A visual representation of the various processes that are identified as human needs

The Matrix of Needs

Bob Bowen

Core Needs:  Subsistence, Attaching Relationships, Communication
Growth Needs:  Achievement, Social Relationships
Maturity Needs:  Autonomy, Affiliative Relationships
Fulfillment Need:  Intimacy

Interdependent Actualization

In his original article on human motivation, Abraham Maslow said “The present theory then must be considered to be a suggested program or framework for future research and must stand or fall, not so much on facts available or evidence presented, as upon researches yet to be done, researches suggested perhaps, by the questions raised in this paper” [1, p370].   This article endeavours to build on Maslow’s work, incorporating research in the neurobiological impact of childhood trauma which shows that safety is the most fundamental need for all human beings.  Indigenous approaches to understanding human needs beyond the ending points of any one individual life and valuing cultural perpetuity are also integrated into this model.


The process of becoming human cannot be captured by a list of needs to be addressed, met, and then relegated to some kind of maintenance mode.  Rather, it is a life-long process of assimilation, disequilibrium, and accommodation, a theory developed by Jean Piaget and adapted into Cognitive Development Theory.   This dynamic dance of life between ourselves, our physical environments, our genetic predispositions and all the life forms in our relational environments interact with each other to either enhance or detract from the processes that make us human.

In cellular biology, there is a concept known as the “extra-cellular matrix”, or ECM, that provides a form within which the function of the cells are able to be expressed in ways that sustain the life of that particular organism.  For human beings, that matrix is encompassed by the word “safety.”  It is the physical, emotional, psychological and social safety we experience that provides the matrix which holds us together.  Likewise, war, malnutrition, child abuse and neglect, and the pandemic being experienced in 2020 weaken this matrix to the point that we cannot fulfill our potential to be fully human.

Unlike Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Safety is not a separate need within the structural concept, but is rather a continuous background need.  It is always present as a need, and often we are unaware of the presence of safety until we no longer have it.  Rather than talk about stages of levels of need, The Matrix of Human Needs uses the concept of processes that interact with each other to support the development of individuals and groups of people.  At a neurological level, human beings are designed to live in social groupings and interact with each other on an almost continual basis.  (Young, 2008).


These processes are organized in the following structural manner:


Core Needs:  Subsistence, Attaching Relationships, Communication


These needs are foundational for human life.  Without air, water, food, shelter and sleep we would die within minutes, days or weeks depending on which need we are missing.  Without a stable attachment, human beings have difficulty in social relationships throughout their lifespan, based on research in attachment theory discussed later in the paper.  Communication is, for many people, a novel concept as a foundational need.  However, without communication social relationships could not exist.


Growth Needs:  Achievement, Social Relationships

Once our foundational processes are in place, we then can work on the next set of processes, which are achievement and social relationships.  Those of us who have had the experience of raising or being around small children have heard the “I do it” pride of a child practicing their independence in some kind of skill.  At the same time they are working on achieving a goal, they are also working on developing their social relationships beyond the base attachments formed with significant adults in their lives

Maturity Needs:  Autonomy and Affiliation

As we mature, our next needs are for a combination of autonomy and affiliation.  Moving from the “I do it” process we now begin to map out our independence from our families of origin and individuate, distinguishing ourselves as individuals in our own right.  Relationships now become a matter of choice as we identify others with whom we want to belong, whether it is a group at work, or an expression of faith, or an expression of creation such as music, or physical activities such as mountain climbing, etc.  These are people groups we choose to identify with as opposed to being born or placed into them.

Fulfillment Need:  Intimacy

Intimacy is the ability to be honest with one or more people with no fear of rejection.  It is far more than physical intimacy, although for many people that is the first concept we have.  Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability provides a good frame for understanding intimacy and our need to have deep relationships where we can say anything with no fear that we will be rejected.  In some ways, this represents self-actualization, for we have ‘arrived” at what it means to be human at an individual level.


Interdependent Actualization

This last process is less of a need and more of an outcome of the fulfillment of all the other needs in a continual basis, with safety present in all it’s many aspects.  We are now connected with and for each other, and are able to be a community in the best sense of that word.

These processes are always interacting with each other.  When safety is not present, the interactions which help to make us human become imbalanced.   Achievement and autonomy become primary drivers for many people, with relationships being tools to get what they want.  Intimacy may be achieved in the perception of this person, but that is because they are always doing the rejecting, moving from one relationship to another. “Me first” is their motto and the code by which they live.  It is a life of power and prestige, with the image being more important than the reality.  In many ways, Interdependent actualization runs counter to the American and perhaps even Western ethos.  In the long view of history, however, interdependent actualization is the only path to being fully human.