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Meeting Our Emotional Needs

Part of my training encompassed what is called The Human Givens approach and a key element of this is understanding a set of emotional needs essential for our physical and emotional wellbeing, identified as important for everyone to live a healthy and happy life.

Nine of these needs were identified as critical for our emotional wellbeing,  although everyone will have different priorities, dependent on the individual’s personality and even at what stage they are at in their lives. Also our ability to have these needs met will fluctuate making it unlikely we will have all of these needs met completely at any one time. However if we go without one or more of these needs for too long it will undoubtedly affect our ability to enjoy life and live at our peak.

Practical Application

By understanding these emotional needs and recognising their importance to you and your life, you can then see how much of each need is being met right now. You can see how your emotional state is affected when a need is not being met and what you might be doing to compensate, quite often without conscious awareness. Finally by recognising which needs are most important you can then focus on expanding your options for having them met in difficult times, providing more choice, allowing you to feel happier and more emotionally balanced.

Below are the list of needs, so when looking through them you can ask yourself how you think each relates to your life currently, perhaps also grading them on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being “yes this need is being met completely” and 1 being “no this need is not being met at all”.

1. The need to give and receive attention

One of the most important this need is the wonderful recognition we get when others take an interest and notice us and likewise the opportunity to offer the same. At a basic level this is reconfirming and reassuring our own existence and so is vital. In fact quite often we can partake in activities and do things in our work and life that appear to be benefiting us for a specific reason but in actual fact it could be simply satisfying our need for attention, so having an awareness of this can sometimes be helpful to understand a deeper motivation; such as the workaholic, committed gym enthusiast or simply a social extrovert. Likewise the unfortunate effect of not having this need met in any positive or healthy way can mean we attach ourselves to behaviors or beliefs about our identity that hold a negative need for attention in place.

2. The need to operate in a safe and secure environment

We need to feel our environment is basically safe, secure and reasonably predictable. Financial security, physical safety and health, and the fulfillment of other basic needs all contribute to the completion of this need. As with all of the following needs we can take it too far and become obsessive about it – you will see this sometimes if the need for creativity is not met or in obsessive compulsive behaviour.

3. The need for purpose and meaning

This typically comes once some or all of the other needs are met. It can also derive from subscribing to a belief system such as a religion, politics or another ideological system. When life feels devoid of meaning or purpose we can quickly lose motivation. Like the need for attention it is important to be aware of how we are having this need met as it is not always apparent. In extreme cases this can be seen in ultra religious cults or sects.

4. A sense of community and making a contribution

This need typically gives us a reason for being part of the wider community, over and above our own personal needs. To feel like we belong to something where we contribute and give ourselves in an unselfish way is beneficial to both ourselves and the people on the receiving end and has been shown to improve our mental health and happiness. This can be an idea/philosophy shared with others, a club, charity, community work or an active religious role.

5. The need for challenge and creativity

Learning something new, exercising our inherent creativity, expanding horizons, improving on existing skills all provide a sensation of progress and achievement. The human brain is just like the body and needs to be worked and developed. Self esteem and confidence is partly a recognition of one’s own attributes and strengths- seeing what is already there- and also developing new ones by being stretched and working outside our comfort zone. Without this, a person can feel incomplete and dissatisfied and even depressed when we stop stretching ourselves and reaching beyond what we thought we were capable of.

6. The need for intimacy

Tying in with the need for attention, it seems that people have a need to share their ideas, hopes and dreams with others close to them. For most of us this requires that we have at least one individual with whom we can converse ‘on the same level’ and have a special relationship with. When misused this can result in addictive substances or behaviours standing in for that special relationship, usually without the individuals’ awareness of the need this is serving.

7. The need to feel a sense of control

The results of total loss of control over your surroundings, relationships or body are not hard to imagine, and have been well documented. From survivors of torture, to someone losing their job, those who are able to maintain a sense of control somewhere in their life fare the best. However uncertainty will always be present in our lives, with in fact the only predictable aspect of life being change itself, so it is sometimes just how we deal with it. Even taking the smallest step to create some control, typically focusing on our emotional reaction if external events can’t be changed, will usually have a snowball effect and enable a sense of greater control to prevail.

8. The need for a sense of status

It’s important to feel important. And we all know some people for whom this need is too important! However, if someone feels recognised for being a grandmother or parent, valued as a partner or in the work environment this usually can be enough. Young people finding their feet can have improved self-esteem if they feel they have attained a position of trust and recognition. Young boys in Birmingham who were at risk of exclusion because of behavioural problems were trained as mentors and paid for helping younger kids who were also at risk of exclusion. Not only did the mentors’ own behaviour improve, they also reported greater levels of happiness, contentment and self-esteem. Much disruptive, problematic behaviour may be a misapplied attempt to meet this need for recognition.

9. The need for emotional connection with others

To feel that you are understood on an emotional level by others, without a necessity for deep intimacy and likewise the feeling of connecting with another by empathising and understanding them ties in with some of the other needs. Typically this is achieved through friendship and family connection.

More information is on the Human Givens website. You might also like another blog post about Understanding and changing beliefs with a powerful exercise.

By Lawrence Michaels

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