#depression – Knowledge Base – Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Synopsis (What it is all about…)

When looking at depression it is worth getting an understanding for what lies beneath the surface. What aspects of who we are can lead us into a depressive phase and vice versa.

One area worth knowing about is Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow described the pattern that our human motivations generally follow. He talks about basic Physiological needs, the need for Safety, how we desire to Belong and Love, our Esteem and Self-Actualisation.

History (Where did this idea come from…)

The hierarchy of needs theory was developed and proposed in 1943 when Maslow published a paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”. He then took this basis and extended it with his observations of human’s innate curiosity.

To give a relevant weight to his work Maslow studied exemplary people rather than mentally ill or neurotic people. Putting forward the argument that you would only  learn about these people, not that which the general populous could aspire to achieve.

The theory was fully expressed in his 1954 book Motivation and Personality. While the hierarchy remains a very popular framework it has been largley supplanted by attachment theory (More to come on attachment theory another time).

The Pyramid

In order to describe the hierarchy in a visual way a pyramid is useful. Working from the base up you can imagine layers. Without the layer below in place then you find it much more difficult to progress to the top layer.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The layers build from the physiological needs up through safety, sense of belonging, esteem to reach Self-Actualisation.

The layers more in-depth


These are the basic physical needs we have in order to survive. They are the most important set of needs as without them our bodies will ultimately fail (read die here). They include things such as air to breath, water to drink, food for energy, clothing and shelter.


After the physiological needs are met then your safety will/should become most important and control our behaviour. Areas where we seek safety include: physical safety from getting hurt, economic safety through safe jobs and saving money, health and well-being through family and home.


After the core physiological and safety needs are met then our social needs come to the fore. These needs cover aspects such as friendship, family and sexual intimacy.


As an individual you have a need and right to feel repsected. No matter who you are or where you sit in the world’s ‘pecking’ order. This is where humility mixed with sharing comes in. One way to help develop your own self-esteem/ self-respect whilst contributing to others aswell is to take up a social hobby or follow a profession. For those of us facing the challenge of depression this is particularly important. Our desire is to stay at home where we are safe hidden from the world. Yet the very opposite is what we really need. To go out, mix with others who have a similar interest brings many benefits, especially when we feel we can make a worthwhile contribution.


Here is the pinacle of Maslow’s pyramid. According to Maslow when you have mastered the other layers then you can realise your full potential. From my experience this is largely, though not exclusively, determined by the ceilings or barriers we place in our own way. Once we realise and accept that we are actually far more capable than we imagine then we can go out into the world and be all that we can be.

Read more about Maslow’s Hierrchy of needs »

Has this article been of use to you? Has it helped give you an idea of things that will affect your overall sense of who you are? Is there any way to make this article more useful and accessible? Please, do let me know…


2 thoughts on “#depression – Knowledge Base – Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Add yours

  1. Thank you for making this post. I am a 24-year-old woman who has been dealing with depression for as long as she can recall. This post really helped me to imagine the steps I need to take to move in a positive direction. I believe that learned helplessness has really held me back, and if I can fake the confidence enough to meet my basic needs, maybe I will eventually gain real confidence and then achieve the things I used to dream of.

    1. Hi Selena and a very big thank you. It is great to hear that a bit of knowledge has helped in some way in your fight to change the pattern of depression for you.

      Each of us is different. Each of us must find our way that works for us.

      But, it is a big BUT, by sharing our successes and challenges we can find inspiration and the odd good bit of advice to strengthen us.

      I wish you every success Selena, feel free to drop by as often as you like and share as much or as little as you like.

      Again, a big thank you!

      Ps. It’s nice to hear from people who have found my scribbling of some help or use… especially as this post is by far the most popular post on depression!

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