Getting Out of Maslow’s Basement in Working Order

Fair warning here folks: I’m struggling with this topic myself. I think I’m thinking clearly, but I’m still reeling from recent events, and want to be up front about that. I’m just a guy with an opinon.

If you think any of this applies to you, please talk to a therapist or mental health professional. And yes, I know exactly how rough that can be.

“We’ve all been in Maslow’s basement for the last year and a half,” she told me, I immediately knew it was true.

That massive restructuring of our needs and wants, the questioning and restructuring of how things “are” and how different that is from how we want them to be has upended a lot of lives. The aftermath of that is still playing out, as people realize the trauma bonds they mistook for healthy relationships – whether in romantic relationships, friendships, within the family, or the workplace.

In some cases, that realization hits after you’ve found yourself thrown out of that situation against your will. [1] [2]

That’s a bleak place to be. Because of the way these intermittent rewards work, they’re literally addictive. You’re left with needs that haven’t been completely met for a while that are now completely unmet. You can find yourself desperate to find something, anything to meet those needs.

That’s why you’ll often hear relationship advice that advises you to get yourself in “working order” before starting a new relationship. Not perfect working order, but working order.

Ideally, you go and take some time away. Some time by yourself to go work on yourself. To get the help you need to heal from the shit other people have done to you.

But what the hell are you going to do when most of the world has been traumatized at the same time? How are you going to focus on getting better when your brain is screaming? Lock yourself in a room and “detox” a la Trainspotting?

I thought about that while rewatching High Fidelity (the 2000 film) the other week.

To slightly paraphrase [3] a line Lisa Bonet’s character says in that film: “I think it’s okay if you feel horny and fucked up at the same time. Why should we be denied [that], just ’cause we messed up our relationships?”

While her character’s talking about sex, the same thing goes for emotional connections and other needs you might have. And it’s got a point. If you’re desperately yearning for something, it can make it really tempting to make really bad decisions in order to get it. And those bad decisions, those patchwork “quick fixes”, can make it hard to actually find healthy ways (or healthy relationships) to enrich your life. It makes it tempting to throw yourself right back into the same kind of situation, no matter the cost.

I don’t have a great answer here; I’m wrestling with this question myself.

Because it’s never as clean and clear as it ideally should be.

It’s something to watch closely. Interrogate your feelings and impulses. Set up your boundaries and standards, and stick to them. And be kind to yourself and those around you, because we’re all really fucked up right now.

And as we look around as we emerge from Maslow’s basement, don’t discount the real connections you make along the way, no matter how they start.

Ultimately, how your relationship begins doesn’t matter, as long as you keep making sure you’re getting better along the way, and that your relationships enhance and enrich the lives of those in it. It doesn’t matter if a connection happens because of a past shared trauma, or meeting on an app, or at a swinger club, or a bar, or grocery store. Focusing on how the relationship starts is looking at entirely the wrong thing.

The meet-cute is a starting point, not the journey or destination.

Focus on the journey of your relationships. Focus on where they’re going.

And remember, the only metric that matters about a relationship – no matter if it’s a romantic relationship, friendship, family, or workplace one – is that on balance, it enhances and enriches the lives of everyone in it.

And that just does not happen in a trauma bond.

Good luck out there, folks.

Featured Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

[1] See my artistic license. If you think I’m talking about you or the organization you work for, well, maybe that’s a sign you should think really hard about how you and your organization are treating people.
[2] Trauma bonds – like narcissistic behaviors – are not necessarily perpetrated on purpose.
[3] The original line sounds a little too “incel” here in 2021.

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