Hierarchy of Needs in Healthy Human Development

Psychologist Abraham Maslow, in his famous hierarchy of needs, noted that humans have five basic needs that must be met for healthy human development.

Physiological Needs

At the most basic level lies physiological needs of human survival: food, air, water, clothing, and shelter.  Without these, our bodies simply cannot live.

Safety Needs

Once the basic physiological needs are met, physical safety needs take priority in a person.  People need to feel safe in their environments. Thus war, natural disasters, intimate partner abuse, child abuse, a dangerous work or community environment, financial ruin, and life-threatening illness are just a few things that threaten feelings of safety.  If a person’s need for safety and security are not met, they may experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or transgenerational trauma, a phenomenon that occurs when the effects of trauma are transferred from one generation to the next.

Need for Love and Belonging

Once safety needs are met, the need for love and belonging take over.   Humans need to love and be loved. Each person needs to feel a sense of love, belonging and acceptance with their social groups, both small and large, including their intimate partner, family, friends, colleagues, co-workers, religious organizations, professional organizations, community, etc.  The smaller the social group, the stronger the need for love, belonging and acceptance. Thus, between intimate partners and among family members, the need for love, belonging and acceptance is the strongest.  The need for belonging is so strong, that in some cases, it overrides the safety and even physiological needs, as evidenced by children who cling to or side with an abusive parent, or spouses who stay with an abusive spouse.

Need for Self Esteem

Once the need for love and belonging and acceptance is met, the person focuses on the need for esteem.  The need for esteem encompasses each individual’s need to have self-esteem, self-respect, self-confidence, competency and mastery in their abilities, strength, independence and freedom.  These needs focus on the inner life of the individual, that is, their own view of themselves.  Another related need is the need for respect, status, recognition, prestige and attention.  These needs focus on how others perceive the individual.

Need for Self-actualization

When all other needs are met, individuals can focus on the highest level of need which, according to Maslow, is the need for self-actualization.  That is, the need to be the most that one can be or accomplish the most that one can, given the way that he is wired.  This is using all your God-given gifts and talents to be all that God has designed you to be.  For example, if an individual is, by design, created with a great deal of artistic talent, he may have a deep desire to become a painter, sculptor or designer.  On the other hand, if someone has a natural aptitude for math and computers, he may have a strong desire to become a computer designer.  Self-actualization applies the Army’s slogan to all of us: be all that you can be.

Although the needs can be overlapping, in general, Maslow maintained that, in each person, the most basic of needs must be met before attention can be turned to fulfill the next level of needs. For example, it’s nearly impossible to achieve the need for love and belonging (a level three need) when one doesn’t have enough food to survive (a level one need).  Unless there is another over-riding force (for example, a deeply religious person willing to die for another), if a person doesn’t have food to live, he will risk being rejected by others in his community and keep any food that is found for himself. Likewise, it is nearly impossible for an individual to have self-esteem, self-respect, and self-confidence (level four needs) without first having a sense of love, belonging and acceptance level three needs).  Being firmly rooted in love, belonging and acceptance in one’s family and community is necessary for self-esteem, self-respect and self-confidence.

In Healthy Relationships, We Meet Each Other’s Needs

In healthy intimate relationships, we help each other with each of these needs out of our love for each other.  Love, at its essence, is doing what is in the best interest of another.  In traditional healthy families, husbands take on the role of provider, protector, companion, lover, supporter, and role model to all family members, and the role of teacher to his children.  He makes sure that his family’s physiological needs of food, air, water, clothing and shelter are met.  As his family’s protector, he ensures the physical, emotional and financial safety needs are met.  A healthy man is an emotionally mature man who accepts the responsibility of loving, supporting, accepting, and encouraging his wife and children.  A healthy man has self-respect and self-confidence (not to be confused with pride or arrogance), is secure in his abilities, accepts his limitations, and has the respect of others.  He helps those in his family gain these same characteristics through patient teaching and encouragement.  A healthy man strives to be all that he can be, but balances his professional life with the needs of his family.  A healthy man does not sacrifice his wife family on the altar of money, prestige, fame, or glory.  Rather, he sacrifices his own desires for the more important needs of his wife and family.

A healthy husband and father is the financial and emotional foundation for his family, who makes them feel safe, secure, loved, accepted and cherished.  A healthy man’s family knows that he loves them, and because of his love for them, he will do whatever is in their best interest, sacrificing his own interests if necessary to make sure their needs are met.

Likewise, a healthy wife and mother ensures that her family knows that she loves them.  She nurtures and cares for them, encourages them, and provides a safe and secure place for each to thrive.

The Domestic Abuser Attacks Every Level of Need in the Hierarchy of Needs of His Spouse

The abuser attacks every level of need in the Hierarchy of Needs.  He attacks the physiological needs of basic food, water, shelter, and health by withholding these basic needs.  This is done numerous ways, including withholding medical attention, food, and forcing his partner literally out in the cold by abandoning her on the side of the road or locking her out of the house.  He attacks the need for safety by constantly putting her in fear, threatening her, raging at her, intimidating her, and physically and sexually abusing her, which we will discuss in future blogs.  He attacks her need for love and belonging by heaping emotional and verbal abuse on her, which we discuss in this series on emotional abuse.  He attacks her need for self-esteem, self-respect, self-confidence, competency and mastery in her abilities, strength, independence and freedom by breaking down her spirit with emotional and verbal abuse.  Finally, he attacks her need for self-actualization, because no woman can be all that she is created to be without all the other needs already met.  As Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Psychopaths, abusers do this without conscience, guilt, or remorse


We often state that in order to heal, a woman must have as little contact as possible with her abuser.  No contact if possible.  Why? Because he attacks every need she has.  No person – neither an adult nor a child – can develop into a healthy human being when legitimate needs are not met.  People can only thrive in healthy environments.

Healing starts when we reject the lies of Satan and his minions – including the abuser – and replace them with God’s Truth.  Satan (through an abuser) lies to us and tells us that we don’t deserve to have our needs met, that we are selfish for having these needs, and that if we were a “real” Christian, we wouldn’t want so much.  As a result, sometimes women, especially Christian women, feel guilty for having legitimate needs.  But God’s truth tells us that God made us with legitimate needs, and we should not feel guilty for needing basic food, water, shelter, safety, love, belonging, acceptance, self-esteem, and being the woman God designed you to be.  Those are all genuine, God-given needs.  As mothers and wives, we would never deprive our children or spouse from having these basic needs met, yet somehow Satan has insidiously snuck into our minds to make us feel guilty for wanting these needs met in ourselves.

On the other hand, if you “need” five Mercedes, a 10,000 square foot mansion with garages for all those Mercedes, a closet full of designer clothes, an adoring fan club, and servants to meet your every whim, these are merely illegitimate “desires.”  You may need to double check your moral compass and pride meter if these have risen to the level of a “need” in your life.  However, my experience with women in abusive marriages tells me that illegitimate, prideful desires are usually not an issue.

Next Steps

God designed us to have an abundant life – not merely just survive.  God made families and fellow believers so that we can meet each other’s legitimate needs.  We are His hands and feet on earth.  We are made to be in a loving, accepting community – starting with our families.

Are you and your children in a healthy environment where each family member helps meet the needs of the other?  If not, you will want to reassess your family environment and make the necessary changes so that you and your children can thrive and be all that you are designed to be.  Remember, you cannot change an abuser – abusers will always be abusers.  But you can change your situation to create a healthy environment for you and your children.