work that we do. Thus, I might make a painting that has little value to me but greater value to you because I can make a hundred of them and you can’t make any. On the other hand, you can make a sword and I have no idea how it is done. So, if I desire a sword and you desire a painting then we have the potential to make a trade that benefits us both. And this brings us to the next level of Esteem.

Esteem of self and others

Our esteem is based on what we do: the purpose we serve. I imagine that all of us serve some important purpose in life. The problem is being able to appreciate it. Hence, we must start with esteem of self.

This level has been greatly misunderstood. Why the social conditions existed that exacerbated this misunderstanding, I don’t know. What I do know is that Maslow posited esteem of self and others on what we do. Unfortunately, the ‘me’ generation of the ‘60s misconstrued and misused the concept of esteem.

Supposedly, everyone is worthy of esteem. But I don’t think so. And neither did Maslow. He used the phrase, ‘…being useful and necessary in the world.’[9] The idea that everyone is worthy of esteem is unrealistic. As one person put it, ‘It’s not enough to be good. You have to be good for something.’[10] This is not to say that our contribution must be grand. It can be quite modest.

Neither did Albert Ellis, whose work we explored earlier in this chapter. In his book, The Myth of Self-Esteem, he doesn’t agree with the concept of ‘unconditional self-esteem.’[11] Interestingly, he does not mention Maslow at all in his book, which I find curious. He starts with quoting Solomon from the Christian Bible, the Revised Standard Version, ‘The wise shall inherit honor, but fools get disgrace.’ Ellis takes this as evidence of conditional self-esteem, not unconditional.[12] Ellis is in favour of Unconditional Self-Acceptance and also Unconditional Other Acceptance, although not unconditional acceptance of behaviour. They are two different things, roughly expressed by the statement, ‘Hate the sin but love the sinner.’[13]

I have worked with many clients to help them feel better about what they do by seeing how what they do benefits others. It is through service to others that we gain good feelings about ourselves and those we help about us. This can be through our work, our community service, our family relationships, our relationships with our friends, our spiritual pursuits, and our citizenship. All of these various realms of being create value for ourselves or others, and in many cases contribute to our spiritual growth, thus fitting within our definition of love.

As we go higher in the hierarchy, we begin to affect more and more people. We have progressed from the individual survival level to the mating level involving one significant other, to the family and tribal level, to the community at large and how we can contribute to the well-being of our entire community. Now we are at a level that begins to transcend these local and personal contacts into the realm of the world at large, and this brings us to the level of self-actualization.

Self-actualization aka spiritual awakening

Maslow wanted to name this level with a more spiritual name, but he was concerned that the psychological establishment of the time, with its emphasis on counting and quantifying, would reject a more spiritual notion. He borrowed the term ‘self-actualization from[14] another psychologist. It essentially means being all that you can be. The term, however, has misled many people to misunderstand what he meant by it. For example, in an article I read recently, the author, woefully misinformed as to what self-actualization is, referred to the 400+ members of the US House of Representatives as ‘self-actualized.’ Hardly.

In a recent documentary,[15] the writer identifies Maslow’s influence, and particularly the idea of ‘self-actualization,’ as being the driving force behind the ‘individualism’ that the writer identifies as being a major factor in the disintegration of society. Whether that may be true or not, I cannot say. I reckon it is a matter of opinion. What I am certain of, however, is that the statement is a grave misunderstanding of Maslow and what he meant by self-actualization.

Those writers, and presumably the editors, too, evidently think that self-actualization is synonymous with self-seeking behaviour. It is actually (double entendre noted) the exact opposite. The spirit of self-actualization is about being all that you can be for the benefit of others, not just oneself. Of course, there is often great benefit to the self-actualizer, but there is also concomitant risk.

