Learning how to identify our needs is an essential step in understanding human motivation, thought, and in some cases, any challenging and unhelpful behaviours someone might be displaying.
Uncovering what it is that drives us to behave in specific ways is akin to peeling an onion – the more layers we peel, the more about us that becomes uncovered.
In clinical practice, people who present with self-destructive thoughts and behaviours, such as addictions or other co-occurring mental health disorders, are often those who have not identified their needs or likely have unaddressed needs derived from childhood.
Hierarchy of needs
Every one of us has, what Abraham Maslow called, a hierarchy of needs,
These needs comprise of 5 elements:
- Physiological (breathing, water, sex, and sleep)
- Safety (security of body, employment, of health, of the family)
- Love (sexual intimacy, friendship, belonging and family)
- Belonging (confidence, achievements and being respected by others)
- Self-actualisation (creativity, problem-solving, acceptance of facts, lack of prejudice)
Much of human behaviour is determined by what drives someone towards fulfilling these basic needs and how they manifest.
Maslow’s, five-tier model, initially suggested that the deficiency needs (the first four needs known as D- needs) must be met from the bottom up before a person can move through to the top level called growth needs or being needs (known as B- needs).
For example, once a starving person has satiated their hunger, and their stomach is full, that physiological need no longer drives them, and so the condition progresses onto another stage.
However, it later emerged that the structure of Maslow’s hierarchy wasn’t anywhere near as rigid as was initially thought.
According to Maslow, the order of needs must be flexible and applicable to people’s external circumstances and individual differences.
All this suggests that people are motivated by an individual set of needs that are continually oscillating and that most behaviour is multi-motivated and determined by more than one basic need.
Psychoanalysis theory: What are basic needs?
The psychoanalytic theory offers a beautiful interpretation of the natural forces that drive human behaviour and in understanding what our needs are.
A model which he believes forms through an interaction between three key elements of the mind:
The ID (instinctual drives) known as the pleasure principle is formed first and is motivated by a person’s innate desires, urges and wishes, which manifest from the unconscious part of the brain.
This primitive part of the brain seeks immediate gratification for things such as food, water, sex, warmth, and so forth until the need is satisfied.
The ID cares little for how others feel and is only concerned with satisfying a basic need, urge or desire.
Newborn babies, for example, are driven by their instinctual drives in early life, they cry when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full – until another need comes up such as the need for warmth or attention and the cycle of deficiency needs continues.
Since the ID is the first thing to be developed, it cannot differentiate between right and wrong and therefore, doesn’t have a moral compass.
The Ego represents the reality principle, the part of the brain that is concerned with logic and facts. The Ego is the conscious aspect of the mind, one that keeps the ID in check, ensuring that any urges and wishes are in line with what is socially acceptable.
The superego represents the morality principle. This part of the brain is also conscious and operates as a mediator between the ID and the Ego.
For instance, an unconscious desire manifesting from the ID will need to go through a filtering process between logic (Ego) and morality (superego).
Is a wish socially acceptable? Is it logical? Does it have the capacity to hurt another person? These questions allow a person to control their innate impulses by the development of the Ego and the superego.
If one were to operate solely from the ID, we would likely live in a world full of crime, infidelity, and witness humanity at its worst! Therefore, the development of the Ego and the superego are requisites of human nature.
Met needs vs unmet needs
One of Freud’s teachings was that the successful development of each of the above phases is imperative to how an individual perceives themselves and the world around them.
Imagine if you will, a scenario where somebody did not meet another’s needs during childhood for one reason or another.
Let’s continue on the psychoanalytical spectrum of things for a moment, and assume that the individual’s growth was interrupted during the developmental process.
In this case, likely, the Ego and superego, (the conscious parts of the brain) have not developed correctly, and this may present as a person becoming a criminal, a sex addict or an alcoholic (the list of possibilities are endless!) later on in life.
Since the individual has a weak sense of morality and operates mostly on a paradigm of immediate gratification, it’s hardly surprising that tendencies to addiction and other self-destructive behaviours are causative factors.
Identifying our needs and wants
Needs can be objective (such as the need for food and water), or they can be subjective (such as the need for more confidence or better communication with your partner).
Think of needs as your mirror to happiness – when you uncover a necessity, that need is likely to be what will make you happy.
The six human needs
Anthony Robbins, philanthropist and motivational speaker, has long been fascinated with the concept of the human brain and has cultivated this fascination through Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Gestalt Therapy, and Cognitive Therapy.
Throughout his career, Robbins has developed the concept of the six human needs, something he believes that all humans are primarily motivated by on a subconscious level. The six human needs include:
#1. Certainty: This consists of the need for comfort, consistency, order, control and safety. On the most basic level, we all crave security and certainty in the world, something that gives us a sense of core stability.
Our basic needs might include having a secure job, a stable sense of self, and feeling safe in our relationships with others.
#2. Variety: This is when we perhaps seek new challenges, change, surprise and adventure. They didn’t say that variety is the spice of life for nothing!
According to Robbins, we crave variety as much as we crave certainty, and this movement prevents stagnation and boredom from taking over.
Essentially, we move from one stage to the other to evolve and explore the reasons why we came to this world in the first place.
#3. Significance: In this stage, we move toward feelings of validation, being needed, honoured and wanted by the people in our lives.
Once a person balances the needs of certainty and variety, they are ready to explore life on a deeper and more profound level.
The desire for Significance is the realisation that we are part of a whole system rather than existing as a singular being. When we satisfy our need for Significance, we essentially create a more profound sense of personal identity and the contributions we make to the world.
#4. Love and connection: During this phase is when we crave intimacy, communication, connection and shared passion. Every one of us will need to love and to be loved.
Experiencing authentic love and connection is central to the human spirit and gives us a more profound sense of meaning and purpose. This need also relates to our understanding of belonging in the world.
#5. Growth: Moving into more of a spiritual realm, our needs, once the first four are established, shifts into spiritual, emotional, physical and intellectual development.
Human growth relies on the first four basic needs, which once fulfilled, gives us the platform to grow spiritually and explore spiritual and transcendent meaning.
#6. Contribution: The last of the needs is our contribution – which relates to the need to protect and serve others.
Once the other five needs have passed, we are in a position to evolve into positive fulfilment which allows us to contribute to the world around us, void of self-limitations and allows us to serve others.
All this brings a genuine sense of purpose and value to our worlds and gives our lives a more profound understanding of meaning – this might include charity work in an animal shelter, through to running a marathon.
The first five stages have aligned us with our higher selves, that part of us that aims to protect and care for the people around us. In this final stage, we have achieved a sense of belonging that is void of Ego and self-appeasement.
Get in touch
If you would like help in identifying what your needs are, the team at White River Manor are always happy to help.
We specialise in helping people with addictions, mental health disorders and those wishing to explore any self-limiting patterns that might be preventing them from evolving and becoming the person they were meant to be.
Contact us today to find out what treatment options are available to you.