I’ve also been thinking about how Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is connected to our trauma work and processing. As a reminder:
When we consider how this pyramid connects with authoritarian culture, we can see the ways our oppressive culture and the status quo stays in place. Authoritarian culture hones in on our need for a sense of belonging. This is how cults work. This is how many online “spiritual” groups work. This is how our government works. This is how white supremacy works.
In authoritarian culture, when we follow the rules we get to be in the “inner circle”. The cost of being in this circle, and having our need for a sense of belonging met, is that we need to follow the rules, to not question authority, to not listen to our own inner knowing and no and sense of something not being right. When we do this, we are almost always a guaranteed that sense of belonging.
When we break out of that, start to question authority, break the rules, listen to our own inner knowing, we are pushed out of the “inner circle” and we lose our community and therefore our sense of belonging. This can also impact our sense of safeness, as we know that in groups we are stronger and as individuals we are more vulnerable. Which then leaves us in a space of scrambling for that sense of safety and sense of belonging.
This is why people who are physically abused by their intimate partners stay: Their basic needs of food and shelter are being met. Yet they have no sense of real safety, or the abuser provides a sense of false safety and protection. The one who is abused is typically isolated from any other form of community and so their only sense of belonging is with the abuser. Because their sense of safeness and belonging is precarious, it is almost impossible to move into a space of questioning or leaving. First they must find another place of safeness and sense of belonging and this takes time and energy and patience from those outside the abusive relationship who are trying to help the abused.
With every authoritarian culture there are the dissenters and resisters. Those who protest. BUT it is only as these people are able to find each other, and therefore have their need for a sense of safeness and belonging met, that each individual is able to speak out more and more.
Bottom line: We need our people. This is a basic human need. It is only slightly less important than our need for food and shelter and is directly tied to our sense of safeness. Without these needs met, humans can not survive. (Also note that our need for belonging is directly tied to our attachment needs – which are our sense of belonging and being loved).
As a species, we actually do not need to obtain the two higher levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy. We need neither self-esteem nor self-actualization to literally survive.
And authoritarian cultures count on that. As long as one has a sense of belonging, that basic attachment need met, then the one is likely to remain compliant and complicit.
How does this tie into trauma?
I have written before about cultural relational trauma. The culture we live in traumatizes us. Particularly if we don’t fit the “norm” of white, thin, able-bodied, male, upper-middle class (or highter), heterosexual, CIS gendered, etc. Depending on where we fall on the spectrum of meeting or not meeting the “norm” we are more or less traumatized by our culture.
This trauma then lives within us, in our bodies, minds, and spirits.
It is important to note that trauma wants us to isolate. How this typically shows up for us is not that we all go and live in caves and become hermits, but rather that, in order to fit in and have our need for a sense of belonging met, we hide our trauma. We don’t discuss it. We stuff it down. We try to act and be “normal”. We cover up the ways we are different, the ways we have been harmed, and try to pretend there is nothing wrong.
Again, our authoritarian culture counts on this. It can abuse and traumatize us as much as it likes and we won’t speak up because we need our people, even if those people are abusive, even if our connections are not deep, even if it is all surface level. There is safety in numbers. We do not want to be pushed outside that safety.
When we look at chronic trauma – those who have been repeatedly abused sexually, physically, psychologically, or emotionally – we see the hows and whys that they don’t report or tell on the abuser. Doing so would again jeopardize our sense of safeness and belonging.
Look at how we treat victims of rape. Look at how we slut shame. Look at how we victim blame. Look at how we question the experiences of others.
That is authoritarian culture at play. (Note, rape culture is a part of authoritarian culture. It is another tool to be utilized by those in power).
So, how do we move past all this? How do we process trauma and move towards an anti-authoritarian and pro-consent culture? How do we burn down the status quo, knowing that we may be putting our basic human needs in jeopardy by doing so?
We find the dissenters. We find the resisters. We find our true people. We find those communities where it is safe to question the authority of the community itself, not just the greater community and culture outside of it.
This is not easy. It is made somewhat easier by the internet. It also makes us more open for targeting by those who feel their own basic needs being threatened.
As we find more of our true people, the dissenters and resisters and rebels, the ones saying No More and Not On My Watch, we satisfy our need for a sense of belonging (and also our need for a sense of safeness). We find our strength in numbers. We find those who will have our backs and who’s backs we will also protect.
And then, we will rise up together, and burn this all down. Together.
Not one individual can do this work alone, in a bubble. We need our people to do this work. We need our people to fight along side us for justice. We need our people so we can have our basic human need for a sense of belonging to be met. So we can change the world together.
Together, is the only way we will rise.