Lesson 4 of 7 - optimize your relationships

About Needs - the Roots
of Human Behavior

Do you know what you need?

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council


The Web address of this 2-page article is http://sfhelp.org/relate/keys/needs.htm

Updated 02-20-2015

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       This is one of the articles in Lesson 4 - optimize your relationships. This brief YouTube video previews what you'll read below. The video mentions eight self-improvement lessons in this self-improvement Web si0te. I've reduced that to seven.:

      This article focuses on something that every human and animal is faced with every moment - discerning and satisfying current needs (discomforts). The article covers...

  • basic premises about needs

  • a summary of common primary needs

  • premises about who's responsible for filling current needs

  • an exercise in identifying your surface and primary needs,

  • a summary of Dr. Abraham Maslow's "hierarchy of human needs" (page 2); and...

  • four implications of this hierarchy

      The article assumes you're familiar with...


      See how these ideas compare with your beliefs...

  • Human needs are physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual discomforts. All animals - including humans - are needy.

  • all human behavior - including thinking and communicating - aims to reduce current needs.

  • satisfying (filling) current needs causes satisfaction. Being unable to identify or fill current needs causes frustration. Unaware people confuse frustration with anger because they feel the same.

  • seeing no way to fill major long-term needs causes hopelessness and despair. Filling enough current needs causes (temporary) happiness, peace, and occasionally joy.

  • Typical needs are usually higher in priority than wants.

  • your needs range from primary to intermediate to surface, and from immediate to long-term. Most people are unaware of this, and focus on filling surface or intermediate needs rather than the primary needs that cause them.

      This usually causes temporary satisfaction at best, because symptoms of the primary needs ("problems" or "bad habits") keep reappearing. This can promote frustration, self doubt, blame, conflict, discouragement, and resignation.

  • These corrode self-confidence and relationships, lower the nurturance level of families and other groups, and promote divorce and illness.

Implication: intentionally trying to identify and satisfy your and others' primary needs promotes serenity, security, peace, and satisfactions. Do you agree?  Awareness and "dig-down" skills (Lesson 2) can help you identify primary needs like these...

  Common Primary Needs

      Tailor this list to fit your beliefs and life experience. How would you prioritize these needs in your life now? How would your partner, your parents, and each dependent?  Note that people usually have groups of these needs simultaneously, which can make naming each of them a challenge

      Option - try saying each one of these out loud: "I need (to)...

Stay personally aware and self-accepting ("I'm OK!")

Find and keep genuine self-respect and self-love Value and maintain my wholistic health
Give and receive enough nurturing (vs. toxic) love Develop and use my personal talents, and enjoy the results without guilt Get enough comfort (support) during conflict, change, and loss
Find and keep enough current personal serenity Find and keep enough personal security (emotional comfort) Stay motivated to grow, despite obstacles and weariness
Clarify my personal identity: Who am I? Maintain current physical comfort Find and commune with my Higher Power
Make enough sense out of life experiences - reduce confusion Get clear feedback ("mirroring") from other people Opportunities and freedoms to nurture selected other people
Clarify and pursue the main meaning (purpose, goal, mission) of my life Identify, overcome and/or adapt to my  fears, confusions, and self-doubts Get enough healthy stimulation, physical touching, and comforting
Freedoms to learn about the world and to use my knowledge Accept and adapt to my limitations without shame or guilt Find social acceptance and appreciation, and avoid isolating and loneliness
Forgive myself and people who disappoint, hurt, or betray me Mourn my losses (broken emotional bonds) well Balance daily and long-term work, play, and rest
Identify, assert, and enforce my personal boundaries Choose and act on my own short and long-term priorities Evolve a set of personal rights, and assert them without undue anxiety or guilt
Get enough nurturing (vs. toxic) humor, play, and laughter Keep enough hope for future satisfactions and relief from discomfort Enjoy myself and my life!

      Pause, breathe, and notice where your thots go... Have you ever seen a summary of primary needs like this before? Would you add anything to this summary? Do you agree that every child and adult has a dynamic mix of these needs, which makes us all true equals, beneath our surface differences?

      Does it seem credible that most people couldn't describe all these needs? One implication is that few typical parents are teaching their kids to recognize their primary needs. Anyone (e.g. you) can choose to develop their awareness of their current primary needs and how they affect their life, relationships, and wholistic health.

      Note that in any situation each person will have a different set of these needs, and will rank them differently. Do you agree?

      One definition of "social harmony" is when people temporarily (a) have similar-enough primary needs and values, and (b) rank them equally.

      Problems are clashes between subselves' or people's primary needs, perceptions, and values. Awareness of this is the first step toward resolving them.

  Learn something about yourself with this anonymous 1-question poll

Who's Responsible for Filling Your Needs?

