Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

Dig Down to Identify
Your Primary Needs

Three problem levels

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council


The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/cx/skills/dig.htm

Updated  01-17-2015

      Clicking underlined links here will open a new window. Other links will open  an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If your playback device doesn't support Javascript, the popups may not display. Follow underlined links after finishing this article to avoid getting lost.

      This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 2 - ways to improve your communication effectiveness. Progress with this Lesson depends on concurrent progress on Lesson 1 - free your wise true Self to guide you in calm and stressful times.

      This brief YouTube video offers perspective on what you're about to read. The video mentions eight lessons in this Web site - I've simplified that to seven.

      This article overviews the vital communication skill of "digging down" below surface discomforts to discern underlying primary needs. The article provides...

  • premises about needs and relationship problems,

  • four levels of awareness about any relationship "problem"

  • three examples of digging down;

  • tips to strengthen your dig-down effectiveness, and...

  • a dig-down practice exercise.

      This article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this nonprofit Website, and the premises underlying it 

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 and 2

  • surface and primary needs, and...

  • perspective on personal awareness.

Why This Article Exists

      I've studied and taught communication skills for over 40 years. As a therapist and teacher, I've witnessed hundreds of frustrated persons and couples not knowing how to satisfy their current personal and social needs - i.e. not knowing how to problem-solve effectively.

      This is partly due to people being unaware of...

  • what do I really need now?"; and...

  • what do you really need now?"; and...

  • who is responsible for filling my and your respective need/s?"

Overview of "Dig Down" Skill

      "Digging down" is making time in important situations to answer the three questions above by asking a series of inner and verbal questions. The examples below illustrate these questions. As you ask and process the answers, up to three need-levels may emerge.

Level 1:(surface needs): someone else is responsible for filling my need/s, like a child, my mate, a relative, co-worker, friend, professional, "society," and/or "the system." I need them to (want to) change.

Level 2: other people and I are responsible for filling my need/s. And below this is...  

Level 3: I am responsible for filling my need/s.

  • I may lack key knowledge, and...

  • my true Self may have been disabled by other subselves (a false self), and... 

  • I've been unaware of my false-self wounds and their impacts; so...

  • To solve my problems, I must want to change - i.e. to learn, become aware, and free my Self to retrain and harmonize my other personality subselves.

      Reaching level-3 awareness is hard because of (a) our ruling subselves' great shame, guilts, distrusts, and fears; and (b) ancestral and social unawareness. Yet until we consistently want to reach and maintain level three, our lives are full of recurring "problems" (unmet primary needs) which we often blame other people for and expect them to "fix."

      Wounded people can only achieve level-3 awareness if they accept that they don't know what they need to know, and they want to study these topics with an open mind. Minimally-wounded people may have level-3 awareness most of the time.

      Pause and reflect - do these premises and levels make sense to you? Notice what your personality subselves are saying and feeling now,

      To make these abstract ideas more real, study these...

  Three "Dig-down" Examples

      These examples illustrate the several levels of needs in typical family-relationship situations. Page 2 builds on these illustrations to offer guidelines on how to "dig down" effectively in most situations.

Example 1) Resolving Loyalty Conflicts

      Can you describe a loyalty conflict? They're common in all social groups. In families, they occur when an adult or child feels torn about choosing sides between two or more other family members. Here's a stepfamily example, based on many real-life stories I've head...

      Stepfather Craig finally has had too much. He storms at his wife Meg "I am so sick of your daughter ignoring me! I knock myself out month after month, driving her to school, paying her dentist, providing the roof over her head, and being pleasant."

      I say 'Hi, Jen.' She grunts and walks by with no eye contact. 'How was your day?' More grunts. She treats our dog better than me, and you don't seem to care. You make excuses for her, and say sarcastically 'After all, Craig, you're supposed to be the adult here.'"

      Sound familiar? This is a divisive loyalty conflict, with biomom Meg torn between pleasing her husband, her own integrity, and her beloved daughter Jennifer. Whose needs come first? Many typical families and groups experience conflicts like these. If mates can't admit and resolve them, their relationship erodes.

      What would "digging down" look like here?


Surface problems: (LEVEL 1 - blaming others)

Stepfather Craig

Biomom Meg

"My stepdaughter Jen is rude, selfish, and insensitive. After all I've done for her, that hurts! It's Jen's fault." And...

"Meg sides with her daughter and values Jen's needs more than mine" - and "Meg wimpily denies this when I confront her. I need Meg to agree that this is her fault, and that she usually should support me, not Jen" (surface need).


"Craig is oversensitive and childish at times, and his expectations are unrealistic. I resent his criticizing Jen and implying that I'm a bad Mom." (fuzzy thinking and no unfilled needs are identified)

"I'm confused, guilty, and torn between pleasing Craig and Jen. I love them both. If Craig really loved me, he wouldn't make me choose. I need him to accept that and stop complaining and criticizing Jen and me" (surface need).

Underneath those are LEVEL 2 needs - blaming yourself and others:

"I need (a) to feel genuinely heard, respected, and appreciated as a person, a husband, and a committed stepfather - by Meg first, then Jen.

And I need (b) my wife to validate these needs as legitimate and important. These are my needs, and I don't see how to fill them by myself."

