What we really need

Three levels above sex, food, water, breathing and sleep on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is self-esteem. Below that is love and below that is safety. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a widely accepted pyramid that serves as a chart for people’s needs; once you fulfill one level, you can move on to the next. Above self-esteem is self-actualization, a state where a person can be everything they can be and accomplish all they ever can.

Being just one step below this enlightened existence, self-esteem is sought intensely by human beings. If you just read that and said “I don’t care what other people think about me!”, it means you already have that need fulfilled. There are two forms of self-esteem; externally gained and internally given, a lower and higher form according to Maslow. We need both, but I think the latter can satisfy the prior. Yet, the most actively sought is the prior; external validation.

We are socialized into wanting validation from a very young age. From our parents telling us “good job” for acts of common sense when we are three to getting a gold star sticker in grade school, we are taught to enjoy praise and validation. We are taught to attribute it to our sense of self-worth.

People go about looking for validation in different ways. Some do it through their jobs, by getting work that makes them have power. Some do it through school, by working hard to get good grades. Many do it through religion, by finding validation not only through prayer groups, but through God.

That last one merits looking into more. A word that is strongly connected to religion is love. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that love is just below self-esteem. Religion helps fulfill the need of belonging; a quite powerful lure. I don’t say that because I’m a skeptic, I simply note it as a factor in why people seek God. They teach us we belong, tell us we have inherent value.

Yet, in major religions, they also teach that pride is a sin. Human beings need self-esteem because we need pride in ourselves. The track so many take to gain belonging and a sense of worth is religion, but those same religions are then saying that you are sinning to be prideful. You can’t have validation from religion, only self-esteem; according to mainstream religion, people are not responsible for what they accomplish, God is. That doesn’t line up to me for fulfilling people’s needs.

And it’s no better a story in other routes of seeking external validation. People who dive into school graduate eventually with a PhD and often sink into depression or find themselves back in academia teaching, unable to leave the familiar environment of a university. People who use their professions for their sense of worth find themselves at a loss when they retire, or worse, get fired. Losing your job becomes losing your sense of value. It all seems futile.

If it is, then the later, higher form of self-esteem, strength and validation from within come back into play. In things we do, we should not seek worth from others, but from ourselves. Doing so can allow us to focus on what we need to do now, like our classes, without worrying about what other people think. You can choose to not care what other people think, but if you do it’s more than likely that you have already found internal validation.

What this means to you, the one reading this, is that you should examine why you are doing things in life. Work out if what you are doing is for you or for others. Live your life the way you want to.