In articles one and two, I wrote about the need to achieve physiological and safety needs, as a basis for seeking self-actualization. Now I want to discuss the third level of Maslow’s pyramid—how to find Love and Belonging.
I was fortunate to have been born into a loving and stable home. My Argentine parents were devoted to their three children providing us with love, shelter, security, and stability—the foundation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Never once as a child did I question my place in the world.
Until I became a young adult. As a 17-year-old girl entering high school, my self-esteem plummeted and I lost my grounding. Where did I belong? Who was I? Not understanding the need for self-love, or even what self-love meant, my solution was to seek love and belonging in the arms of a man.
Looking back now, I wonder: how many women continue to validate their self-worth or fill their well of loneliness through another human being? How many look to be rescued or think marriage will complete them? We want to share our lives, but unfortunately that’s often done in a co-dependent way.
My girlfriend used to say to me whenever a relationship went south, “A man is not a plan.” Her advice was funny at the time, but looking back now I think it spoke to an unfair idea many young people have—to think a man, or any other person, could or should be a plan. Why could a man claim responsibility for making his girlfriend happy? No one has that power. No one, only you, only me. And yet, when my heart broke for the first time, I went from boyfriend to boyfriend in search of ‘a guaranteed plan,’ one of belonging, in search of real love.
What is this strong pull for love and belonging? Dr. Brene Brown, New York Times Bestselling Author of Rising Strong, and Daring Greatly, and research Professor, known for her 2010 TED Talk on The Power of Vulnerability says, “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”
Sadly, until my 30’s, insecurities ran deep and if a man didn’t want me, I worked harder to make sure he did. I strove to be loved. As the old song saying goes, “I was looking for love in all the wrong places. It has been a life’s work to realize love and belonging comes from within and only then could I have healthy, interdependent relationships.
Of course, we all need love from our family, our friends, our husbands, partners, boyfriends. But love of self is what will carry us to a higher state of self-actualization. Today, I can look in the mirror and say truthfully that I love who I am. That I am a good person doing good work in the world. That finally, I let go of my mistakes, my insecurities, my shame. I forgive myself.
At 54, I am happily married with two grown boys. I have learned to gladly welcome integrity over youth, honesty over suppression of voice, passion and purpose over blind ambition, and peace over insecurity that one can only achieve when they find their sense of self.
As the quote goes, “Self-love, self-respect, self-worth…there is a reason they all start with “self”—you cannot find them in anyone else.”
What gets me is—I was there all the time, I just didn’t know how to tap into such a beautiful and vulnerable place.