"I'm scared and confused: if I side with Craig, I'll betray Jen again, (after failing at my first marriage), and I'll violate my integrity. If I side with Jen, I'm scared Craig will start detaching from me. I need to find a way to balance these. This is my problem, not Craig's - and I need his genuine empathy, patience understanding, love, and support."

and underneath those are LEVEL 3 (primary personal) needs

"I'm doubting my worth and competence as a man, mate, and a stepdad. I need reassurance from Meg and Jen that I'm OK, and I feel guilty and embarrassed to admit that to myself or them.

Real men aren't weak and needy (and I need to feel masculine, strong, worthy, and safe." And...

    I'm guilty and ashamed of feeling ashamed.  I need relief from this stress -i.e. I need to do something, but I don't know what." I need hope that we can find a lasting solution to this!

(Five concurrent primary needs)

"I desperately need to feel competent as a woman, wife, and mother in order to feel like a worthy person. I'm scared  I'm doing something wrong here, Jen will be hurt even more, and I'll be abandoned to die a lonely, unloved old woman. 

       "I need to feel safe and self-confident, and I don't. I also need to feel that Jen's safe enough now and in the future. I'm scared, guilty, and ashamed to admit this to anyone. I need hope that this pain and confusion will go away soon, and I need a viable plan - but I haven't got one." I need help!

(Six concurrent primary needs)

and under those are three core problems

      1)  Craig is unaware of being ruled by a false self - a Shamed Boy, a Perfectionist, an Anxious Boy, a Guilty Boy, a Magician, (reality distorter), an Inner Critic, (Blamer), an Idealist / Optimist, a Doubter, a Stoic, a Rager, a Thinker / Analyzer, and a tireless Overachiever. 

      These squabbling subselves distrust and ignore Craig's true Self (capital "S"), and are unaware of his and Meg's subselves, wounds, and unawareness.

      Implication - Craig's deepest (level 4) need is to learn and accept that he must want to harmonize his personality subselves under the leadership of his true Self. Like most wounded people, Craig is not aware of (a) this need and its implications, (b) his options for freeing his Self and reducing his wounds, and (c) Meg's similar need.
      2)  Meg is unaware of usually being controlled by a well-intentioned false self: a Shamed Girl, a Catastrophizer, a Terrified Girl, a Good Mom, a stern Inner Judge, a Numb-er, a food Addict, a Magician (reality distorter), a Good Girl, and a diligent People Pleaser. These dynamic subselves distrust or don't know her true Self, and aren't aware of her and Craig's being wounded, ignorant (uninformed), and unaware.

      Meg's core needs are to (a) learn and accept the benefits of empowering her resident Self (capital "S"), and then to (b) meet and patiently harmonize her personality subselves under the guidance of her Self and Higher Power. However, she hasn't hit true bottom, and is not aware of this or of Craig's equivalent needs, so far. And.

      3)  Ignorance. Craig and Meg don't know about,,,
  • these five hazards and the value of working together on these self-improvement lessons to guard themselves, their marriage, and their descendents against the [wounds + unawareness] cycle and its toxic effects. And...

  • the Lesson-2 communication basics and skills - including how to dig down to identify their mixes of primary needs (above). This is typical of most family adults. A major implication is that their odds for effective problem-solving (filling their primary needs) are LOW. Another implication is that unless these mates learn to apply, model, and teach these skills, their vulnerable kids will grow up unaware, wounded, and unskilled too.

      This is not a complete description because it doesn't include the daughter's need-levels. To glimpse a typical full surface stepfamily loyalty conflict, see this.

      Stepdaughter Jen is probably overwhelmed by all of this (rather than "rude"). She has her own complex set of surface and underlying primary problems. Her emerging personality is probably controlled by a false self also, at least around her stepdad Craig. Neither Meg, Craig, nor Jen's biofather Philip are aware of this, nor are any friends or supporters, so far.

      For more perspective and options on avoiding and resolving typical loyalty conflicts, see this and this after finishing this article.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - have you ever seen relationship problems analyzed like this? Does this four-layer needs scheme seem realistic to you? If not, why? What are your inner voices saying now? Who (among your subselves) is "speaking"? Is it your true Self? What might happen if you tried identifying the need-levels in your key relationships now?

      The next two examples illustrate digging down to identify the primary needs causing surface marital conflicts over a troublesome ex mate, and over "money." Though details in these examples may differ from your situation, look for common themes. Note that these examples are simplified to illustrate the process and value of "digging down." In real life, each adult and child in your family has a web of concurrent surface conflicts and underlying primary needs which shape their kaleidoscope of perceptions, feelings, and behaviors.

Example 2) Digging Down with Typical Ex-mate Conflicts

      It's widely estimated that almost half of modern American families divorce legally. Millions more divorce psychologically, and stop short of calling attorneys. Among typical divorcing families and stepfamilies, the variations of "awful ex-mate" conflicts are innumerable. Here's an example of typical surface problems, and the unfilled primary needs causing them...

      Mark divorced Sherrie, and remarried Susan, a divorced custodial mother of pre-teen Marilee. Mark's two pre-teen sons live with their biomom Sherrie, and sleep over at their "other home" every other weekend. The legal phase of Mark and Sherrie's divorce was "messy," bitter, expensive, and "took forever."

      Susan has grown resentful and frustrated over three years of "endless" intrusions and "problems" that Sherrie persists in causing her and Mark. Sue is trying to learn her alien new stepmother role (job) and is finding that raising boys part time is "a lot different" than mothering Marilee. Sue and Mark have never accepted their stepfamily identity, or read about or discussed being a stepfamily.

