We often think of our needs as being solely the basic survival needs of air, water, food, clothing and shelter. However, there are a series of needs which emerge when these basic physical needs are met. These higher needs are psychological and if not satisfied can result in depression, anger, anxieties, confusion, isolation and even violence. Before these psychological needs can be satisfied, they must be known. If we know we need food, we can get the food. But, if we don’t know what we need to eliminate the hunger, or the depression, we cannot satisfy that need. So, what are our psychological needs?
The most basic of psychological needs, and it overlaps with physical needs, is the need for Security. We seek not only physical security through our shelters but also through the establishment and enforcement of boundaries. The concept of boundaries also applies to us psychologically as we have an individual self which requires security. Our security and safety needs are satisfied through a variety of protective measures and much of our behavior is geared towards providing us with some semblance of psychological protection. For example, the child who consistently refuses to go to school may be, in their mind, trying to protect themselves from something. That something may be to avoid being bullied at school or perhaps this child’s single mother is ailing and the child wants to stay home to take care of her as she is the main source of protection and by assuring her well being, the child assures their own protection. As adults we also engage in behaviors which serve as psychologically protective mechanisms and there is certainly nothing wrong with this…unless the behavior is actually causing the reverse effect, which can often occur when childhood protective behaviors continue on into adulthood.
When our psychological needs for security are relatively satisfied, yet another set of psychological needs become dominant. These needs are about Connection. We strive to be connected to others, related to others…to have friends, to give and receive affection and caring. We need to belong, to love and to be loved. To meet these needs, communication, negotiation, dialogue, discussion and conflict resolution skills are very important. Just as a child needs to activate motor skills to walk to the kitchen to get some food when hungry, so too must we engage communication skills to meet our needs for connection with others.
When our needs for connection are satisfied, even in part, the needs for Value arise. Some of our greatest joy comes from being valued by others for who we are and what we do. Yet, even more important than being valued by others is our own sense of our own value…self value, self esteem. To the degree we estimate our self as valuable; to that extent we are healthy and productive. The golden rule, “do unto others as they do unto you” may in fact not be an injunction but rather a statement of fact. For, indeed, we do treat others as we treat ourselves and the more we value ourselves the more we value others and the world around us. It is not difficult to see how a person who met their needs up to this point and is not aware of this need for Value may begin to find a general malaise in their life, a gnawing hunger or thirst that nothing seems to quench. But, once they understand that this need to value…to value the self, as it is, to value others as they are, to value the world, and, in turn, to be valued, has been neglected, steps can be taken to address that lack.
The need to actualize one’s inherent potential arises when the previous needs are largely met. However, these needs are somewhat systemic and do not simply arise one after the other in a linear fashion. They overlap and can ebb and flow. A middle aged business person in the prime of their life, with a comfortable home, numerous friends, meaningful and productive work can become only focused on the basic needs of water, food and clothing in the aftermath of a natural disaster. The higher needs of connection and value vanish as the needs for security and survival take precedence. However, when this business person, or anyone who has found their needs for connection and value satisfied, begins to feel the stirrings of a deeper and more profound need, it is the need to actualize the potentialities inherent within the individual mind. Often referred to as Self Actualization, this need is rarely recognized let alone activated as the previously mentioned needs are almost universally not satisfied to the level required to allow the emergence of the need for Self Actualization to any significant degree. In fact, it is estimated that most people continue to seek satisfaction of their connection needs throughout their adult life. Perhaps because our communication skills are so poor, our ability to connect with others leaves much to be desired. Fighting, abuse and violence of all sorts may be the last attempt of an unskilled mind in trying to make connections with others.