The Hierarchy of Self-Help

Jun 06, 2020

I bet you’ve never heard of Cait McKay’s Hierarchy of Self-Help because this is also the first time I’m hearing of it. But maybe you’ve heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?


According to Psychology Today, “in 1943 the American psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed that healthy human beings have a certain number of needs, and these needs are arranged in a hierarchy. Some needs (such as physiological and safety needs) are more primitive or basic than others (such as social and ego needs). Maslow’s so-called ‘hierarchy of needs’ is often presented as a five-level pyramid, with higher needs coming into focus only once lower, more basic needs are met.”


I am by no means an expert on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs(MHN) nor am I here to give you a full lesson on his theory. Maybe one day I’ll be equipped to do that, but for now I wanted to share my thoughts that tie MHN to the journey many of us are on these days to be our highest-self.


Is it just me or is there an awakening happening? I don’t know if it’s because I am super into healing myself these days, or if it’s because I’m a life coach constantly reading and listening to podcasts - but I feel like the movement right now is towards self-actualization. Mental health, self-love, mindfulness and awareness are 🔥 🔥 🔥 right now. I freakin’ love it personally and it brings me joy to see my peers pursuing their most fulfilling life. From what I can see, many people are trying to focus on themselves more than ever and exploring programming beyond what they’ve received. There is endless content on social media facilitating this awakening and I feel so grateful to be alive at this exciting time. 


MHN pyramid crossed my path recently and it really resonated with me in a way I don’t thiiiiiiink Maslow intended it to, but whatevs. As I look at my ongoing journey to self-actualization, to be the best I can be(the fifth and top need on MHN pyramid), I realize how virtually impossible that is for me if I bypass the four needs below it. 


Taking a look at this pyramid helped me understand why the self-help books(me chasing that top need, self-actualization) weren’t really clicking for me when I was going out several nights/week, working late hours and running on a really shitty diet and basically no sleep(ignoring the basic needs of physiology, the first stop on MHN). While I don’t regret the majority of these fun nights and they served me in ways at the time, I certainly was putting the cart before the horse in my efforts to be my best self.

***eats entire pizza at 2am***

***scratches head and wonders why I have not achieved enlightenment***


MHN pyramid helped me understand why I had such a hard time with my self-esteem(the fourth need) when I was working by myself as a florist and had a very low sense of belonging and connection (the third need). 

***talks to flowers***

***no response***


As I’m still in the first few months of running Right to be Relevant, it hasn’t been the smoothest transition financially. So without the financial security(the second need on MHN), my personal self-actualization is hindered. I just heard Ruby Warrington the other day on a podcast say, “When you first start a business do not put the pressure on your passion to earn you a living. You wouldn’t give birth to a newborn baby and expect it to start paying rent.” 

***realizes I’ve been asking my new born baby to pay rent***

Do you see what I mean? If you’re seeking self-actualization and want to work towards the best version of yourself, take a look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.


Step 1 - Physiological Needs: Are you getting enough sleep? Do you have a comfortable shelter and space to call your own? Are you getting enough air, water and food regularly?


Step 2 - Security Needs: Are you in a safe environment? Do you feel healthy? Do you have stable employment? Have you kicked unhealthy habits or addictions like smoking, over-eating, over-drinking, etc?


Step 3 - Love and Belonging Needs: Are your interpersonal relationships authentic and positive? Do you feel connected to those in your life?


Step 4 - Esteem and Ego Needs: Are you making yourself relevant in your own life? Do you recognize and value yourself?


Step 5 - Self-actualization


This might not be a totally linear journey and I have zero data to prove the correlation here, but I know this all rings true in my life and my personal journey to self-actualization(which I am still very much on). Horse before the cart, amiright?


I’m not saying it’s impossible for someone to achieve self-actualization and be their best self if they don’t have their physiological needs met. But I am saying that for me personally, it’s inefficient and so far impossible to reach the top of the pyramid without first addressing my basic needs. It can also be wildly disheartening to read the books, listen to the podcasts, work with the therapists and coaches and still not be where you want to be. When I take an honest look at MHN, I see where I am cutting corners and setting myself up for what I like to call self-help burnout.


Like I alluded to earlier, self-healing is a hot topic right now which is great! But don’t get caught up in ignoring your basic needs in your effort to consume all the self-help content and find your highest-self. I encourage you to put the horse (all other basic needs from physiological to ego) before the cart (achieving self-actualization, enlightenment, highest self). 


Students don’t learn algebra before they master basic addition and subtraction. Babies don’t learn to walk before they crawl around a bit and explore. Chefs can’t present a hot meal before the ingredients are prepped and cooked properly. So why are you confused that you haven’t reached self-actualization when you’re reading self-help and listening to podcasts constantly, but smoking a pack a day and eating garbage food? Be honest with yourself!


Trust me, I’m not judging or knockin’ you for smoking the pack a day and eating garbage. No one is perfect and we all have our things we do that suck - I personally love eating garbage food, it’s bad and I know this. But if you’re at a point in your life where you’re ready and wanting to pursue your highest self, I challenge you to check in with your needs. Are they being met?


Be kind to yourself and have patience for where you are. Start where you are, not where the people on your Facebook and Instagram feed are. Remember, everyone has a unique journey and a unique experience. You are right where you are supposed to be.


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