The Dangers of Self-Actualization: An Evaluation of Needs for the Modern Trailing Spouse – The Summary

Key Takeaways:

  • Life for a trailing spouse is constantly evolving as they encounter never-ending change.  It is not a lifestyle for the faint of heart. This choice requires a resilient attitude from individuals that are willing to handle large amounts of chaos mixed amongst bureaucratic dealings. Patience, understanding and a sense of adventure are necessary to embark on a journey of the less-traveled road. (Read More from The Intro)
  • When it is time to cycle out, the spouse has the pleasure of bestowing one’s gained knowledge on incoming flesh. Sharing insider secrets to the best tailor in town, or where to dine like a king on a pauper’s salary are all used to the advantage of esteeming one’s own reputation as a valuable and dominant contribution to the society. The hurdles and challenges the spouse overcame are approvingly exaggerated to gain awe and appreciation for the efforts and revealed mysteries entrusted to ease the minds and hardship of the next generation of survivors. (Read More from The Chaos)
  • In a recent study performed at the University of Illinois, Maslow’s theory is roughly supported by current data which “found that the fulfillment of more basic needs – for money, food or shelter, for example – was more closely linked to a positive life evaluation, the way an individual ranked his or her life on a scale from worst to best.  The satisfaction of higher needs – for social support, respect, autonomy or mastery – was “more strongly related to enjoying life – having more positive feelings and less negative feelings.”  (Read More on Maslow’s Theory)

  • The ideal spouse is someone who is not afraid to be their authentic self, or to never stop working towards improvement / growth. Maslow explains the process as one whom is “capable” of enduring hardship, can “endure and grapple the real problems of life”, and is “almost synonymous with understanding and accepting.” Trailing spouses willing to fight to survive are in essence actualizing, or in the pursuit of happiness. It is critical for trailing spouses to decide the act of sacrifice is a generous and necessary part of realizing their own potential. (Read More on The Ideal Self / Spouse)
  • Maslow believes, that “self-actualization must be selfish; and it must be unselfish. And so there must be choice, conflict, and the possibility of regret.” (Read More from The Evaulation, Part 1)

the-average-woman-is-a-human-being-with-dampened-and-inhibited-powers(Read More from The Pursuit of Happiness)

  • Each path to the top is different, tailored to the personality of each individual. Comparison and competition only harms spouses and can hold them back from reaching the level of personal growth they wish to seek. (Read More from The Evaluation, Actualizing Needs)


What It Means:

Autonomy and freedom of choice are integral to the process of self-actualization.  While the life of a trailing spouse loses much of the autonomy and freedom needed to reach the top in a traditional sense, the ‘Paradox of Choice’ research does imply there is a certain freedom and ability for spouses to rise within the system under other conditions.  The lack of choice on housing and other physiological needs, for instance, allows the spouse a greater ability to focus on higher levels of needs than to consume oneself with where to live and how to pay for a standard of living conducive to American life while overseas.

This, of course, depends on the spouse accepting the life given and using it as a building block to greater potential, rather than an excuse to fight for greater autonomy within a bureaucratic system. It also depends on maintaining the flexibility to override the conditioned autonomy and freedom from the lifetime pursuit of their personal American Dream. At least for the length of the tour.

That is not always so easy. Abraham Maslow’s work helped spur the Positive Psychology field and trend towards helping individuals live happy, productive and grateful lives. Using his theory of self-actualization, and the Hierarchy of Needs pyramid, lends a useful tool for the modern trailing spouse to evaluate their needs, where they are in the process and find the key to moving upwards and onwards.

Making a connection in accordance with the Illinois study’s findings, it is safe to say that spouses may have an overall positive view of life. However, they may not enjoy life. Lower levels of hierarchy are met just by showing up. There is no personal course of action to take to conquer those levels towards self-actualization. Moving quickly up the hierarchy, spouses determine the level they are stuck in is not just one for autonomy, but for respect and dignity. Too often, spouses feel helpless and powerless within the system and cannot see a way to gain respect amongst the community.

With the desire to reach fulfillment, a spouse can feel trapped in the chaos and daily frustrations of ‘trailing’ behind their spouse’s career. If this occurs, the spouse reaches a crossroads and needs to make the personal decision whether or not it is worth it to themselves to continue the path to actualization under their current circumstances.

  • If I leave, I can find / supply my own housing, have more opportunities for employment, re-enter my old social circle, feel safe in the parameters of my old life.
  • In order to stay, I must be able to create my own fulfillment and respect outside of the insulated community. How can I do this?
  • Do I care enough to stay and sacrifice (for love/loyalty) or should I just return to my former life (and possibly feel like a failure)?

With every move, the individual must start again from the bottom.  Like returning to the womb and being born again, to learn life afresh. S/he must find where to shop for food/clothes/etc, learn a new language, how to navigate the streets, understand and be sensitive to cultural differences, seek new job opportunities, and flawlessly integrate into embassy culture through capturing spousal expectations. All this, just to survive. Every new tour for a trailing spouse starts the process over, from the bottom of the pyramid, frustrating the individual and constantly halting the process to achieve full potential.  And, yet, succeeding in these tasks abroad contributes to mastering the level of Esteem Needs and leading them to self-actualization.



To be continued…UP NEXT: The Case Study – An Inside Look to the Life of a Trailing Spouse.

New to the series? Start at the beginning HERE.


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