Why should you care about your emotional needs? Well, getting these consistently met and knowing exactly what they are for you is the only way to become a happy, healthy, stress-free adult.
It’s how you bring in everything you want in to your life, from money, to sex, good relationships, connection, great jobs, and more.
This article will show you what emotional needs are, how to determine what they are (for YOU specifically), and then how to actually go out into the world to get them met.
Why Am I So Unhappy?
We live in a time of unbounded, unprecedented growth and potential. People have more money, education, and health…Yet our symptom rates of anxiety, depression, and mental illness have steadily been rising for almost the past century. People feel more stressed, unhappy, unsatisfied, isolated, and generally pissed off than ever before.
Does that sound familiar?
While there are many reasons for these issues, I believe that one of them is that adults are not being taught what emotional needs are. Many people aren’t actually aware of the basic needs of humans or how to achieve their goals.
Or, they are being taught that everyone have the exact same needs down to the details.
So when you go out into the world trying to live your life, you aren’t actually sure of what you need. You don’t have a concrete list of emotional needs to go out and get. You’re like, “OK I don’t want to feel alone, and I kind of need some money…I guess I’ll get a girlfriend/boyfriend and a job? I dunno…”
How do break these needs down?
3 Ways to View your Emotional Needs
So, what are emotional needs? To explain this, we can look at them from different perspectives. There are 3 main ways to break them down:
- Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
- General categories of needs
- Parts / personae based needs
Let’s look at each of them in turn.
1. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
This is probably the one most people are familiar with, thinking about some sort of pyramid picture:
At the bottom of the pyramid are the most essential emotional needs, without which you cannot survive. These are things like having a place to sleep, food to eat, and so on.
As you move up the pyramid, you get to higher order needs where you can survive without them, but you won’t be happy. For example, if you have a home and food, you’ll survive. But without friends, you’ll be extremely lonely and become depressed very fast.
You can’t really work on the highest rung well, if you’re struggling with the bottom ones. So this gives you a rough order on which to work on your needs.
2. General Categories of Needs
With general categories, you break down your needs into a few overarching, important sections.
While you might a few that are unique to you, almost every human being has the following needs that they need fulfilled:
- Health and wellness
- Relationships / social support
- Fun and play
- Safety and security
- Feeling needed, wanted, and of value
- Giving to others / helping
You can think of this as an expanded list of Maslow’s needs.
We can also view these more in terms of how they relate to your emotions. Steve Hein broke adult emotional needs down into a top 10 list. A human needs to feel:
- Cared about
- Free, In control
You can apply this list when looking specifically at your job, relationships, or anything else. You can also apply it to your entire life.
3. Parts and Personae Based Needs
This is one of my favorite exercises introduced to me by my hypnotherapist, Nicholas Harris.
Many people think they are crazy for hearing many different voices inside their heads.
One voice say we should go out in the sun and play, while the other wants to sit and work, another to go to sleep, etc.
If we all went to psychiatrists, we’d be diagnosed as schizophrenics.
Who are these many voices?
They are, in fact, the different parts living inside of you that help you to create your ideal life.
Every person has different parts living inside them, who push that person to do one thing or another. These specific parts are different and specific to each individual person.
As well, based on how much you’ve valued or taken the voices seriously, one may be much BIGGER or STRONGER than all the rest.
Here are some examples of these different parts and voices:
- The child
- The adult
- The professional/worker
- The entrepreneur
- The artist
- The lover / romantic
- The horny person
- The devil / sinner
- The friend
- The good son / daughter
- The visionary
- The athlete
- The spiritual guide
The list could go on forever because depending on who you are, what you’ve been through, or what you are aiming towards, you’ll have different and potentially unique parts inside of you.
Each of these parts needs specific things, and these things will be communicated through your emotions.
There may be parts that are actually hurting you and you DON’T want or need to make less strong. There may even be imprints of other authority figures as shadow parts inside of you by osmosis (usually your Mom or Dad).
This is where therapy can help with identifying all of your parts.
7 Blocks to Getting Your Emotional Needs Met
Now it would be really easy to be an awesome human being if we could just simply snap our fingers and meet all of these emotional needs, right?
If you had unlimited time and energy, and no responsibilities, just do what you need to do, and it’s done.
The problem is that there are A LOT of things that seem to get in the way. It’s never as easy as it should be.
There are 7 different blocks to getting your emotional needs met:
1. Other people and their needs
As sad as it is, we are all inherently selfish. Everything we do is guided because it serves us in some way. Even for altruistic acts like volunteering and helping other people, we do these things because they feel good and are engrained in us…unless we’re psychos.
Because of this, people’s needs often conflict and combat. Someone may need a lot more re-assurance which conflicts with another person’s fear of people getting too close and hence they run away as avoiders. Another might want to talk a lot whereas the other person needs more space with their thoughts.
People with stronger “frames” or assertiveness, may walk all over someone with poor boundaries and so their needs get pushed down.
Either way, other people and their needs can greatly affect your own ability to get your needs met.
2. Prior obligations to activities and your other relationships
Your prior commitments to other people or activities can hinder your own needs.
For example: You might not feel like going to work because you’re hung over, but you still do it because of your commitment to your boss and company in exchange for having a salary and being able to enjoy a nice life.
Now hopefully you commit to people and things you truly love. Still, there are just going to be days when you don’t want to do shit. But because of your commitments, you might need to push your needs down slightly and it might lead to some questions about intimacy.
