Path to Recovery: Love and Belonging (Maslow’s Hierarcy Level 3)

In November, I wrote the first of five posts about my path to recovery in what I call my “Maslow’s Theory Applied” series. This first post started out of sequence to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and focused on my experiences related to healing on the 2nd level – Safety and Security. Just like my road to recovery, my path has not been linear. Today, 5 months later, I write about another level – Level 3… Love and Belonging.

Love and Belonging

The needs we seek at this level include friendship, intimacy, affection and love.

In his work from 1943, Maslow theorized that humans need to give and receive love – both sexually and non-sexually.[1] These needs are timeless. When they are not met, when we don’t love or can’t love and when we aren’t loved, we can become lonely and depressed.

For me, when I started not to trust my colleagues, when I worked long hours that left me no time for friendship-building, I became insular. I woke up, went to work, came home, went to sleep and then did it all over again the next day. During the most challenging times this pattern repeated itself 7 days a week. In the not so challenging times, I spent the weekend recovering and escaping. I made no room for family or friends.

I had been well-taught to be self-observant. So I knew I was spinning a cocoon of protection around me. I knew I was keeping all my colleagues at a distance and did not share my pain with my family and people that I had previously called friends. Colleagues and friends alike started pulling away from me, the budding workaholic. In addition to being aware of my increasing sense of distrust, I was also purposefully protecting myself from the threats I had received – “This is a small town, be careful who you make enemies with.”

Once I had made the decision to own this behavior and know that it was not healthy, then I started on a path toward changing my relationships. It was easier for me to start seeking belonging and love in groups, before I sought belonging and love from myself, or friends and family.

For example, it took all the strength and courage I had to develop friendships with three other women to the point where I could have a “Ladies Night In” party. Of course, I did not want to go out and meet them. I felt safer if they came to me. I made the evening as inviting as possible and we had a lovely time, so much so that I made it an annual tradition. But one night a year is still really not healthy.

Love and Belonging in Groups

At first, I found doctors and health professionals with whom I would have a ‘doctor/patient’ confidentiality and made appointments to heal my body’s aches and pains. I started playing golf on days and times that other women were playing.

Then I found Seal Team Physical Training (SEAL Team PT) – “the Push-up Company.” I was so out of shape, I thought the physical exercise would be good for me. The early morning workouts were a great start to the day. I can’t tell you how empowering it is to see the sunrise as I too was starting to rise!

Though we worked out in pairs, groups and teams, there was not a lot of socializing. For where I was in my journey, that was OK with me. I figured if I stuck with it enough people would get to know me and maybe I might find a friend or two.  Over the course of the next 6 months, that happened. I made friends. In addition to helping me find a positive, healthy sense of belonging, this group of committed people taught me a lot about positive, supportive team work. This was a wonderful, refreshing balance to the strained relationships I was experiencing at work. I was getting in shape and thinking more positively about myself and other people. I realized that not everyone wanted to see me quit, fail, get fired, or move on. These people at STPT wanted to see me succeed…from my very first pushup.

Then when I moved, I slowly found my swim group. As I get deeper into my writing, I am meeting and spending time with other writers. Slowly, but surely my sense of belonging is growing and my lack of trust in people and my fear of people are slowly diminishing.

Love and Belonging with Friends and Family

I went quiet for a really long time. As far as my family and friends were concerned, I think they thought I didn’t care about them or want them as friends any more. But really, I was just cocooning and afraid.

After almost 7 years, I am just beginning to get on social media and reach out to friends, classmates and former colleagues. For the longest time, I was afraid to let the enemies I had made know where I was or who I was friends with because I thought they might sabotage my road back to success. I am still afraid of them, but as the quote from Anais Nin goes…

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

So…I am finally meeting my nieces and nephews and reconnecting with classmates and finding joy out of all of the new, budding connections. I am choosing carefully and cautiously who I add to my social network, but I know that is more about me letting go of my fear than anything else. I just hope they will come to understand the reason for my quietness and be glad I have finally come back to them.

Self-Love and Belonging

This has been the hardest part of this path for me. I am overweight. I am not the athlete I once was. I sit on the couch more than I don’t. I don’t travel anymore. I rarely go out. I eat over my kitchen sink. I disappointed my family with my choices and requests for help. The adventurer in me is dormant. I could go on…

Intellectually, I knew all of these “lack of” and “less than” judgments of myself were part of the recovery process. I knew that I was going through the 5 stages of loss. I lost my job. I lost my good looks, I lost my energy. I lost my friends. I lost everything and had to build it all back up.

I was angry at myself, my colleagues, the legal system and I was taking it out on myself. I had to slowly learn to love the part of me that had the courage to do what I did and the courage to get up after I had fallen and lost. I was on the recovery path. I was choosing to get back on my feet. I was making strides in the right direction.

As soon as I gave myself permission to understand that after a year of working too many long hours, my body, mind and soul needed rest. And that rest looked like me sitting on the couch, not exercising and sleeping a lot. I wasn’t being lazy. I was recovering. Yes, there was depression mixed in there, but there was also a quiet healing. Like a bear hibernating winter. Once I saw the bear as my power animal, the naps by the pool in the sunlight I had so sorely missed from being in my cubicle from before sunrise to after sundown became gloriously refreshing. I got rest; I got vitamin D; I got a healthy 50-SPF tan and I met a few folks by the pool as well!

Once I made this switch in my thinking about naps and couch-time, I started making switches in other areas of my life. I started giving myself mani-pedis regularly. I started cooking the food I wanted to eat. I started buying clothes that fit and felt good on this body that was a little bit larger than I wanted it to be, but it is the body I have and I am committed to love all of me.

I still can’t love all of me well. I still criticize myself sometimes, but I am much, much better at loving the person in the mirror for who she is, and not for what other people think she is. And, to quote my favorite Robert Frost poem, “that has made all the difference.” [2]

Belonging and Love at Work

I still don’t seek love and belonging at work. That’s an area I still need to work on. I do my job as I always have – to the best of my ability – but I don’t seek water cooler friendships or talk about my life with my colleagues. I’m trying though and letting myself know that if I can be successful in achieving love and belonging in the groups I choose to be a part of and with myself, I will find the skills and energy I need to be successful at building good relationships at work. I remind myself that I don’t have to do it all right away. It’s OK to take one challenge at time.

I have a healthy respect for the fact that I don’t have the influence over people at work, in the same way I might with my family, friends and the groups of people I choose to have in my life. And this may be the reason I have left work relationships til last in this process. It is the most difficult because I cannot choose who I work with. But I can choose how well I work and I can do my best to be productive with my colleagues. And this is what I focus on… until I can do more.


[1] Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370-396. Retrieved April 10, 2016, from


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