Why we need more than Maslow in a global crisis…

A week or two ago, a friend of mine shared this annotated version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in the free ’Nourish Your Needs’ Facebook group and asked me what I thought about it.

The annotated version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs I was asked about

My first response was that, yes, on a VERY superficial level, I did agree with annotations on the image.

My second response was that there is a LOT more to the story.

The truth is that there is a lot missing from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and every model of needs I’ve found in my years of researching and studying psychology and human behaviour, which is exactly the reason I began developing The Universal Needs to begin with, because I felt the need for something more.

I needed it for myself. 

I needed it for my work with my coaching and mentoring clients. 

And, as I soon found out, others needed it too.

Having an effective model for our needs is important at the best of times. 

But during a global crisis it is even more critical to plug the gaps in the other methodologies and be able to approach the meeting of needs in a way that will help us to navigate the situation in the way that best supports our physical, mental, emotional AND community health. 

For the sake of our families, our communities, our businesses, our economy and our society as a whole.

What’s missing?

So the question I often hear (especially from others who use Maslow’s or other models a lot in their lives and businesses) is ‘what is missing?’

The answer is, a lot.

But let’s start off with the basics.

Of all the other needs models and methodologies out there, I was unable to find any that adequately and effectively…

The Universal Needs Tree
The Universal Needs Tree

(1) Included all of our needs

In my extensive experience with understanding and working with needs, there are a LOT of vital needs missing from Maslow’s hierarchy, and the other different models and methodologies about our needs. 

Part of the reason that so many needs are missing from the more widely-known models is almost certainly because of the fact that they were (from my research) developed predominantly (if not entirely) by men. With the cultural conditioning towards men around what is and isn’t allowed/valued/important through the toxic definition of masculinity in our society, it’s not surprising that some of the most important needs are missing. So, for example, I haven’t seen a single other needs model that includes ’emotional experience and expression’ (one of the trunk needs in The Universal Needs tree) or equivalent in it. 

And yet we know that the cultural avoidance of acknowledging, feeling and healthily expressing the full spectrum of emotions is one of the most common reasons for dis-ease in the body…mentally, physically and emotionally. It’s one of the reasons for the high and ever-increasing rates of mental health challenges in recent years.

In our current situation, knowing how to meet our own emotional needs, how to deal with difficult emotions, how to feel them without losing ourself in them and how to express them without negatively impacting others around us is critical for so many people whose mental health is suffering during this crisis. But if the needs models don’t even acknowledge that this IS a need, then it often gets overlooked, avoided or ignored…which then puts our mental health (and by extension our emotional and physical health) more at risk.

Which WAY do you meet your needs?
Which WAY do you meet your needs?

(2) Looked deeper than just WHAT our needs are

I was unable to find another model of needs that really addressed the importance of not just WHAT the need is but the WAY we meet it, which can make all the difference between the need FEELING completely unmet, and actually feeling fulfilled, irrespective of ‘how much’ you are doing to meet it.

So because Maslow’s and other needs models don’t speak to the importance of the WAY we’re meeting these needs, people can be expending all of their time and energy doing things to try to meet these needs, and still feeling completely and utterly drained. They can be expending a lot of time, energy and attention on their needs and actually be moving further DOWN the pyramid, rather than up it.

Contrarily, with some basic understanding of the importance of the way you’re choosing to meet your needs, you can spend only a small amount of time, doing things that are quick and simple, to meet your needs that can have you moving up The Universal Needs tree with ease, because your needs are steadily being met in fulfilling ways. 

And for those of us who are time-poor in this crisis, THAT awareness can make all of the difference between feeling resourced enough to be able to cope with your situation, and feeling completely depleted.  

How can you meet your needs?
How can you meet your needs?

(3) Empowered us to meet our own needs

From what I found, none of the other approaches to needs showed us a way to truly meet our base-level needs for ourselves, so we could take back our power to have the majority of our needs fulfilled without complete dependency on others or the world around us. 

It’s true, we’re social creatures and so we do have a need to connect with, and to be in relationship and community with others. But as most people’s base level needs (that have nothing to do with relationship) are being consistently neglected, we often end up using the relationships in our lives to try to get our OTHER needs met. The result is not only that these relationships become compromised and pressurised by the dependency that brings, but also that our actual connection need never gets to be fully realised and fulfilled.

And in a time when so many of us are isolated and apart from others, understanding not only that it’s POSSIBLE to meet the majority of your own needs in fulfilling ways for yourself, but HOW to do this, can create a resilience that would help us to better navigate through the challenges of the current situation.

Systemic inequity affects our needs
Systemic inequity affects our needs

(4) Helped us to create a consistent experience of fulfilled needs

Most people spend the majority of their lives on a ‘needs rollercoaster’ without ever realising it. They move through their lives in ways that mean that at times, purely due to the circumstances they are in, most of their needs are being met significantly, and they feel great, and then at others, their needs are being compromised, or worse, sacrificed, and they feel awful. 

