Empty Cereal Box

Views From Inside an Adoptee

November 16, 2006

Stumblinig Around in the Dark

Although I'm sick to death of the concept of hierarchies, I happened to stumble upon Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs this morning. I haven't thought about it since a brush with it in Psych 101 in college. I think there's something to be said here about this model in that it shows (me, at least) where adoptees tend to have a more difficult time reaching the highest level of transcendence, the highest potential of human existence. I write about this today because it provides as good an explanation as any about why I feel that I carry around a huge, invisible black hole in the center of my being.

Abraham Maslow (1954) created his pyramid model of hierarchy of human needs based on two groupings: deficiency needs and growth needs. Within the deficiency needs, each lower need must be met before moving up to the next higher level. Once each of these needs has been satisfied, if at some future time a deficiency is detected, the individual will act to remove the deficiency. The first four levels, the deficiency needs from lowest to highest, are:

1) Physiological needs: hunger, thirst, bodily comforts, etc.
2) Safety/security needs: out of danger
3) Belonginess and Love needs: affiliate with others, be accepted
4) Esteem needs: to achieve, be competent, gain approval and recognition

According to Maslow, an individual is ready to act upon the growth needs if and only if the deficiency needs are met.

The other four levels, the growth needs from lowest to highest, are:

5) Need to know and understand
6) Aesthetic needs: symmetry, order, beauty
7) Self-actualization: find self-fulfillment and realize one's potential
8) Transcendence: to connect to something beyond the ego or to help others find self-fulfillment and realize their potential

I guess what I'm getting at here is that adoption as it stands, that is, the status quo forever freezes adoptees in the growth need bottom of the hierarchy. I don't mean that adoptees never reach the higher levels; I just mean that if they do it's nothing short of a miracle. I mean that in general, although our physical needs may be met (sometimes in spades) we are not allowed to know our origins; we are not allowed to question or understand; we are told we belong while knowing in our guts that we do not; we carry around the lifelong stigma of rejection and are therefore always on alert (lifelong Post Traumatic Stress Disorder); we feel forever inferior because of that rejection, because we are different and don't really belong anywhere, either with our first families or with our adoptive families.

As I ponder Maslow's hierarchy I can begin to see why I (and I'm only speaking about me) have never felt that I own myself enough to be "self-actualized" in his sense, and most crushing of all, I see how this inability relates to my lifelong frustration about always being too self-protective to step out of myself, to "transcend" enough to help others find self-fulfillment on some level. I would think that when "deficiency" needs aren't met, humans will find it difficult, if not impossible, to realize "growth" needs. We're too busy strugging to make sense of our world to reach our full potential. I hasten to add that there are probably oodles of adoptees who have reached self-fulfillment and changed the world for the better. Maybe they had better luck or determination than the rest of us. Whatever it was, my guess (and I don't know why I think this) is that their luck or determination was mostly inner-directed.

I can only speak for myself, but this model really underscores my life-long sense of walking around in the dark carrying an unlit candle. I need to know that I exist. And because I don't really know that, I spend most of my time in fetal position, inside my own head looking for some meaning that isn't there. I see this as a deep deprivation, a tear in the fabric of human identity, brought about by the structure of Western civilization.

Those who aren't adopted can't possibly understand an adoptee's state of existence; they can only imagine it and/or throw "answers" and advice at me; tell me how lucky I was to have a family who took care of my physical needs; tell me I can heal. This isn't a "poor me" post, even though it looks like one. It's a "me-sorting out-why-things-feel-the-way-they-do" post.

[Oh, and does anyone know where Peter (Acts of Resistence) is? Why his blog has gone missing? ]



Blogger suz said...

Actually studying Maslow in a marketing class in college, cool stuff. I refer to it often. I agree with your suggestions.

Blogger elizabeth said...

Excellent post.

I've studied some psychology and this shit always bugs me. Makes me feel doomed to be a loser at life.

I often think of who I would be if I hadn't been thrown away. It's not a great stretch to think I'd be a better person.

Also, agree completely that no one, no matter how hard they try, no matter how empathetic, no one can understand the pain of being a thrown away child.

Blogger Joy said...

I often think of Maslow especially when some lame brained adopto mom tells me I am personally f'd up and nutso not like her precious little adoptee beans, and that since she knows all the right adverbs her kid will be fine sans adoption issues.

And I TRY not to say it out loud, but I think You twit, don't you realize this is self-actualization and transendence? Don't you know that having the luxury of self-examination is a very good sign?

Blogger Marie Jarrell said...

Suz-Hmmm. Marketing class? I wonder how it fits in with the consumerism of adoption. Just a crazy connection.

Elizabeth-Boy do I know what you mean. Right on, girl.

Joy-LOL. You're such a funny girl. And just how are we expected to examine ourselves anyway, when there's nothing concrete to examine except a hall of empty mirrors? Anyway, this is why writing is so necessary.

"[transcendence is] just a handle. It's not the real thing. The real thing is an unquenchable need that never stops gnawing at you. And ... you feel that you're being transcendent in that lousy sense when you are fully expressive. That's when it happens to you. Then you're satisfied that you've done the right thing. Otherwise no. Otherwise you fall back on explanations and definitions and boring discourse. You might as well be a social scientist and write that sort of stuff."-Saul Bellow


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