      Premise: effective conflict resolution depends on each person or group wanting to accept responsibility for identifying and filling their own primary needs. Maturing is (partly) wanting to shift from childhood dependence on others for need-fulfillment to depending on yourself. Does that describe you recently?

       People are  beginning to earn about the relationship dynamic called enabling. If I take on too much responsibility for solving your problems (unfilled needs), I inhibit you from learning how to master them. Thus enabling is the opposite of empowering, which is what high-nurturance co-parents want to do for their kids and each other.

      Are you enabling anyone mow? Is anyone enabling you?

      Implication: if you're able-bodied and mentally healthy and you expect your mate, parents, children, or others to fill your primary needs (above), you're setting everyone up for disappointment, frustration, hurt, anger, and resentment.  Excessive focus on another person's behavior and needs can be a sign of codependence - relationship addiction. That's a widespread symptom of inherited psychological wounds and unawareness.

      Another implication - adults are responsible for helping minor kids learn gradually to want to take full responsibility for...

  • identifying and filling their own primary needs, and for...

  • asking for help in filling them when they need it, without excessive guilt, shame, or anxiety.

Are you doing that for any young people in your life? Did your caregivers do that for you? Has anyone?

      Premise: all normal personalities (like yours) are composed of a group of talented, dynamic subselves, like players on an athletic team or orchestra. The subselves who control persons (like you) instinctively prioritize their and each other's needs. This inevitably creates fluctuating internal and social conflicts: need-clashes.

      A vital social skill is learning how to dig down below your surface discomforts to discern your current primary needs, and then accept responsibility for filling them. Do you do this with your significant problems? Are you teaching your kids to do so?

      For perspective, read these examples of digging down to discover current primary needs, and come back here. Then think of a current problem (discomfort) you have with an adult or child, and dig down to see what each of you really needs. Try it!

      To further appreciate the dynamic array of simultaneous needs we ceaselessly try to satisfy, review these after you finish this article...

  • communication needs,

  • courtship and marital needs,

  • spiritual needs, and...

  • kids' developmental and family-adjustment needs.

      Bottom line - Ultimately, each able adult is responsible for (a) being aware of which subselves govern them, and (b) identifying and filling their bodily and subselves' needs. Helping each other fill current needs is satisfying if you rank your own (non-emergency) needs as equally important..

      Pause and reflect - what are you thinking and feeling now?


      You're more likely to appreciate these ideas if you try them. Here's an interesting way to do that:

  • Recall - needs are emotional, spiritual, and sensory discomforts

  • Adopt the open mind of a student, and choose ~30" of undistracted time.

  • Check to see if your true Self is guiding your personality (other subselves). If not, try to identify which other subselves are, and why they distrust your Self.

  • Breathe well, let go of other concerns for now, and draw a vertical line dividing a sheet of paper into two columns.

  • Reflect on your current life and relationships, and finish this sentence out loud: "Right now, I need ____." Don't edit or compute. Write the first need that comes to mind on the left column of your paper..

  • Focus on the present moment, and ask the question again. Write down the next need that occurs to you. Repeat this until you "run dry," Breathe, and notice how you think and feel identifying your needs. Do you allow yourself to be needy? If not, where did you get that toxic attitude?

  • Rank each of your current needs from one (very important) to three (less important).

  • Focus on one need at a time, and dig down to uncover the primary need/s "underneath" each one. There are probably several. Write them down in the right column of your paper without editing.

  • Do this for several or all of your needs, noticing your thoughts and feelings as you do. Take your time!

  • When you feel finished, try saying (the first (surface) need out loud. Then say something like "No, what I really need is (the primary need/s)"

  • Recall that problem-solving and conflict resolution are about identifying and filling your and a partner's current primary needs "well enough."

  • Take each primary need you've identified and ask yourself "What do I need - specifically - to reduce this discomfort well enough?"

  • Notice any patterns that may emerge in your answers -  e.g. "I need more self confidence or respect," or "I need to feel more comfortable asserting my needs to (who?)." If a primary need is something tangible (e.g. "I need a good DVD player"), dig further. They're usually surface needs.

  • Option - do this exercise with a partner, and discuss the process and your learnings together.

  • Review the summary of common primary needs above, and see if you need to amend any of yours in the right column of your paper.

  • Option - do this exercise several times in the next week when you're not distracted, and see what you learn.

  • Consider making this a family exercise - e.g. at meal time or afterward.

  • Notice how seldom adults and kids are aware of (a) surface and primary needs, and (b) their current primary needs in important relationships and situations.

  • Option - journal about your experience and learnings from this exercise, and then read your notes several weeks from now.

      Notice what you're thinking and feeling about identifying surface and primary needs. Then pause, breathe, stretch, and continue with page 2