If someone lacks food and water, we know the body will suffer. But what about when they lack a sense of belonging and connectedness? Or maybe they have a strong support network, but they lack a sense of self-esteem? It is common to consider these types of needs to be inconsequential, either out of our control or not deserving of our attention. After all, we can keep moving through our day to day responsibilities even without connectedness or self-respect, right?

Not really. We know now that lacking in these areas creates real deficiencies in our overall wellness and that our quality of life is just as important to our health as diet and exercise.

Self-care has become a popular topic and rightly so, as we begin to understand more about the longevity of our bodies and minds as it directly correlates to our intentional choices for health and wellness. But this concept is not new. American Psychologist Abraham Maslow was considered a pioneer in the 1950s for understanding that the needs of people went beyond basic physiology, though he pointed out these fundamental pieces were the foundation for achieving any other level of being beyond mere survival.

Most people are familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which outlines the building blocks for achieving Self-Actualization, or “full humanness” as Maslow referred to it. It makes sense that before anyone can truly feel a high level of self-esteem, they must first feel a sense of love and belonging with others, but to feel love and belonging, they must experience safety, and before that, they must not be starving or physically malnourished. And our movement through this progression of satisfying our needs is not concrete. It is fluid as circumstances in our lives ebb and flow and we must move up and down the ladder toward self-actualization.

This can sometimes be an uncomfortable way to think of our journey through life. Once we work through something, we like to leave it behind. Once we attain a goal, we like to keep the accomplishment. But circumstances in life are not guaranteed and there are many things out of our control. It is helpful to maintain flexibility with respect to our growth and give ourselves space to go backward, and forward, as needed. Going backward does not necessarily mean progress is lost, only that there is something we must go back for, to address, to satisfy, and then we can move forward again.

Maslow broke down our types of needs into two categories:

D-Needs (D for Deficit) are needs we are motivated to fulfill because without them, we feel some sort of longing. Any need below self-actualization on the hierarchy is considered a D-Need. Without food we are hungry, without shelter we feel unsafe, without love and belonging, we lack intimacy and friendship, without autonomy we lack self-confidence. Our need for safety, love and belonging, and self-esteem, affects us in the same way as the need for physical sustenance like food, water, and sleep.

B-Needs (B for Being) are the high-level needs that we are motivated to fulfill once all of our basic needs are met. They are the peak experiences that give us meaning and purpose. It is what we are able to do with our strengths, how we are able to contribute to others, once our needs have been sufficiently met and we feel more “whole.”

Being able to differentiate our lives between simply “surviving” and “thriving” is what enables us to pursue meaningful moments like leadership in a career, profound interpersonal relationships, or making a helpful impact within our community. It’s difficult to do those things if your basic needs are not met first. But once you are able to glimpse what this type of growth feels like, you become more inclined to organize your life around achieving more of these experiences.

But it isn’t something that just happens. We must first identify what needs must be satisfied before we can experience this type of affirming growth. What areas are we lacking nutrition for the mind or the soul, in addition to the body?

Self-care, then, is more than just being kind to yourself. It is more than a spa day or a down day from work. It is an ongoing process of identifying what our needs are, recognizing those needs as credible areas that deserve our attention, and working to fulfill them so that we may experience true fullness in our lives.