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The New Science of Self-Actualization

By Scott Barry Kaufman
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  • Contains 9 key ideas
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Transcend by Scott Barry Kaufman

Transcend (2020) expands on Maslow’s famous ideas about human needs and presents them in a new light that takes us on a path toward self-actualization. It explains the ways in which love, connection, creativity and purpose can be part of our lives. In addition to providing practical advice on how to become your best possible self, it also demystifies transcendence, explaining that it’s something we can all integrate into our daily lives.

Key idea 1 of 9

The need for safety is the basis of all other needs.

Ever been hangry? If you’re like most people, you probably have, even if you’re not familiar with the word. “Hanger” is hunger-induced anger, and though the word is obviously a humorous coinage, it points to a very real phenomenon. 

It’s just one example of how, when basic needs like hunger aren’t met, negative emotions can overwhelm us, causing all other feelings and concerns to fade into the background.

Our most basic need is safety. Safety means stability, a sense of certainty, and having trust in our environment. It’s the secure foundation that allows us to take risks and explore the world.

The key message here is: The need for safety is the basis of all other needs.

Beyond physiological needs like hunger, our sense of safety comes down to how we relate to the people around us.

One of the ways we relate to others is called attachment, and it begins in childhood. Every human is born helpless and completely dependent on the people taking care of it. An infant’s sense of safety depends on its caregiver. If the caregiver is close and paying attention, the infant will feel safe and secure, and it will be willing to play and explore the world.

But if the caregiver leaves or stops paying attention, the infant will get anxious and start trying to get noticed again – by crying, for example.

From these interactions in infancy, we develop our attachment style. As we grow older, our attachment style plays a key role in our relationships. If we were lucky enough to grow up in a warm, caring environment, we learn to be attached in a secure way. We feel confident that others will accept us. But if our caregivers weren’t reliable or sufficiently available, we become anxious in future relationships. We may even avoid close relationships altogether, which is called avoidant attachment.

No one’s attachment style is completely secure. There’s a broad spectrum between secure and avoidant, and most people have at least some levels of anxious or avoidant attachment – or both – especially in times of stress.

Still, people who have a secure attachment style are better equipped to deal with life’s challenges. They cope with and regulate their emotions in more constructive ways, and have more satisfying relationships. In contrast, insecurity, especially the anxious kind, can lead to depression and loneliness. 

The good news is that, though we learn our attachment style in childhood, we can change our patterns. New, positive experiences can help us develop healthier ways of interacting.

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