Abraham Maslow, whom most of us know from his Hierarchy of Needs, believed that we have two basic drives in life—a drive to feel safe and a drive to grow, and we can only foster that drive to grow if we have a baseline of safety. Physical and emotional safety.
And, if we do not have this baseline of safety, we have what Maslow calls love hunger—an ache to feel safe and to belong that will control us.
I do somewhat take issue with his argument; one need only peruse the shelves of the Memoir section of any bookstore to find stories of those who managed to overcome nearly insurmountable odds, to be convinced that it is possible to grow even if one had a very unsafe start in life.
But, it’s harder, definitely. And, love hunger can linger and can affect our relationships, our careers, the kinds of risks we take, and how we see ourselves. We can look very functional on the outside and secretly suffer.
…I say, raising my little hand. I’m one of those who had a rough start, who was unsafe—physically and emotionally, who was told she’d never amount to anything. And while I did amount to something, I carry wounds. As do many of us.
So then it becomes our responsibility as adults to address our love hunger, to find safety outside of ourselves—in loving and respectful relationships, in healthy work environments, in restful and rejuvenating living spaces, and inside ourselves—in loving self-talk, in how we eat and sleep and care for our bodies.
It’s a combination of self-care and being cared for.
Which…really speaks to some of the themes of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, which begins tonight and commemorates the 40 years the Jews spent in the desert. It is a time of rejoicing in the bounty of the harvest, in the gathering of friends and family, and also a time of vulnerability, of caring for others and recognizing our need to be cared for.
We are born with love hunger!
Our needs for love and companionship and belonging are not deficiencies. We need each other. We need a balance of self-care and being cared for. We need a balance of caring for others and caring for ourselves. We need to create inner safety and find those places and people—those safe places of refuge—where we can wait out the storms of life, where we can be held when we struggle to hold ourselves.
Life can be really hard. The storms will come and go. We can’t control those storms. But, hopefully, I think most of us can make healthy and safe choices. We can ask ourselves—is this relationship safe? Or toxic? Is my work environment detrimental to my health? Am I being pushed into choices that run contrary to my value system? Or am I being challenged to grow in ways I know I can manage?
It starts with a good dose of self-love. Self-inquiry. Self-permission to listen to yourself. And loving fellow-kindred spirits to walk through this life with us…