      For brevity, this example omits a column for Sherrie's surface problems and underlying primary needs. Each person in a typical multi-home divorcing family or stepfamily has their own "column" evolving and interacting with each other. 

Need-level 1: the ex mate is "the problem"

Stepmom Susan

Biofather Mark

     "Sherrie is unreliable, rude, selfish, intrusive,  vindictive, and a mediocre, inconsistent mother. She treats her son's father (Mark) like dirt, and poisons their sons' minds against him and me. Then she denies doing that, and blames us!
causes most of our problems. I'm getting irritated that Mark keeps giving in and letting her dictate our lives."

(No unfilled needs defined.)

     "Sherrie is impossible to reason with. She initiated our divorce, and now claims that I left her.
     She's so moody, erratic, and volatile that I'm scared for (my sons') Kevin's and Brian's mental health. But if I went for custody, she'd fight mean and dirty, and seek endless revenge.
     Sherrie is the biggest problem Sue and I have."

(No unfilled needs defined.)

underneath those are Level 2a problems:
 each mate blames the other and the ex mate

Stepmom Susan

Biofather Mark

     "I'm getting real tired of Mark's not listening to (not agreeing with) me, ma-king excuses for Sherrie, giving in to her, and putting off confronting her - as he's repeatedly said he would.
     I'm starting to lose patience and respect for him. I need him to (want to) confront Sherrie.
     My trust in Mark's promises and resolve is slipping, too. If he's not com-mitted to enforcing our home and marital boundaries what else is he going to cave in on?
     This isn't what I signed on for! Mark and Sherrie are the problem, and I need him to admit that and fix it!"
     "I'm getting pretty fed up with feeling like I'm supposed to solve everything here, and  Sue thinking I'm a wimp for not being Attila the Hun with Sherrie. I can't help it if Sherrie is a mental case! I feel caught between two lionesses.  
      "Sue just doesn't understand how impossible it is to get through to Sherrie - and she won't talk to Sherrie directly. I need Sue to see the good things we have, ease up, and just accept that this is how it is for now.
     It'll get better as the boys get older. I need Sue to be patient and adapt, and Sherrie to get healthy and sane."

underneath those are Level 2b problems
: partners start focusing on their own feelings, doubts, and needs

Stepmom Susan

Biofather Mark

     "I feel guilty and ashamed that I can't be more loving and patient with Mark, and more forgiving of Sherrie. Is there something wrong with me? I don't like who I'm becoming! 
      I feel less and less safe as this mess with Sherrie and the boys keeps grinding on us. (Implied needs: feel less guilt, shame, and self-doubt, and more secure). 
     "I need to feel real hope and confidence, and to have some plan to
make things better for us. I feel I'm being a bad Mom and Stepmom somehow.
     I can't seem to stay clear on what I need - my mind keeps jumping around, and we go nowhere.
     I'm scared I made a wrong choice marrying Mark, Sherrie, and their boys! Maybe I'm the problem! (Implied need - clear, focused thinking).
     "I need to stop the battles inside me and make a clear plan. Part of me wants to get tough and enforce limits with Sherrie, and another part is unwilling to..
      Part of me wants to confront Sherrie to please Sue, and another part says "Uh uh, that's the wrong reason." Part of me needs to run away and part of me is afraid to.
     Man, I hate this! I never expected any of this (conflict and confusion) when I married Sue. Why didn't I see this coming?
     I feel really torn between what's best for the boys, and what's best for Sue and me. Part of me believes this'll all work out, and another part of me fears we'll divorce. I need to sort all these battles out and find a way to resolve them. I wish (need to have) someone understood how I feel. I don't think Sue does..." 

and below those are Level 3 unfilled primary needs.

Stepmom Susan

Biofather Mark

     "I need daily emotional serenity, mental clarity, focus and direction; self respect, as a woman, a wife, and a child caregiver; self confidence, and I need to feel truly heard, empathized with, accepted, and loved by Mark and a caring Higher Power.
    I deeply need to express and manifest the love I feel for Marilee, Mark, and others - and to love
     "I need to feel (a) inner peace and contentment (freedom from guilt, shame, confusion, and anxiety); (b) like a worthy person, man, husband, and father; (c) potent and competent; (d) clear on the purpose and direction of my life, and I need to feel (e) confident that I'm growing wiser, stronger, and clearer.
     I also  need to feel companioned by Sue as I fill these needs. I need to fill the emptiness I've felt my whole life."

... and below those are three root causes
 of Sue and Mark's surface "ex-mate problems":

Stepmom Susan

Biofather Mark

     1) Susan is unaware of being ruled by a false selves: combinations of a Guilty Girl, a People Pleaser, an Abandoned Girl, a Scared Girl, a Shamed Girl; a Magician, (reality distorter), an Inner Critic, a Judge, a Bitch, a Distracter, a Nurturer, and an (exercise) Addict. 
     These well-meaning subselves usually don't trust Sue's true Self, and aren't aware of her, Mark's, and Sherrie's knowledge-deficits and psychological wounds; and...
     2) Mark is also unaware of being usually controlled by a group of subselves: a Shamed Boy, a Guilty Boy, an Orphan (lonely, sad Boy), an Analyzer / Thinker, a Good Dad, an Inner Critic, a Worrier, a Procrastinator, a Loner / Fugitive, a Magician (reality distorter), a Pleaser, and a Good Boy.
     Mark's subselves distrust his true Self's wisdom, and aren't aware of his, Sue's, and Sherrie's being wounded, unaware, and uninformed;  and...
     3)  Mark and Sue are each (a) ignorant of the [wounds + unawareness] cycle and its toxic effects, and of Lessons 1 thru 4; and they are (b) each unaware of their ignorance (lack of knowledge, not stupidity) and their personal and joint options. 

