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Trauma-Informed Leadership and Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

Last week I spent 3 days with a room full of exhausted yet engaged teachers, who were eager to learn about trauma and not only how it applied to their students, but how it was showing up for them. In the process of the training, we spent considerable time talking about Maslow's Hierarchy. Later that night, I was invited to the school board meeting, to share our progress and the important work being done in the district. Unprompted, their board president started talking about Maslow's Hierarchy in response to testing results after COVID.

When we discuss trauma-informed leadership, it’s important that leaders acknowledge that this work is a “yes and” proposition. We’re building upon a large body of established work, and multiple systems are at play along the trauma-informed journey.

An Introduction to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

The trauma-informed approach is a phenomenal framework for organizations to meet the needs of their employees and the populations they serve; however, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs still holds true.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a psychological theory that differentiates five levels of human needs, each of which must be satisfied before an individual can move onto—or up to—the next level (although the satisfaction of these needs doesn’t operate on an all-or-none model).

Stage 1: Physiological Needs

These physical needs involve food, water, warmth, and rest.

Stage 2: Safety Needs

Security and safety can only be met after physical needs are met. Safety and physical needs are considered basic needs.

Stage 3: Belongingness and Love Needs

A sense of belonging and love stems from intimate relationships, friendships, and community.

Stage 4. Esteem Needs

Self-esteem is generated through prestige and feelings of accomplishment or recognition. Love and esteem are considered psychological needs.

Stage 5: Self-Actualization

Self-actualization is a self-fulfillment need that includes achieving one’s full potential and accomplishing creative activities.

Using Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs for Healing

When we experience trauma, our needs often shift focus towards the lowest stages in the hierarchy. Trauma can make us feel as if our basic needs are not being met and drive us to fulfill those physical and safety needs before even considering psychological or self-fulfillment needs.

Acknowledging how we operate within Maslow’s Hierarchy can provide a trauma-informed perspective for self-reflection. If you have experienced trauma yourself, consider where you were before, immediately after, and now. Which needs did you most actively try to meet at each of these times?

This method may be a helpful resource to share if you work with populations exposed to trauma.

Acknowledging the impact of trauma can have a profound effect on trauma survivors.

Learn More About Healing Through Trauma-Informed Approaches

You need both Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and trauma-informed approaches in order to heal from trauma.

To learn more about trauma-informed leadership for individuals and organizations, consider booking a trauma-informed course with a professional trauma coach at Chefalo Consulting.


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