Self-Actualization means to awaken to your full potential and to strive to achieve it. It means becoming the best version of yourself that you can imagine: the most fulfilled. Maslow used examples such as Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Victor Frankl, and William James. We can add Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King to that list, and Maslow himself. These people all became self-actualized and by doing so they reached a worldwide audience and following. Lincoln and King lost their lives. Yet they persisted in a course of action that they felt morally obligated to follow despite the known risk of death. Mandela spent years in prison and was fortunate to not be killed. Frankl made his years in a Nazi concentration camp the centre piece of his iconic book, Man’s Search for Meaning.

I have decided to come to Maslow’s rescue and suggest an alternative name for this level, and it is ‘Spiritual Awakening.’

Self-actualization aka Spiritual Awakening is not about self-seeking. It is about self-lessness. It is about serving others. The self-actualized people who were named by Maslow were not politicians. Anything but. Some of them did engage in politics, but that was a means to an end. They engaged in politics because they were on a mission to bring about social change. They believed in what they were fighting for, and sometimes sacrificing their lives for. They were not relying on opinion polls or focus groups to tell them what to believe in!

Peak experiences, in which one feels a oneness with all of human kind and indeed the universe, is one characteristic of self-actualization. That is hardly the spirit displayed by the overwhelming majority of the US Congress, or, indeed, of politicians anywhere, unfortunately.

Furthermore, in keeping with the spirit of, ‘They who would be greatest among you let them be the servant of all,’ Maslow was quite clear in his descriptions of the levels of needs and the practical effect of operating at each level, that as we ascend the levels of needs, we reach more and more people in order to be of service to them. In other words, Maslow’s whole motivation in creating his motivational hierarchy was to determine how we could motivate people to be the best that they could be by serving others. The idea of getting to this level of self-actualization with the motivation of ‘individualism,’ e.g. it’s all about me, is bullshit.

What has apparently confused some, if not many, is Maslow’s observation that self-actualized, or spiritually awakened individuals aren’t afraid to buck the current trend, to swim against the tide, to go it alone to accomplish their mission. They do not need the affirmations of others in order to take a stand.

On the other hand, they don’t go out of their way in order to be obnoxious or contrarians. When they buck the system or the trend, it is because of their values and their beliefs. They are not doing it out of desire for personal gain, but rather, because they believe it to be the right thing to do. In spiritual terms, they are practicing Dharma.

The idea is that we are all striving for self-actualization as a way to evolve and awaken spiritually. Not everyone agrees with this, of course, and I suspect most people don’t think in these terms. But it is a very useful way of approaching life. It is at the self-actualizing/spiritual awakening level that we seek to live by our goals and values. We promote those ideals that we hold dear. Few of us will achieve complete self-actualization, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try.

As e.e. cummings said, ‘It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.’ To me this means that, in order to become who we really are, we have to overcome the conditioning, programming and prejudices that we learned when we were young, and as we grow, to begin to evolve and reprogram our minds so that we are able to make use of our full potential by service to others.

This means being willing to take the hard road, rather than the easy one. For the people listed above as examples of self-actualization, their ideas were controversial to the point of challenging an established order of how the world ought to work. In many cases this stance will challenge our relationships with others. Some who esteemed us highly might fall out and repudiate us and our values because they are so contrary to cherished beliefs. Our own family and friends might distance themselves from us. This could include our mates if the challenge is strong enough. It might even subject us to punishment, imprisonment, or even death itself. And this leads us to the final level, self-transcendence.


Maslow posited a psychology about this level and the ideal that it embraces. It is today known as ‘Transpersonal Psychology.’ The emphasis is on this sense of identity with our spiritual selves. However, he did not go so far as to posit this as a separate level of need. Again, I am coming to his rescue because I think he was being too modest. Maslow wrote persuasively, it seems to me, about this level of need, as have many others.