      Neither partner knows what you're reading about here. Ex-wife Sherrie is a  (wounded) childhood-trauma survivor in protective denial. She's controlled by a reactive group of personality subselves, and is unaware of (a) that, (b) Sue's and Mark's similar conditions, and (c) these Lessons and options.

      None of the friends, relatives, and two therapists trying to support this couple and family know any of this. Neither do the kids involved. They don't know what they don't know, so they aren't motivated to learn anything. That limits their tries at problem-solving to blaming, arguing, and making superficial changes.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect. What are you aware of now? Does this second dig-down example remind you of anyone?

      In the example above, note the shift of focus as you dig down. On the surface (Level 1), Mark and Sue see Sherrie's traits and behaviors as "the problem." At this safest level of perception, their behaviors send his ex-wife critical messages which imply: "We're OK (1-up), and you're a bad person, woman, and mother (1-down)." Unawareness of this disrespectful attitude guarantees escalating fights and avoidances, and makes effective problem-solving impossible.

      The couple focuses on trying to change Sherrie. That evokes semi-conscious shame, guilt, hurt, and frustration in her, and her protective false self responds by counter-blaming Sue and Mark, and escalating her "hostile" behaviors. Lose-lose-lose.

      Mark and Sue's two sons are caught up in stressful concurrent loyalty conflicts and relationship tri-angles. Until all three adults acknowledge their identity as a normal nuclear stepfamily and what it means, they're not likely to admit this or seek cooperative solutions.

      Digging down to Level 2 reveals Sue and Mark each thinking "Sherrie and my mate" are causing my problems. Neither co-parent is thinking about needs. Unable to communicate and problem-solve effectively, Mark and Sue each feel increasingly blamed and misunderstood by the other - which promotes rising mutual distrust + disrespect + hurt + frustration + anger. The couple fears facing this scary reality, and doesn't know how to talk together about it safely as teammates vs. opponents.

      Their rift increases over time, as they blame Sherrie and each other and ignore how they're trying to deal with this complex marital stressor. Without awareness and knowledge, they are at risk of unconsciously growing a toxic self-amplifying, (blame > explain / defend > counterblame > counterblame >... ) cycle over time - the roots of psychological or legal re/divorce. 

      Digging further to the third layer of needs discloses some well-camouflaged conflicts within Sue and Mark. These are too scary to admit because of powerful old false-self shame, guilts, and excessive fears - e.g. "I'll never deserve or get the love I need. (Shamed Child) I'll never be able to be a competent parent and mate (Cynic / Doubter and Perfectionist subselves), so I'll ultimately have to live and die alone (Abandoned  Child and Catastrophizer). There is nothing I can do to prevent this - I'm totally helpless (Victim / Martyr subself).

      Sue's version is "I feel powerless, and can only pray for God to help me here." Mark lacks the spiritual faith, awareness, and experience to do this (part of his "emptiness").

      Level-3 awareness is hard because it requires each person (i.e. you) to accept full responsibility for filling their own primary needs, rather than expecting others to want to do so as when we were young. 

      The fourth (deepest) layer of needs is usually the hardest to discover because...

  • each partner lacks the knowledge and vocabulary to identify these needs, and...

  • their friends, society, family professionals, and the media are also ignorant and unaware.

       Because you're reading these articles, you are among the few who are gaining the knowledge to identify and fill these deep primary needs.

      Pause to digest what you just experienced. Reflect on what this dig-down concept could mean in your relationships. What level are you and important adults and kids usually focused on?

3 Examples of "Digging Down", continued... 

Example 3) Digging Down With "Money" Conflicts

      Have you ever disagreed with someone over finances and debts? Re/married for four years, Myra and Manuel can't seem to find a middle ground about a group of "money problems"... 

Need-levels 1 and 2 - each mate feels the problem is their partner and Manny's ex mate Anita. Both partners gripe and fight, but don't problem-solve together

Biofather Manuel ("Manny")

Stepmom Myra

    "Myra insists on spending too much, on things we don't need, and can't afford. She's a real shopaholic.

     Periodically, she starts world war three because I forget to tell her of getting ATM cash. Then she nags me to do something because (my ex wife) Anita hassles me about being a day late with sending child support.

      "And Myra constantly bitches at Anita for spending the child support "on Gucci boots and bags" instead of kid clothes and cereal. Somehow, I'm supposed to fix that.

    And Myra's after me to make a will. We're healthy and under 40, so why pay some lawyer an arm and a leg until we're older?

    "And she also rags me about putting her name on my house and car titles. She doesn't hear my side of it.

    Oh - and we both agree Anita should split the premium for the kids' dental insurance, but my ex just whines and plays 'poor me'..."

(No unmet needs identified yet.)

