• LGBT and Developmental Needs: From Basic Needs to Self-Actualization
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    LGBT and Developmental Needs: From Basic Needs to Self-Actualization

    We recognize that for the LGBT community, coming out is a process of discovery and growth. As all people do, we go through a growth model of basic needs and higher needs. In this article, we will use the hierarchy of needs model developed by psychologist Abraham Maslow, and incorporate LGBT developmental needs with research from others including Bockting and Coleman (transgender coming-out process) and Virginia Cass (gay and lesbian identity developmental model).

    Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

    His basic premise, which has been expanded, relates a level of needs that one develops throughout their lifetime, from the lower four needs, described as deficiency needs, to the highest level of being needs, or self-actualization. He later developed other stages culminating in 8 levels which we will explore.

    If we look at the bottom level of a triangle, the most basic needs are the physiological needs such as water, food, shelter, sex, and sleep. Going up a step are the safety needs such as feeling safe and secure and free of danger, free from the elements, and law and order; the next step up are the need for a sense of belonging including love and acceptance with friends, family, and intimate relationships, the give and take of relationships, and being part of a group; and the next deficiency needs level is that of self-esteem, with the needs of our ego, sense of self, mastery, respect from others and feelings of confidence. The fifth level is that of cognitive needs regarding our intellect, knowledge, understanding, and curiosity; the next level is about aesthetic needs such as beauty, creativity, awe, and wonder. The next highest level is that of self-actualization needs which include the needs of a higher level of achieving life’s goals, reaching your highest potential, having peak experiences of love and creation, utilizing your creativity to meet your personal growth needs, and accepting life as it is. Finally, the highest level is that of transcendence needs – having a spiritual connection not only with your Higher Self, but that of others’, the earth, and cosmos through connecting with a Higher Essence (God/Goddess/Beloved/Mother Earth and Father Sky/Allah/Buddha, etc.)

    A Breakdown of the LGBT Experience

    Now let’s look at how coming out as LGBT can be explored through this model.

    Physiological Needs:

    These needs are the most basic for all life and if these needs aren’t met, it is difficult to go to the next level for surviving is the task at this stage. Also, we can circle back to these needs throughout our lifetime for we always need these basic needs to be met.

    Safety Needs:

    We think of safety needs as also basic to our life whether this is when we are little and being protected by our loved ones or when we age. And this is very significant for those of us who are LGBT for we are often victims of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse due to the sole reason that we aren’t heterosexual. While we can still advance up the pyramid, we often circle back to needing basic safety needs of being free from harm such as hate crimes.

    Belongingness Needs:

    This begins the level of socialization needs. Here we explore our closeness with others including our partner, friends, and family, as well as acquaintances’. For the LGBT population, we begin to look more at coming out. The Cass Identity Model explores this in viewing coming out as identity formation – who am I, who am I as compared to others, coming out and sexual/gender expression.

    Self Esteem Needs:

    As we continue to develop, we expand upon our ego needs for we have a need to be accepted and to have self-respect as well as the respect of others. This continues for LGBT persons who have more fully decided to come out with a focus on not just a tolerance of who we are, but as an identity acceptance. Here we begin to focus more on our relationships not only with our usual compatriots, but with those within the gay/trans community who reflect our self-esteem needs and honor and respect our coming out.

    Cognitive Needs:

    We all need to focus on raising our thoughts and increasing our many levels of intelligence for this is the area that increases our understanding of the world around us. Also, studies show that higher cognition is necessary for higher moral development. For the LGBT community, this level is about learning about our history, understanding the developmental processes we go through as we focus on coming out – the understanding of who and what we are in our humanness – and developing the compassion for ourselves and others who often go through significant pain in the process of coming out.

    Aesthetic Needs:

    Accepting and relating to the beauty and joy of life and the uniqueness of the natural world, allows us to enjoy life as all that is and all than can be. For the gay/trans population, this is the stage of connecting to the nature of being LGBT. For here we accept the joy of our LGBT status and recognize that we are the beauty of life in all of its diversity.

    Self-Actualization Needs:

    This level is our connection to our highest good on the immanent level of daily life and love. As members of the community, we make the most of who we are as well as help others become their best selves in the coming out process of life. This is the path of generativity where we are our highest selves not only for ourselves but for the good of the world. At this point, the LGBT person has internalized themselves as a valuable member of society with much to offer the world. This is the integration of the transgender self and of a gay/lesbian/bi-self. This is the stage of identity integration.

    Self-Transcendence Needs:

    This is the highest level of development where the immanent meets the transcendence of life, love, creation, and connection with our own Higher Self. For here we connect to the Higher Essence and know that as LGBT persons, we were made perfect in the eyes of the Beloved and are all a part of the spiritual connection. We fully accept and embrace ourselves and also are able to help others to accept themselves as the beloved of the Highest Presence.

    In summary, those of us who are LBGT need to embrace ourselves and learn to love and accept who we are and let go of the shame, hatred, and prejudice that often surrounds us. We develop at our own pace and set our own level of coming out for while this model is a developmental one, we decide our own coming out process.

    Carol Anderson, D.Min., ACSW, LMSW, has over 30 years of experience as a clinical social worker, program developer, clinical director, and adjunct professor. She specializes in mental health, substance abuse, trauma, grief, LGBT and women’s issues, chronic pain, and spiritual counseling. Dr. Anderson is the author of Where All Our Journeys End: Searching for the Beloved in Everyday Life (C. Lynn Anderson) which has been praised for its depth of study and beauty of prose and poetry.


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