Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a, perhaps, oversimplified explanation of how human beings grow as people. Just because something may be oversimplified does noit mean it is inaccurate. It simply means that the concepts are broken down easily enough that even a lay person can understand them. While being simple, Maslow's hierarchy is more detailed than Freud's Id-Ego-Superego theory-and I happen to think Freud's theory holds some currency. Maslow's theory is divided into five levels. When a level is attained, theoretically, a person can try to attain the next level. A person is not tied to working on one level at a time and a person may go back to gather a level previously attained, then lost.
The most basic level in Maslow's hierarchy is physiological or biological needs. Everybody has to breathe; to eat; to have shelter and, to a lesser degree, have sex. These are necessities to maintain and sustain life. We'll get these needs met any way we have to (not unlike Freud's Id). These needs tend to be given to us as children, but the process can start all over for us as we conquer the world on our own.
As the physiological needs become met on a routine basis, members of humankind can work on ensuing levels of hierarchy. The next level up is safety. If one is to compare/contrast Maslow with Freud, this level is only slightly higher than the first level and would still be considered an "Id" quality. When at the second level of the hierarchy, one is firmly in touch with making his most basic needs met and is now seeking security. (S)he seeks employment; other persons with whom to share, as family; actually seeks to step up by having property. All these things are sought after, while maintaining the most basic of physiological needs. This may be where a young adult starts to really get an idea of identitiy.
Okay, now a person has gotten the most basic of needs met, and seems to be able to maintain these through safety. The next level on Maslow's hierarchy is love and belonging. This is where we start to branch out and seek others, not only for approval, but for depth in relationships. Now that the most basic needs are continuously met, we can seek out more ethereal, yet equally necessary, qualities such as love. We strive for love, relationships and sexual intimacy all while maintaining ourselves at the first two levels. While this need for love/belonging is still self-satisfying-the means required to attain these start to take on some aspects of altruism. We have to acknowledge others in order to gain their love. In comparing to Freud, we are straddling betwee id and superego and starting to develop a strong ego.
Many people never get beyond the first three levels. Economic and other circumstances may prevent one from being able to achieve anything more. If one can, the next step in the hierarchy is esteem. This is where a strong ego-base comes in. We strive, not only for self-esteem, but acknowledge the esteem of others. There is an expectation of give and take-of equal respect. The person who has fully attained level four, has a great (but balanced) deal of self-esteem while acknowledging others' importance in the world. Few people reach, let alone retain, this level on Maslow's hierarchy.
The final level on Maslow's hierarchy is self-actualization. This would be akin to Freud's belief in the balance between id and superego and gaining a strong ego. A person who is self-actualized has great confidence, can accept facts at face value, avoids prejudice and is not afraid to be spontaneous. The person who is self-actualized will be more involved in charity work because, as a whole, his own needs are largely met. This level is everyone's goal and, is very hard to attain and even harder to maintain.
Like any theory, Maslow's hierarchy of needs is just that-theory. Still, it is not a bad little synopsis of the things adults strive for in their quest to become the best people they can.