At this level people become willing to risk their lives in the pursuit of their ideals. It doesn’t necessarily require this, but it sometimes does. Self-transcendence means that we have transcended, or gone beyond, the self. It is identifying with universal spirit. The idea that ‘there are as many ways to God[16] as there are souls in being – and there is only one way.’ This means that even though we each have our own identity, our own perceptions, memories, feelings and thoughts, that we are really all one being or consciousness that is universal. Consciousness, in this view, extends to the universe itself: we are an integral part of the sentient being of creation. This is the level that meditation seeks to achieve,

The Sanskrit term for it is ‘Satchidinanda:’ knowledge, existence, bliss. The ‘knowledge’ referred to here is not book learning. According to the yogis, the only true knowledge is that acquired by direct experience, and that direct experience comes only during those moments of Samadhi achieved through meditation. True knowledge, universal knowledge, comes only through the soul, spirit, super-conscious mind, or however you prefer to think of it. It does not come through the sensory perception of our external material reality.

Interestingly, soldiers sometimes experience self-transcendence in battle. Perhaps it is because when our individual existence is so threatened, some part of our mind elevates us to a level that makes death acceptable. One life is sacrificed, voluntarily, instinctively, to save the lives of others. Also, ironically, they often develop a sense of identity with their enemies, the very people who they are trying to kill and who are trying to kill them. Documentaries about World War Two or Vietnam, where former enemies meet and develop a sense of camaraderie demonstrate this self-transcendence.

This element of self-transcendence is also present in terrorism. Suicide bombers have become an unfortunate fact of life. Before that we had the Kamikazes of World War II, and before that the tradition of hara-kiri, or seppuku, among the samurai in order to restore honor.

I also wonder to what extent the instinct for self-transcendence may play a role in the mass tragedies that have become an unfortunate aspect of our lives today. The Jim Jones tragedy in Guyana, the Branch Davidians of David Koresh in Waco, and other such tragedies. I believe that the basis of this dynamic is an attempt to leap from lower levels of need to higher without having to go through the development journey of mastering the intervening levels. In other words, I imagine that those who are attracted to the ‘charismatic’ leaders who lead them to destruction are stuck in their own individual development perhaps at nurtural, or safety and security and find the appeal to abdicate normal social interaction and take refuge in the illusory safety of a cult. As long as you follow the leader, you will be safe and secure. You will receive nurturing of a sort. You will become a member of a community giving you love and belonging. You may even find esteem there, and as much self-actualization as you can stand. Then the stage is set for one giant leap into self-transcendence if your leader commands it.

I am reluctant to acknowledge that, because it lends a kind of credence to the fanatical belief systems that propagate the mindset in which such beliefs and behaviours take root and grow. However, I think it is necessary to say it, because until we understand and accept that this is a motivation for much behaviour that we see as destructive, but others see as essential for salvation (of what, we need not say – read Hoffer’s The True Believer) then we will not be able to have the kind of dialogue that will allow us to connect at the lower levels of need and progress upwards together. In other words, to the terrorists, the true believers, the fanatical followers, be they domestic or foreign, jihadis or militias, their escape from the sea of shame from unmet Nurtural needs, and the grip of unmet Safety and Security needs resulting in overwhelming fear and anger, is to pay the price for the ticket to Self-Transcendence with their lives. It ain’t a good deal for anybody.

And yet we must understand this phenomenon if we are ever to deal with it in a positive way. We cannot simply condemn it and vow to fight back. That aspect may be necessary for self-protection. But as Marvin put it, ‘War is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate.’[17]

Simply fighting back with more war, even if it is done deliberately, is not sufficient. It is only by communicating and understanding one another that we can move out of conflict.

This self-transcendent, or spiritual realm is somewhat ineffable. To echo the spiritual sentiment stated earlier, it will mean different things to different people. But rather than seek it through some grandiose gesture that is destructive to self and others, why not seek it through meditation? Through your works: the Dharma. The essence is the transcendence of self. The result is the identification with others.

