20 January 2021

NEEDS and INTEGRATION. Paola’s case.

Last week, in introducing the great theme of authenticity, I wrote:

“In order to realize our potential we must take care of us, cultivate our resources, nurture our relationships, so that we can grow like beautiful plants nourished by water and sunshine. When our basic needs like a roof, food, a job are met, we can devote ourselves to our personal growth.”

Some of you, after listening to the first episode of the “Re-discover your authenticity” podcast, pointed out to me that I assumed it was clear for everyone to identify their needs.

A need is the perceived lack, partial or total, of one or more elements that make up a person’s well-being.

I’ll try to address a huge and complex topic by giving you an example.

Yesterday, during an online session, Paola expressed her frustration.
“But how is it possible that after all the work we’ve done I feel so far away from myself? I feel like I’ve taken steps backwards and I’m angry.

Paola is 30 years old and she recently lost her job. Until a year ago she travelled a lot for work, she felt part of the society, she felt proud of her autonomy and projected towards the future.

The desire to grow, to be better and to feel good had pushed her to start a path of personal development. A character similar to mine in some ways, with a need for a lot of external confirmation, a need to see herself functioning and being independent.
The need for independence sometimes leads us to overdo it, to look bigger, cooler!

Behind the need for independence, for both of us, is the fear of dependence, the fear of losing freedom. If I had been in this situation 15 years ago I would have surely felt this fear, fear of never traveling again, of closing myself off, of losing that motivation that comes when I meet new people, taste the new.
Today I feel confidence, but that word is fairly new to me.

Let’s go back to Paola’s frustration, that she feels she’s taken steps backward, that she’s afraid of being forever off track, without a future.
The uncertainty of this time is hard to tolerate, it takes very little to feel suspended, which is why solidity must be found within ourselves. Never as now do we need our feet on the ground and the ability to stay, observe, wait, enter and leave. We have no escape routes, and this is scary. The only way, in my opinion, is to learn to plan in uncertainty.

You know I don’t like to bring you too many theories, but I’d like to follow the pattern of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to come to the realization that Paola hasn’t stepped back, she’s simply at another level of the pyramid you see represented in the drawing.

Always remember that the map is not the territory, and that this map was created by a psychologist in 1954. It is rigid, and we know very well that life cannot be translated into a pattern, into levels. We are beings in constant motion.
Let’s try to grasp the meaning without clinging too much.

Level 1: physiological needs (in red).
Eating, drinking, sleeping, breathing. These needs are linked to our survival, to our preservation.

Level 2: security needs (in orange).
Health, work, home, protection, peace of mind. Sounds like little these days?

Level 3: needs of belonging (in yellow).
Friendship, family, intimacy, society. Ability to love and be loved, be part of a group, cooperate, collaborate, participate. Each of us desires to be part of a community. When the need to belong is satisfied we begin to desire to differentiate ourselves, to feel unique.

Level 4: esteem needs (in green).
Self-esteem, self-control, respect. We desire to feel competent and productive. When we feel confidence in ourselves we want others to trust us too, we desire their esteem.

Level 5: need for self-actualization (in blue).
Creativity, spontaneity, non-judgment, morality, evolution, growth. We desire to become fully ourselves. This is the theme of personal growth, the search for authenticity.

What I am interested in communicating to you today through words and drawing, is that what we are dealing with together is positioned at the top of the pyramid, which although with limitations, shows us the hierarchy of needs.

Let’s go back to Paola, who has lost her job and has a strong need for autonomy.
She recognizes the good fortune of having people next to her who can provide for her physiological needs. She can shop for groceries, eat and drink good wine, so the 1st level is guaranteed.

The 2nd level is in the picture: without a job that guarantees her autonomy, she can’t be comfortable.

She misses Level 3 terribly, she misses concerts, friends, travel, and job fairs. Through those activities she encountered parts of herself that make her feel alive, interesting.

Automatically she feels she can’t receive anyone’s esteem, despite the fact that she makes crazy cakes and can cook really well!

Paola recognizes that she is asking too much of herself: to feel fulfilled the need to evolve in a period where she lacks work, group, self-esteem.

What I suggested to Paola is to shift her focus to the inside for a while. Dialogue with her parts, integrate them. Building a solidity that no one will ever take away from her.

We have the luxury of continuing with this work because the 1st level of needs is guaranteed. She has a hard time accepting that others are paying for her groceries right now, but Paola eats, drinks, sleeps and breathes. She is surrounded by people who love her.

When we over-identify with a role, when we project our image, we risk believing that we are just that, but as human beings we are so much richer.
During the meeting Paola chose two symbolic objects that represent:

_the part of her that travels for work, well-dressed, hanging out in international circles [to represent this part she chose an elegant and cultured owl];

_the part of her that is now at home, baking cakes, taking walks [to represent this part she chose a white hen].

It is from the dialogue between these two parts that integration arises.
It is not a matter of choosing “either” the owl “or” the hen. Paola is integrated when she welcomes “and” the owl “and” the hen.

We learn to live in opposites.
To get back to the theme of authenticity: Paola is, at the moment, a unique mix between the wise and elegant owl and the white hen.