This article is the second in a series of articles discussing the difficulties faced by service members transitioning out of the military. The first, titled “Abandoning the tribe: The psychology behind why veterans struggle to transition to civilian life,” covered some of the psychological theories at play as a military member becomes indoctrinated into their unit and can eventually become so bonded with their fellow soldiers that they would literally die for them, and so integrated into their role that their entire self-worth becomes contingent on their job performance. This “identity fusion” and “contingent self-worth” can serve the soldier well while they remain within the military environment and continue to perform well in their role; however, this can be the basis for significant psychological struggle upon discharge from the military.

This article will elaborate on the first, using another few well-established theories to analyze the psychological processes that occur upon discharge from the military and lead to the struggles faced by many veterans.

Many will be aware of Maslow’s triangle, or, more technically termed, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. There are a range of other psychological theories that consider what constitutes a fulfilled life, but I feel that Maslow’s fits best in describing the life changes that occur when an individual discharges from the military, and in doing so offers a basis for understanding what is required to transition successfully into civilian life.

As the name suggests, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is exactly that, a hierarchical list of human needs that, if all are met, can ultimately result in what Maslow termed self-actualization (Maslow, 1943). Maslow’s hierarchy is often represented diagrammatically as a pyramid, with the base block being the basic physiological needs of man, such as air, water, food, shelter, clothing, sleep etc. Once those basic needs are met, the considerations that form the next block of the pyramid are the safety needs, including personal safety and security, health, employment, and other basic resources.