Lately , I have been doing alot of reading around psychology in a quest to understand as human beings what motivates us. Understanding that we are more advanced than simply our homestatic needs; I want to understand the power behind our motivation. Most schools of psychological thought agree that we are driven by at least three big motivators: sex, hunger, and the need to belong; if you can harness that motivation, you can do just about anything.
Abraham Maslow, was an American psychologist in the mid-1900s. He believed we’re motivated by a pyramid-shaped hierarchy of needs and that once basic needs are met, like food and shelter and whatnot, we’re able to achieve higher goals.
What is necessary to change a person is to change awareness of himself- Abraham Maslow
However, the importance of those higher-level needs may vary depending on our culture and finances and personality and dare I say disability?
At the bottom of the pyramid, you’ll find our most basic physiological needs for food, water, air, and moderate temperatures. Everyone is restricted by the lowest levels of the pyramid. The next rung up speaks to our need for safety, then comes love and belonging, followed by esteem or respect, and finally – once all those needs have been met – we have the relative luxury of being motivated by self-actualization and spiritual growth.
Abraham Maslow believed the top two rungs of that pyramid are where the real growth and personality takes place. First, the need to live up to our full, unique potential, and then finding meaning and purpose and identity beyond ourselves. This need does not lessen in my experience if you become disabled, in fact, it becomes heightened but our ability to reach these goals is moved further and further away due to our bodies new limitations and the limitations an unaccepting society places on us.
Also It is much harder to exel on the top level of the pyramid when the more basic needs which we may have taken for granted in the past become daily struggles and challenges. I’m speaking about inaccessible homes, social exclusion due to strutural challenges, discrimination, segregation in nursing homes, employers bias and so on.
Humans are social animals. Evolutionarily speaking, it’s fair to say that social bonding has helped us survive. Social needs have to be balanced with our autonomy, so we feel both connected and yet independent. Sharing resources and responsibilities, protecting and supporting each other in groups are all social benefits. The members of our group in the NRH supported each other during the highs and lows and during moments of defeat we drew closer. Somewhere amongst all the loss and sadness was a sense of warmth, friendship, closeness and loyalty; a brotherhood of understanding and a sense of belonging. Many studies suggest that teenagers who had a sense of belonging to their community had better health and emotional outcomes than those who didn’t feel like they belonged. Cultures all over the world use ostracism or social exclusion as a type of punishment, whether it’s kids in time-out or prisoners in solitary confinement, separation is punishing. But sometimes we’re denied that sense of belonging. Disability comes with its own unique trials, but for me as a very social and outgoing individual, social isolation is one of the hardest challenges to accept. In my experience of transitioning from an able bodied world to a world tacked on haphazardly for a person with paralysis, segregation is commonplace and sadly an accepted part in public spaces and beyond.
Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, a clinical method for treating psychopathology through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst. Freud theorized our minds as being divided into three interacting parts; The ID, The EGO, and The SUPEREGO. A classic Freudian mind is like an iceberg. It’s mostly hidden and that big underwater chunk is your ID, your unconscious, primitive and instinctive self. To him, infants were all ID; the ID was all about immediate gratification. Eventually, kids develop the EGO part of their personality that largely conscious component that’s charged with dealing with reality. The EGO works on getting the ID what it wants in a reasonable, timely and realistic way. The final aspect to form in Freud’s personality trifecta is the SUPEREGO: the voice of our conscience that represents not just the real, but also the ideal. The EGO is basically the referee between the ID and the SUPEREGO and Freud believed that our personalities are largely shaped by this “enduring conflict between our impulses to do whatever we feel like, and our restraint to control those urges,” between our pleasure-seeking aggressive urges and our inner social control over them.
Freud proposed that our EGOS use a series of indirect and unconscious defense mechanisms to protect themselves from the anxiety of the ongoing war between the ID and the EGO. And each person’s particular configuration of defense mechanisms in turn makes up part of what we refer to as personality. There were days when I would hide under the covers of my hospital bed as the world around me turned in to a blur of white noise. It was in those moments I forced myself to search deep within and question who I was and what my real motives and true values were. Therefore, like our hierachy of needs is heigthened with an injury so too is our personality being forced to work even harder.
Freud believed that anxiety comes, in part, from the EGO getting all stressed out about losing control over the ID and SUPEREGO. In my opinion, the EGO loses all control over these two aspects after a spinal cord injury with your bodies most primitive, basic needs taking to the forefront and the SUPEREGO taking a backseat. However, even though the ID may be prioritized at this time internally, the ID struggles due to a broken communication network between the body and the brain. A resultant lack of function below the level of the injury, an inability to feel pain, hot or cold sensations, to control body temperature and so on. Therefore the ID does not even know what it needs.
Therefore, after an injury it takes time to figure out and re-assess yourself. To re-establish and reconnect with your old self will take time but that self is still in there just as before but with new skills and a new mindset on how to survive.
In any given moment we have two options; to move forward into growth or to move backwards in to safety.