For example, when they’re on vacation/holiday, many people go through a ’needs high,’ where they’re likely to be getting more rest, relaxing more, spending time with people they care about and doing things that they enjoy. Without putting any real thought, energy or effort into it, their needs fulfilment level rises significantly (compared to ‘normal’) and they feel more happy, nourished and fulfilled. Then at other times, for example times of extreme stress at work, they go through a ’needs low,’ where they’re likely to be getting less rest, relaxing less, feeling highly pressured, spending less time with the people they care about and neglecting the things that they enjoy or help them to feel good. Often without noticing the decline, their needs fulfilment level plummets (compared to ’normal’) and they feel exhausted, overwhelmed and depleted.

None of the other needs methodologies showed people a way to get their needs consistently met so that their needs BOTH get fulfilled and STAY fulfilled. This is the reason that in The Universal Needs work we teach an easy and simple 5-15 minutes a day Needs Practice, to even out our rollercoaster, and ensure that our base level needs get and stay consistently met, to prevent us ‘bottoming out’ the way we often do when we are not mindful of consistently, intentionally meeting our needs in quick, easy and simple ways.

And at a time of global crisis, having a consistent practice of meeting our needs means that we get to stay more consistently resourced, and more resilient, in order to better cope with the ever changing circumstances and the challenges they bring.

Systemic inequity affects our needs
Systemic inequity affects our needs

(5) Acknowledged and addressed the systemic imbalance in our culture and how this affects our needs

One thing that I have not seen discussed anywhere (yet) when it comes to meeting our needs is the systemic imbalance in our culture and the impact this has on the meeting of our needs. 

We do not live in a culture where everyone has equal time, space, access, rights, opportunity and resources when it comes to meeting our needs. This affects a wide variety of different people and groups, but the example that most people seem able to best understand is people who are physically handicapped or disabled. 

Most people can see and would agree that when it comes to meeting their needs, people with some kind of physical handicap or disability do not have the same time (because it might take them longer do do things), space (because there often is not enough physical space for their needs, like crutches or a wheelchair in different places/situations), access (because there are often problems that make it harder for them to access spaces that others could easily enter, like steps or stairs), opportunity (because there are less options for them to engage in things that might meet their needs than there are for others, for just a few examples, dance/exercise classes, hobby classes or sports teams) and resources (because they are less likely to have, or have more hurdles to overcome to create the same resources that others do, for example, monetary resources due to discrimination in hiring and promoting practices).

But the reality is that this is true for any kind of marginalised group, it often just manifests differently depending on the marginalisation. It doesn’t matter whether we’re speaking about groups who are marginalised based on physical ability/health, gender identity, race, religion, mental ability/health, sexual orientation, class, age, weight/size or any other aspect.

Anyone who belongs to a marginalised group will have more to overcome in order to get their base level needs met than those who don’t belong to that marginalised group. And the more layers or marginalisation someone has, the more the impact is not just added, but compounded.

And while it’s true that no matter where we are in this systemic inequity in our society that we can all learn more about how to meet our own needs, it is important to be aware of where we exist in the systemic imbalance in our culture and how that affects the meeting of our needs. From my work with a wide variety of people from all over the world, with different backgrounds, levels of marginalisation and experiences, it has become clear that not only is learning about how to more effectively meet your own needs a powerful act of resistance in a culture which seeks to consistently compromise, erode and sacrifice your needs, but it is also a means by which to create more of the resources and resilience needed to navigate simply existing in such a society.

And for those of us with more systemic privilege, we also need to be aware of the places that we have a responsibility to be an active part in addressing, shifting, and changing this inequity for those who don’t hold the systemic privileges that we do. Ultimately, we need to be in the process of creating a culture in which everyone has equal time, space, access, rights, opportunity and resources when it comes to meeting our needs. Both because it’s the right thing to do, and because of point 6 below.

The interconnectedness of humans

(6) Recognised the interconnectedness of humans and what this means for the ways we choose to meet our needs

Because Maslow’s and other models don’t address the interconnectedness of humans, they don’t highlight that if we are meeting our needs in ways that have a side consequence of costing OTHER people their needs, we are actually (often without even realising it) eroding our own needs too. Most people are completely unaware that our overall wellbeing and fulfilment is directly connected to the wellbeing and fulfilment of other humans, our communities and the human race as a whole. If we appear to ‘have it all’ while others are suffering, it brings with it this deep, niggling feeling of emptiness, lack, or a sense that something important is missing. Unfortunately this tends to be interpreted as not acquiring, achieving or perfecting ‘enough’ yet, and often leads to even more behaviours that actually make the problem worse, not better.