"I need to find a new way to talk to (problem solve with) Manny. Any time something about money comes up, we both get frustrated and angry. I expect him to not hear me, get defensive or whiney or surly, and to run away. I'm mad before I even open my mouth. I know that's not fair to him, but I can't find a way to not do that! 

     "I realize I'm feeling out of control and unsafe here - I want (need) more control and security! I also realize I'm starting to distrust Manny's judgment - at least about practical things. I hate to say it, but I'm losing respect for him - and at times, for myself (and I need to reverse that)!


underneath those are their personal surface needs (Level 3a)

Biofather Manuel ("Manny")

Stepmom Myra

"I need to feel genuinely heard, respected, and appreciated as a man,  a husband, and a committed father - by Myra first, then Anita. I also need to feel my wife is my partner, not an nag, critic, and opponent!

     "I'd feel a lot better if I felt on top of this mess (fuzzy thinking). At times, I just feel overwhelmed. Was I wrong to pick Myra? 

     "I'm beginning to worry that this (marriage) isn't going to work out either - I'd be a two-time loser! I need to stop badmouthing Myra and my ex after I've had a few drinks. That feels lousy... 


    "Manny doesn't appreciate having fine things in our home. He grew up poor, and has to hoard money. We both work, and there's enough! "

     "It drives me nuts that he hands over his check, wants me to pay the bills, and then won't help me keep the checkbook balanced! 

    "My biggest aggravation is about child support. To keep the peace with his teeny-bopper ex, Manuel agreed to pay way more than the state guidelines. Then he accuses me of spending money we don't have! And I seem to have married an ex wife who is about 15, max. 

     All she wants is us to pay her so she can play, flirt, and party, while her kids go to school in rags. It's a crime, and Manny just shrugs! At times, I think I married a big kid, not a man.

     Despite all his macho talk, he won't draw the line with Anita. So I have to do it, and I'm getting tired! I didn't say "I do" to Anita

    (No unmet needs mutually identified, so no problem-solving can happen yet.)

 ...and under those are their personal primary needs (Level 3b)

     "I need to lower my guilt, and regain my self control, self confidence, and self respect. I also need an effective plan as to how Myra and I are going to stop fighting and start problem-solving together.

    "And I need us both to agree to stop focusing on the past + blaming each other + name-calling + complaining, and focus on solving one problem at a time together!


     "I need to learn how to control my expectations and temper with Manny - at least on money issues. And I need to find a way to feel more secure - safer - in this family. I must admit, I'm scaring myself.

     "I need to find a new way of looking at all these problems so Manny and I can start solving them. And I need to regain my senses of self-confidence and hope that these conflicts are going to dwindle. I have to (need to) stop worrying about this all the time! 

 ..and under these are three core problems promoting
 Myra and Manny's surface "money problems":

Biofather Manuel ("Manny")

Stepmom Myra

     1) Manny is unaware of being ruled by a false self: a sad Orphan Boy, an Anxious Boy, a Guilty Boy, a Philosopher, a Magician (reality distorter), an Inner Critic (Blamer), a Weasel, a Salesman, a Doubter, a Macho Man, a Rager, a Friendly Guy, a Thinker / Analyzer, and an Achiever/Driver.

     These subselves distrust Manuel's true Self, and aren't aware of him, Anita, and Myra being wounded, ignorant, and un-aware; and.... 

     2) Myra isn't aware of being controlled by a false self:  a Shamed Girl, a Scared Girl, a Catastrophizer, a Party Girl, an Inner Critic, a Worrier, a Pessimist, a Jealous One, an Idealist, and/or Perfectionist, a Magician, and a Complainer.

     Some of these subselves don't know of Myra's true Self. Others don't trust her Self as a competent leader. All subselves are unaware of Myra, Anita, and Manny being psychologically wounded, uninformed, and unaware; and...   

3) Manuel and Myra aren't aware of these online Lessons, their ignorance, and their personal and joint healing and communication options. 

      Ex wife Anita has her own complex set of surface and underlying primary needs. Like the other adults, her personality is controlled by a group of subselves. Neither Myra, Manuel, or Anita or their friends, marriage counselor, or relatives are aware of this, or of this article on solving "money" problems.

      Again, pause and note your reactions to these examples of "digging down." How does your Self feel about these ideas, and what they might mean in your life and family?  

The Common Problem-solving Pattern

      There are common themes to these examples which may occur in the way your family members try to resolve personal and mutual "problems" (unfilled needs). The themes include...

      1) Partners aren't aware of...

being often dominated by false selves; and...

the difference between surface needs and primary needs; and...

what they and other family members really need; and...

their communication process, and...

these four unawarenesses; so...

...they focus endlessly on their surface conflicts, just as their childhood caregivers and mentors probably did. Another theme is...

      2) Each partner blames and resents one or more other people for their problems (unmet needs), instead of digging down to learn what they really need and taking responsibility for filling their own needs. And...

      3) They argue, fight, explain, deny, debate, blame, defocus, or withdraw, rather than digging down and doing win-win problem-solving together as mutually-respectful partners. Each adult is unaware of how their well-meaning false selves keep them focused on surface conflicts, instead of on their deepest (level 4) needs to...

  • free their true Selves to lead their other subselves (personalities), 

  • help other adults and kids do the same, without taking responsibility for the other adults;

      and partners need to...

