Pyramid Scheme

I was reading recently about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In a nutshell, this is a sort of pyramid shaped idea that certain needs must be met before an individual can ascend to their “peak”. The order of needs, according to Maslow is:

  1. Physical – food/shelter
  2. Safety – security/health/support
  3. Acceptance -love/belonging/friends
  4. Esteem – recognition/respect
  5. Self-Actualization – creativity/ideals

In some ways I can’t really argue with this logic: it seems obvious that one needs to meet one’s housing and foods needs before worrying about ideals or recognition. One the other hand, claiming that one can never move up the pyramid without accomplishing every step along the way makes life into an onerous slog of unfulfillment except for a privileged few who manage to attract the exact people and resources from an infinitely complex world to be free to actually be themselves.

Self actualization feels pretty far out of reach these days. Lately, it feels like the harder I try to scale this glass mountain the father I find myself sliding backwards away from my goal. If I’m feeling optimistic, I claim to be somewhere at the high end of level three: belonging, but when I’m having a low moment, which seems to be happening more and more often these days, I find myself hovering at a low two: safety- struggling to stretch too little paycheck over too many bills, trying to keep my volatile mood in check, and trying not to worry about the “what ifs” like “what if the car dies” or “what if one of us gets hurt” or “what if this is all there is and all there will ever be.”

Being here at the low end of the pyramid makes me frustrated: sure, it’s easy to self-actualize when you have all the money and friends and acclaim you could possibly want out of life, but what about the rest of us? Do we not deserve to live full, meaningful lives? And if self-Actualization is the pinnacle of a meaningful life- what does that make the rest of us who are trapped by circumstances beyond our control in the high-three-to-low-two strata of our unmet needs? Are we not allowed to be creative? To have ideals?

Lately, I’ve found myself struggling with a deep anger and resentment towards this philosophy that conflates success with value. The idea that there are other mere mortals strutting around in their imperfect ape bodies looking down the nasal ridge of their animate meat-chassis at the rest of us thinking to themselves “I’m better than you because I am an individual of wealth and taste” is so infuriating to me right now that I’ve backslid into a mindset of self loathing that I haven’t felt for years. And I’m angry that this self-loathing is coming in response to someone else’s definition of value and not my own. Like I’m not allowed to have worthy friends until I can pay my bills. Like I’m not allowed to launch a career until I have enough friends. Like I can’t self-actualize until I’ve fulfilled some arbitrary economic obligation first.

I feel a bit lost. I haven’t felt this kind of anger in a long time: it feels like I’m running on an old operating system that I thought I’d long ago outgrown. And I’m frustrated because so many of the apparently necessary changes that I would need to make in order to move up the pyramid are factors beyond my direct control that I feel helpless in the pursuit of my own destiny.

~ by Gwydhar Gebien on July 29, 2019.

2 Responses to “Pyramid Scheme”

  1. hi! i’m an Aspie… there are aspects of neurotypical self-actualisation i will never achieve…

    i can’t solve problems! my brain shuts down!

    in addition, as i said on twitter… ace people don’t desire or need sex. this is the most obvious example of 1950sness in the pyramid. i feel that we have the right to our own pyramid, square, or spider diagram.

    don’t let some white allocishet dude from the ’50s define your path! because nowhere on his pyramid is “hot bubble bath, ice cold welsh water, and a steamy romance” so wtf does he know?

    • Right? I feel like self actualization needs to run through all the layers!

      Also I’m at a place in my life where I can’t tell if I’m failing to find fulfillment because of my own shortcomings or because I’m trying to succeed in a broken system. I feel like when there are this many people suffering with anxiety and depression it stops being psychological and starts being sociological.

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