So all of the people who are panic-buying and hoarding toilet paper and groceries might think that they’re meeting their physiological needs, and by Maslow’s model they would appear to be. BUT when you look at the interconnectedness of humans, the fact that their choices and actions are meaning that frontline workers, people who are in poverty (and therefore can’t afford to stockpile) and the elderly CANNOT get their basic physiological needs met, they are doing it at the cost of these other people.

And whether they realise it or not, this will subconsciously, underneath the surface, negatively impact the fulfilment of THEIR own needs. This impact might be subtle, but it creates a relentless, niggling feeling of discomfort and dissatisfaction that is hard to ignore.

And these six aspects are just the beginning.

The Universal Needs

The Universal Needs addresses all of these aspects, and so many more. If you are new to this model and methodology, here is a quick overview:

The Universal Needs Tree (click to see larger)

We have 12 Universal Needs, and those 12 Universal Needs fall into 4 groups. The 4 groups correspond to the 4 different parts of a tree.

  1. The Roots – Our Survival Needs 
    • Our foundation. Essential for life. We WILL find a way of meeting these needs whether healthy/unhealthy, empowering/disempowering, serving you/not serving you. 1 of the 3 needs here relates mainly to our physical needs. (3 needs)
  2. The Trunk – Our Intrinsic Needs
    • Our core. The needs relating to our internal wellbeing. Our emotional wellbeing, our sense of value/worth, our connection to an internal sense of empowerment. (4 needs)
  3. The Branches – Our Expansive Needs
    • Our expansion and interconnection. Once our foundation and core are taken care of, from there we can grow, expand and interconnect more with the world around us. (3 needs)
  4. The Leaves/Fruit – Our Enriching Needs
    • Our journey Deeper. These are the needs that give us a deeper experience of ourselves and a deeper experience of life. (2 needs)

Click here to find out more about The Universal Needs Tree


And then the WAY that we choose to meet each of these 12 needs sits somewhere on a spectrum between red and green. The red end of the spectrum are the ways that are less empowering, less ‘healthy’ and less fulfilling, and the green end of the spectrum are the ways that are more empowering, ‘healthier’ and more fulfilling.

At the red end of the spectrum you can be doing a LOT to meet your needs, but still feel unfulfilled and depleted, at the green end of the spectrum you can be doing much less in terms of time, energy and effort, and feel your needs are being nourished and fulfilled.

Click here to find out more about the red-green spectrum.

Why Now?

When I began to explain some of these points in the community where the question was first raised, the response was interesting. 

I received comments like: “I use Maslow’s hierarchy a lot in my job but had not considered it’s failings until reading this and now I completely agree and am wondering why I didn’t think of it before!”

Most of us haven’t thought about it before, or about any of the aspects I’ve mentioned above.

But now, it is more important than ever for us to pay attention, and find a different way.

The world is in our hands
We are at a pivotal time in world history

We are at a pivotal time in the history of the world.

And if we really want to create something different on the other side of this global crisis, we have to use an approach in which we are not just taken care of at an individual level, but in a way that supports at the community, national and global levels too. In a way that is not independent, or co-dependent, but interdependent and co-created.

Because this is not just about personal resilience. This is about business and economic resilience. This is about community resilience. This is about human resilience.

And in my experience, these needs and approaching them in these revolutionary ways are the foundation of everything.

And they affect EVERY aspect of life.

  • From the parent who needs to find quick, easy and simple ways to meet their own needs in order to meet their children’s needs without burning out in the process.
  • To the leader who needs to learn to meet their own needs efficiently and effectively in order that they can lead according to the needs of their teams, their organisations and their communities, not due to the lack in their own.
  • To the worker who becomes more productive, and more effective when their needs are taken care of.
  • To the social justice advocate who through having their own needs better met has the internal resources to be able to continue to advocate for necessary social change.
  • To the business that needs to learn how to meet the needs of its staff, its customers and its suppliers, while also supporting its own.
  • To the white person whose needs being met provides them with the capacity to be able to face and begin to address the racial injustice in our world.
  • To the business development and marketing teams who can better identify, meet and communicate the needs of the customer.
  • To the person who through having their needs fulfilled can bring the best of themselves to their relationships with their partner(s), colleagues, friends and family.
  • To the company that knows how to take care of the needs of their employees to reduce the costs associated with the critical problems of mental, physical or emotional health.
  • To the person who finally gets to learn, feel and cultivate genuine self-worth (i.e. coming FROM the self) by learning how to meet all 12 of their Universal Needs consistently for the first time in their life.

What next?

So if we want to not only navigate through this pandemic in a way that best supports our mental, physical, emotional and community health, but to create something different on the the other side of this global crisis, now is the time to begin learning a new way…

…and The Universal Needs is a part of that way.

To find out more, or ask any questions, email me: claire@theuniversalneeds.com

About the author: Claire Brummell