Understand Your Needs and Why You Need to Meet Them

“If we can learn how to empathically connect with the need of ours that wasn’t met, and then look at the part of our self that was trying to meet the need, we’re better prepared to see what’s alive in ourselves and others— and to take the steps” (Marshall Rosenberg, Global Peacemaker, 2005).

Ensuring that our needs are met is a great problem solving strategy according to Marshall Rosenberg, quoted above. Meeting needs may seem like a natural, fundamental practice humans (or all beings, really) do for both quality of life and survival. Except, how often do we put off what we need to prioritize something else? Or ignore a need because it’s either too much effort or takes up too much time?

When I think of needs, I think of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy that presents human motivation. Starting at the bottom, if we meet certain needs, we are better equipped to move up a level and address the next set. Sometimes for different people in different circumstances, the needs overlap or the importance shifts. For example, someone may not be able to meet their need for security if they don’t first seek a relationship. I like to imagine this pyramid because it covers the basics that come to mind when thinking of general needs. 

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

As Rosenberg says, connecting to our own needs builds compassion that helps us to recognize needs in other people. Although needs aren’t always obvious. When a baby cries we know they need to be held, fed or changed. When my puppy stares at me whining, he has to go outside. For adults, getting in touch with needs is more complex. A friend in bed all day might need a chat, or rest, or numerous others things. It takes some figuring out.

Clem, meeting his nap needs

How do we know what we need? Physiologically, our bodies tend to be clear about what is needed. A grumbling stomach for food, headaches when dehydrated, slowness/fogginess when tired are pretty clear. It gets more complicated when the body reacts to things like upset stomach from dairy or strained eyes from too much screen time. This highlights the presence of unique needs we each have. Individual needs also increase in complexity with emotional wellbeing.

Emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing tend to be more difficult to maintain and go unacknowledged because it’s hard to know for sure what’s happening! Often there has to be an emotional breaking point for a need to be noticed. Otherwise, physical needs are prioritized. Mental health days are sick days too!

There are basic ways to get ahead of undesirable emotional reactions. For example, eating small meals periodically could prevent the emotional distress of being hungry (hangry—I hate that word). I have to set healthy boundaries before entering most rooms. This keeps me from feeling drained later and allows me to be more present. There are all sorts of distress signals or behaviors we take on, often unconsciously, as responses to a neglected need. Many are harmless!

My favorite example of a harmless neglected need is the recent nostalgia aesthetic in pop culture. The “throwback” music playlists, reunions or reboots for shows that stopped airing years ago, and reminiscence of toys/gadgets has made people claim their place in a generation and romanticize the past through its revival. Could this be a collective, underlying need for familiarity, comfort, and belonging? What other needs might be disguised?

Another prominent disguised need is social media behavior. Craves for acknowledgement, validation, attention, or plain interaction can be apparent in content. Increased generosity or service may be a demonstration of needing to be needed, having a purpose, or needs for praise. Maybe in relationships you pick fights because you need some action. Maybe you have sex frequently because you need more pleasure in your life, an escape, a confidence boost, a form of expression, releasing aggression, physical intimacy to replace emotional intimacy, whatever!

Feelings of restlessness and disconnection could be an unrecognized need to be in nature. Those who experience low moods in the wintertime (northern hemisphere) need sunlight. Immersing yourself in tasks could be a need for purpose, accomplishment, or satisfaction. The list is endless with infinite interpretations. A little self-awareness surfaces a solution.

My father resting proudly in his lush garden

When we uncover the roots of our behaviors, we can more clearly understand our emotions and our needs. Of course, when we are aware of what we need, it becomes easier for us to meet those needs and communicate them. Sometimes we are aware of our needs but choose not to prioritize them. If you have three kids, how can you balance a need for time alone without sacrificing something else? If you work 60 hours a week, how can you meet your need for rest or fun? Fun is a need? Yes! How can you lead a fulfilling life without experiencing joy? Anyway, I can’t tell what you should consider important, but there’s a good chance that suppressed needs will eventually leak into or impact other aspects of your life. 

A fountain offering wine or water along the way of El Camino de Santiago in Spain

This recent pandemic has highlighted many people’s individual needs. It also has sparked debate for what is most necessary for the collective. We’re faced with pressing needs for businesses, socialization, resources, a sense of freedom, order, leadership, health and life. Not to mention consideration, listening, tolerance, and respect! No wonder I’ve turned to reruns of Dawson’s Creek! So I repeat, unmet needs are detrimental to us on all levels. 

Marrakech, Morocco Marketplace

We can change our behaviors, our interactions, and our entire health paradigm by recognizing what we need. 

Go connect with and communicate your needs! If you like this page, please share it.


Image: Mcleod, S. (2020) Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. https://www.simplypsychology.orgmaslow.html, Maslow (1943, 1954, 1962)

Rosenberg, M. (2005). Speak Peace in a World of Conflict: What you say next will change the world. Encinitas, California: Puddle Dancer Press. https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/sofia/detail.action?docID=296283.

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