Maslow’s modified hierarchy and vedantic philosophy

Now that we have briefly explored Maslow’s Modified Hierarchy, together with my rationale for the addition of the Nurtural and Self-Transcendent levels, the last point I wish to make is that this modified hierarchy has 7 levels. What is most interesting is that Vedantic Philosophy also postulates 7 main levels of development. These correspond to the 7 chakras in the body. When I compare the 7 levels of Vedanta with the 7 levels of Maslow, they are the same![18]

I find this remarkable. How is it that the rishis of Vedantic Philosophy came up with the same needs and the same levels of development in meeting these needs as Maslow did thousands of years later and tens of thousands of miles away in a completely different cultural setting? The only plausible answer I can think of is that these levels of need and personal development are universal.

[1] If you want to see an amusing spoof and inherently a critique on strictly behaviourist theory, watch the movie Raising Caine, starring John Lithgow.


[3] Running Bear and Little White Dove, lyrics by Jiles Perry Richardson and sung by Johnny Preston. Released in 1959 on the album Running Bear. It is rather loosely based on the Romeo and Juliet theme

[4] This client will appear in the next chapter.

[5] Every Secret Thing, Patricia Campbell Hearst and Alvin Moscow.

[6] The Road Less Travelled, Scott Peck.

[7] Limerence is a term first coined by Dr Dorothy Tennov in her book, Love and Limerence.

[8] The biological impossibility of maintaining the thrill of limerence with the same consistent partner is based on what I call ‘the barnyard effect.’ I use that term because of the observation that, when a rooster is put with a hen, he will copulate gladly and often, up to a point. As the repeated copulations accumulate, he then begins to lose interest. But, introduce a new hen, and he is ready to go again. Apparently, this is Mother Nature’s way of maximizing reproductive potential. She uses a variation on the 80/20 rule: if one considers the total available time and energy to spend in reproductive activity, then 80% of the likelihood of conception is achieved with 20% of the copulation energy available. To then devote the additional 80% of energy for the remaining 20% of conception possibility is a waste, since that energy would be better spent with 4 other females.

[9] A Theory of Human Motivation, by Abraham Maslow.

[10] The quote is attributed to Gordon B. Hinckley from his book, Standing for Something: 10 Neglected Virtues That Will Heal Our Hearts and Homes. He was a religious leader and served as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The full quote is: ‘It is not enough just to be good. We must be good for something. We must contribute good to the world. The world must be a better place for our presence. And the good that is in us must be spread to others. This is the measure of our civility.’ I got the quote from a book about Edgar Cayce.

[11] William Glasser, the developer of Reality Therapy (RT) Choice Theory. His primary work is the eponymously titled, Reality Therapy. I had a supervisee who was into Reality Therapy, and so I studied it for a time in order to be a better supervisor. However, I remained unconvinced of it’s superiority to REBT, primarily due to Glasser’s limited vision of the ability to reprogram one’s unconscious mind.

[12] The Myth of Self-esteem: How Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy Can Change Your Life Forever, by Albert Ellis. Kindle edition, location 790 of 2964.

[13] I am in good company with Ellis, I think, in that he, an avowed atheist, also sees wisdom in using the teachings of the individuals in the bible from a moral authority perspective. Again, babies and bathwater.

[14] Kurt Goldstein

[15] Can’t Get You Out of My Head, BBC TV Series created by Adam Curtis

[16] Please translate this word, ‘God,’ as fits your own philosophy. My best friend, Lawrence Rives, likes to make ‘god’ stand for ‘Good, Orderly Direction.’ I like that one. But my personal preference is that ‘God’ is simply Reality, whatever that is. In other words, if you can comprehend reality, then you can comprehend whatever it is that we mean by that term. And since there is no way that one can completely comprehend reality, then we are left with a great mystery. More on that in Part III.

[17] What’s Going On, lead singer Marvin Gaye, written by Renaldo ‘Obie’ Benson, Al Cleveland, and Marvin Gaye, produced by Marvin Gaye and included on the eponymous album.

[18] This is, of course, my own conclusion. It is based on my study and practice of yoga and Vedantic Philosophy and of Maslow and his hierarchy. There are many variations on the chakra system. But the one I am referencing here is my own understanding of these chakras based on reading various accounts of them, and of my own practice of chakra meditation.

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