  • become skilled at effective internal and interpersonal problem solving - i.e. at discerning and filling primary needs; 

      Other common dynamics of how typical adults try to problem-solve are...

      4) People's' false selves use other adults and kids as weapons, messengers, pawns, or supporters in the adults' surface battles. One family result: dependent kids are growing up in a low-nurturance environment of caregiver mistrust, disrespect, guilt, frustration, repression, and anger. That promotes kids' developing their own psychological wounds a day at a time. No one is aware this is happening;


      5) Most (all?) family members and supporters are unaware of these communication-process themes and what to do about them. This significantly hampers their ability to problem-solve effectively together, so stress accumulates as their primary needs go unfilled. This is probably a major reason for our U.S. divorce epidemic, "troubled kids," and other major personal and social problems.

      Does this outline make sense to you? If so, how can you and your communication partners avoid trying fruitlessly to solve surface problems, like endlessly clipping off weed-tops vs. pulling out their roots? Enduring this risks (a) reducing your relationship harmony and family nurturance level, and (b) unintentionally wounding any dependent kids.

  "Dig Down" Tips

      Scan all these options and imagine trying them. Then note your reaction. If it's interest, enthusiasm, and commitment, your true Self (capital "S") is probably guiding you. If not, ''someone else'' may be controlling your thoughts and decisions...

      1) Don't try digging down unless your true Self is clearly guiding you. When s/he isn't, practice setting him/her free from other subselves (Lesson 1 here) or lower your expectations.

      2) The biggest blocks to effective thinking and communication are psychological wounds and ignorance of communication basics and skills. Committing to patient work at Lessons 1 and 2 will reduce both blocks, over time. Are you committed to that yet? Are your other family adults?

      Tip 3)  Check your attitudes:

  • If you were taught that being "needy" is weak or childish, change that to "normal and inevitable." Needs are simply emotional, physical, or spiritual discomforts. If other people criticize you for focusing on needs, tell them that all human behavior (including theirs) comes from trying to reduce daily discomforts (needs).

  • If you don't genuinely feel "your and my current (non-emergency) needs are equally important to me," suspect that a false self rules you, and lower your expectations.

  • If you weren't taught your rights as a unique dignified person, evolve a "Bill" like this sample and use it to validate and assert your needs. Other adults and kids have exactly the same rights! 

      4)  Learn to discern and name your emotions, and see them all as useful pointers to your current needs. Distinguish between feeling emotions and expressing them.

      5)  Stay aware that...

  • most needs come in layers - surface > intermediate > primary, and...

  • filling surface needs means they'll often return until you fill the primary needs that cause them.

      Recall - these are tips for "digging down" effectively...

      Tip 6)  Edit these common primary needs to suit your values and experience, and refer to them when you "dig down":

      I need to feel...

● inherently worthy, lovable, and loved

● accepted and respected by key people

● free to make personal life decisions

● free to assert personal opinions and needs and be heard

●  free to develop personal spirituality

●  freedom to learn and grow

●  free to seek, evaluate, and accept help

●  free to learn about and enjoy the world

●  safe from pain, loss, and overwhelm

 competent and confident at life tasks

●  realistic hope for filling key needs

●  aware of current needs and feelings

●  free to seek, receive, and give love

●  free to fill current physical needs, including sensual pleasure and release

●  free to conceive and nurture kids

●  free to balance work, play, and rest

●  free to choose how to use time, talents, and personal energy

●  free to explore and create

Stay aware that in every situation, your and other people's primary needs (discomforts) come from your body and your dominant subselves.

      Tip 7)  Practice identifying and comparing your and other people's communication needs...

  • to feel respected by yourself and your partner (a constant), and one or more of these:

  • to give or get information,

  • to vent (be heard and accepted),

  • to cause action or change, and...

  • to avoid something unpleasant (like boredom or self-awareness).  

       8)  View "problems" and "conflicts" as being unfilled primary needs among your and other people's subselves. Apply this multi-level hierarchy of problem-perceptions to help dig-down with any significant conflict among your subselves and with kids and other adults:

Level 1: surface problems: blame someone else for your current problems, and expect them to fill your needs;

Level 2: blame yourself and other people for causing your problems.

Level 3: take full responsibility for filling your own daily needs. In important situations, dig down below surface needs to discern what you and any partners really need, and help each other brainstorm to fill your respective primary needs well enough - as teammates.

Level 4: Many needs ultimately come from false-self dominance + unawareness of key information. Every able adult (like you) is responsible for freeing their true Self and gaining awareness and knowledge over time.

      Dig-down Tip 9)  In important or confusing situations, try to identify the personality subselves who are creating your needs. Sort and prioritize them, and then identify what your true Self needs.

      10)  Distinguish what you need from what other people say you need.

      Tip 11)  Don't overindulge your (subselves') need to "be nice and kind." Respectfully give other able adults the responsibility for filling their own primary needs without guilt or shame. Beware of compulsively helping or rescuing (enabling) able people in non-emergencies, and accept that sometimes compassionately not helping is the best aid you can provide,

        12)  When you're conflicted, experiment with this technique: once your E(motion) level is "below your ears" and you can listen, ask yourself and/or your conflict partner "What do you need right now?" Trust the first response, and then ask...

  • "OK, why do you need that?" or ask...

  • "And you need that now in order to...?" or

  • "If you don't get that need filled, what might happen?" and...

  • "If that (bad thing) happened, what would that mean to you?" 

      Repeat this sequence nonjudgmentally with each answer that appears. Expect some anxiety and confusion. When people first try digging down, they often reach a point where the answer is "I don't know (what I need or feel)." Practicing breath-awareness, meditation, and listening to your self-talk usually improves that.

      Dig-down Tip 13)  Help each other use some new problem-solving terms and phrases. In addition to learning these metatalk concepts and terms, experiment with phrases like these together...

  • "What do you need from me now?" (then use empathic listening to see if you heard clearly!)

  • "What I need from you now is..."

  • "I'm not clear on what you need from me now."

  • "So you need me to..." (a hearing check)

  • "I'm not sure you understand what I need from you now."

  • "Who do you feel is responsible for filling your need?"

  • "That feels like a surface need to me. Let's do some digging."

  • "I think we're focusing on surface problems and needs. Will you (I need you to) help me dig down to Level 3?" (see tip 8 above);

  • "Whoa! I sense that you and I are on different (problem-perception) levels. Let's check to see if our true Selves are disabled, OK?"

  • "Which of your subselves needs to feel heard (or whatever) now?"

  • "I feel like we're struggling here. Let's see if your communication needs and mine match, OK? What do you need from me as we're talking right now besides respect?

      You and the key people in your life probably aren't used to using phrases and questions like these to help each other fill your relationship needs. What might happen if you experimented with phrases like these with important adults and kids?

      Tip 14)  Use your dig-down results (primary needs) as input to win-win problems solving.

      These dig-down tips complement other tips to improve your communication effectiveness. As you explore and learn together, enjoy modeling your learnings for your kids and teaching them effective communication and problem solving basics - a priceless life-long gift!

Reality Check

      See where you stand with these ideas. A = "I agree;" D = "I disagree," and ? = "I'm not sure," or "It depends on (what?)"

My true Self is answering these questions now. If not, I know which subselves are answering. (A  D  ?)

I can clearly explain and illustrate the concept of surface needs and underlying primary needs to a high school freshman now. (A  D  ?)

I accept that every able adult is responsible for identifying and filling their own primary needs. (A  D  ?)

I accept that adults and kids communicate to fill (satisfy) their primary needs. (A  D  ?)

I can clearly define what effective communication is now. (A  D  ?)

I can explain the concept of "digging down" through three or four levels of perception, to a typical early teen. (A  D  ?). 

I'm motivated to (a) forge my own list of primary human needs now, and to (b) try digging down with various people and situations to see if my list helps to identify primary needs. (A  D  ?)

I'm interested in alerting other adults to effective-communication basics and skills, and in teaching them to the young people in my life. (A  D  ?)

Learning to think and communicate effectively is among my top life priorities now. (A  D  ?)

      Pause and reflect - what did you just learn about yourself?

      "Experience is the best teacher," so put these ideas to work now with this skill practice when you can....

  A Dig-down Practice Exercise

      Get the most from this skill-practice by doing these preparations...

  • Option - Find a partner who shares your interest in improving your communication effectiveness, and is willing to practice some skills with you. Whether you practice alone or with a partner, do the following:

  • Both of you read and discuss this introduction to effective communication, including a summary of seven valuable skills any motivated person can learn..

  • Invest time practicing communication awareness and empathic listening together. You'll use these skills in this practice.

  • Review this article on giving effective feedback to other people, and experiment with doing so during the practice.

  • Test your understanding of the dig-down concept by explaining it to an adult or older child who has never heard of it. Ask the person to say back their understanding of the concept to see if they "got it."

  • Find an undistracted place and time period (say 30" or more), and bring something to take notes with;

  • Each of you decide whether your true Self is guiding your other subselves. If not, guesstimate who is guiding (a false self).

Option - have an inner dialog with any subselves who are disabling your Self (capital "S"), and ask that they relax and allow your Self to do this learning exercise. If either of you is skeptical about personality subselves, read this letter when you're not distracted.

  Two Practice Options

      You can practice digging down...

By yourself - focus on several recent needs you experienced, and dig down below them without a practice-partner; or...

With a partner - Each of you focus on a recent interaction between yourself and another person, and help the other dig down to guesstimate the primary needs of each person involved. 

      Read all the steps below first, and tailor them to fit your levels of knowledge and your needs. The goal of this practice is to gain experience at identifying typical primary needs underneath surface problems. Stay aware that "problems" are unfilled needs, and that identifying your primary needs is the first step in effective problem-solving.

Solo Practice

      You can do this by yourself or with a helper. If you use a helper, his or her role is to ask you the questions below, and possibly affirm your answers with hearing checks - not to comment or suggest solutions. Helpers can also practice awareness, and non-judgmentally notice and report your behavioral responses to the dig-down process.

      Recall a recent common or special personal need ("problem") that had some urgency. Pick one that you're comfortable describing to your practice-partner, if any. Examples: "I needed to call a plumber / go grocery shopping / call (someone)  / make a dental appointment / plan a trip / research something / figure out how to ____. / confront (someone about something) / update my will / etc.

      Say your need or problem out loud, in no more than one sentence.

      Finish this sentence: "I needed to ____ because..." Option - your helper can ask you "Why did you need ___?" Example: "I needed to call my dentist for an appointment."

      Ask this question with the answer you got. "Why did you need to call for an appointment?" ("Because I haven't had a checkup in almost a year.")  Coach  yourself not to compute, assume, edit, or judge the answer - just accept the first response that occurs to you.

      Repeat this question with the answer you got. "Why did you need a dental checkup?" ("Because I was worried I might have cavities or gum disease."

      Repeat this question with the answer you got. "Why are you concerned about cavities and gum disease?" ("Because I don't want to get sick, lose any teeth or have major oral pain, or incur major dental expenses later.")

      Repeat this question with each of these answers. if you need to - e.g. "Why did you want to avoid major dental expenses?" ("Because I don't have dental insurance, or any savings.")

      Repeat this question with the answer you got. "Why do you need dental insurance or financial savings?"  ("Because I need to feel financially secure.")

      Repeat this question with the answer you got. "Why do you need to feel financially secure?" ("Because I'm afraid I won't be able to provide for the kids, and they'll suffer.")

      And so on. When you feel you've dug down far enough, sum up what you discovered: "So my primary need is an effective financial plan to reduce my anxiety about my kids' welfare, Making a dental appointment is a surface need.

      At this point (in or outside the practice), you can shift into problem-solving - e.g. "What's in the way of making an effective financial plan?"

      At any stage of this process, you may get "I don't know why I need that." If so, ask something like "What might happen if you don't get ______?" Another option is to recheck whether your Self (capital "S") is still guiding your other subselves. If not, consider options like these, and retry the question.

      Option - after this practice, compare this dig-down process to what you normally do with filling common needs (resolving problems). Does it make sense to you that without digging down in important (not all) situations, your primary needs will remain unfilled and probably cause more surface problems (discomforts)?

Reciprocal (Two-person) Practice

      The goal here is to objectively identify each person's current primary needs, to facilitate effective problem-solving. Option - affirm that each person's needs, rights, and dignity were of equal importance in this situation. If you didn't feel this, suspect that a false self was controlling your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

      1)  Pick a recent non-emergency interaction you had with an important adult or child that you want to practice digging down with. The situation can be any kind of "problem" by your definition. Choose a moderate problem you're comfortable discussing with your practice-partner, and describe some or all of the interaction to him or her. Your partner will do the same after you finish digging down in your situation.

      2)  Be yourself, and your partner will role-play the other person in your chosen situation. If s/he needs more information about who s/he's role-playing, ask.

      3)  Ask your partner something like "So what do you need from me, right now?" Your partner responds with something appropriate from your problem-description, like "I need you to stop smoking (gambling / using pornography / coming home so late / being rude to my sister /..." etc.

      4) Use the same repetitive questioning as in the solo practice above, optionally affirming what you hear each time with brief hearing checks. Do this until you feel you've uncovered the other person's primary need/s (there can be more than one) that caused the surface need.

      5)  Now have your partner help you dig down below your surface needs in the two-person situation.

      6)  When you feel you've discovered both person's primary needs, then your practice-partner should ask you things like...

  • "Who's needs did you each give priority to in this situation?" The best answer is "We treated each other's needs as equally important."

  • "What communication needs did each of you have in this situation? Did they match or clash?

  • "Where were each of you focused during this situation - i.e. what kind of awareness bubbles did you each create - 1-person, 2-person, or no-person?"

  • "Did you each try to identify what the other person needed in this situation?"

  • "Did each of you get your primary needs met well enough?"

  • "If not, why?" This is not an invitation to blame, but to discover factually what prevented filling your needs.

  • "If you could re-do this situation, what would you change - and why?"

  • "What did you just learn from this practice?"

  • (Ask anything else that seems useful)

      7)  When you feel done digging down with both people in your situation, take a break if needed, and then repeat this process with your practice-partner's two-person situation.

      8)  Discuss how the practice felt to you each, and what you learned. Would you do anything differently the next practice?

+ + +

 Next -

      While your practice is fresh in mind, try digging down for real. Coach yourself to remember that...

  • "needs" are normal, inevitable emotional, physical, and/or spiritual discomforts.

  • whether pleasant or not, all emotions are helpful indicators of current needs. There are no "negative" emotions. There are harmful ways of expressing some emotions.

  • all personal and social "problems" are unfilled surface and/or primary needs.

  • personality subselves have surface and primary needs, just like people.

  • communication - including thinking - occurs automatically to fill current needs (reduce current discomforts).

  • communication is most effective when all participants (a) regard their and others' needs as being equally valid and important, and (b) want to know what they are.

  • anyone (like you) can learn to communicate more effectively, with study, patience, and practice!

  • Try practicing awareness, empathic listening, assertion, metatalk, and problem-solving with several different partners. Option - as you do, keep a notebook or journal to record your learnings and affirm your progress.

 Awarenesses / Notes




      This article proposes that typical adults and older kids have major trouble solving relationship "problems" partly because they (you) focus on surface problems (discomforts) rather than the primary needs that cause the problems.

      The article offers three examples of "digging down" through several levels of relationship needs. This page builds on these examples to outline common themes that are true of most internal and social relationship conflicts. The article closes with 14 dig-down tips, a "reality check," and two options for practicing this powerful communication (and relationship) skill.

      Is there anyone else you want to show and/or discuss the concepts of primary needs and digging down with?

Learn something about yourself with this anonymous 1-question poll.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or someone else?

  This article was very helpful  somewhat helpful  not helpful    

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