This is when good communication and compromise is essential, so that everyone is happy. No relationship should be one-sided.
On the other hand, you might find that if a relationship or activity constantly drains you and IS one-sided, it’s time to have a frank talk or leave.
3. Your upbringing, societal norms and pressures
Based on the things we see around us, or from what others do, we may intuit and assume ways of dealing with things that actually aren’t healthy.
If Dad and Mom solve their problems by keeping their emotions inside and never expressing them until they blow up and we see this repeatedly as kids, it’s going to be imprinted on us.
Moreover, if we repeatedly see things shown to us, advertised, or promised, we may assume that, “This is how the world works”. We are always meant to feel X, we must need the latest gadget to feel happy, we need to constantly chase the opposite sex for validation, and so on.
We might also think that because “Everyone does it, it must be normal.”
But the problem is that this line of thinking assumes that every person has the exact same needs, which is false. Yes, we all have the same GENERAL needs (safety, health, etc.), but the degree to which we need them, is different for each person.
For example, some people need LOTS more social time to be happy, others need less. Some enjoy and need to work 80 hour work weeks to feel fulfilled, others are OK with 20, and so on.
We can really see this in Johann Hari’s example in his book Lost Connections: 1950s housewives went to their Doctors wondering what was wrong with them: They had good kids, handsome husbands, a house, a car…but they were still extremely unhappy. The Doctors would prescribe Valium to make them feel better, but it didn’t solve the underlying problem.
That’s because for these wives, they thought that because society had told them that having the “perfect life” should make them happy.
But it didn’t.
Maybe they needed more autonomy, connection, play, and so on.
Looking around to see what others are doing and copying them is a horrible way to think about what needs must be met in your own life.
4. Mental blocks and unconscious programming
Whether you realize it or not, you have unconscious programs running that are dictating a lot of what you do.
These are habits you’ve created from childhood up to now, to simplify the sheer amount of information coming at you every day. They help you make judgements and decisions.
Unfortunately a lot of times, these decisions are actually pretty poor and don’t serve you.
For one person, an argument with another defaults to the “opponent” being wrong. You were raised with such high self-esteem and your Mom and Dad never told you that you were wrong, so you believe you are ALWAYS right.
Another person could have been kicked down their entire life. They believe that no matter what they do, even if it’s actually the right thing, that they are in fact bad and wrong.
These unconscious programs will run and potentially ruin our lives unless questioned. What’s worse is that they usually short circuit a lot of our emotional needs and place unnecessary stumbling blocks in our way, adding steps to overcome intimacy issues. Meditation retreats can be great tools to help uncover these. Unfortunately, we make our lives far more complicated than they have to be.
I just read this productivity article which compared succeeding on your goals as an adult to being a Jedi:
The Jedi is trying to save his princess and has to constantly wave his lightsaber to defend against stormtroopers and incoming energy beams.
The Jedi is you. The stormtroopers are other people and their needs, and the incoming energy beams are random distractions.
Random distractions could be anything from a telephone call, your phone notifications, Facebook, and so on.
In the article, the author notes how Jedis sometimes have to make tough choices for the greater good. Even if they are hated momentarily, in the end, people love them for being heroes.
You’ll need to make some tough calls to get your emotional needs met in addition to setting up good productivity systems. You should start practicing the word NO because to be a happy, healthy, adult, you’ll need to say that… A LOT.
NO, I don’t need to have my phone on 24/7 – so you put it on airplane mode.
NO, I will not work on weekends — so you find a job that doesn’t expect you too.
NO, I won’t be around people who are always negative — so you prune and cut out your friends who are constantly pessimistic.
Cutting out distractions is the key to success and getting your emotional needs met.
6. Mis-alignment or needs that contradict each other
Sometimes you’ll have needs that oppose, contradict, or argue with each other.
You might want to explore many different sexual partners, but at the same time want to get married.
You love eating pizza, but you want to stay healthy and know you’ll feel tired and lazy after you eat it. You won’t be able to do anything.
The key is balance and knowing your priorities and values.
If I know that 5 days of working hard is enough for me, I can balance my inner productivity guru and career-oriented self with the child and lazy person who don’t want to do anything for 2 days out of the week (balance).
If I know that being well rested makes all of my life better, then I’ll prioritize my health over getting some more things done. Sure, I might have missed an extra errand or two, but I can get them done in a heart beat with good sleep (priorities and values).
I can make an agreement with myself that early on in my life, I’ll explore many different people so that when I’m older, I don’t feel like I missed out on sexual opportunities. I’ll know that this will make me overall happier and confident in my selection of my eventual life partner. I’ll have seen a lot of what’s out there, so I’ll know more of what I need (balance)!
Being able to balance your different needs or parts, is another key to becoming a happy adult, and being satisfied with your life.
7. Missing resources, skills, or education
The final block to getting your needs met is simple: For one reason or another, you don’t know how.
You’re missing the guidance, resources, or other things to get it done.
You have a health need to become bigger in the gym and need some help from a personal trainer. BUT, you’re missing the money to pay for one.
You have a career need to move to a more advanced position in your company. BUT, you’re missing the education and skills to do so.
You have a relationship-based and social-based need to talk to and connect with people. BUT, you have mindsets telling you people are scary, you don’t know how to approach them, and you’ve never really had good friends before.
Now your goal is to find out the missing ingredient to meet each of the needs above, and work at what’s in your control to get them met!
To get the personal trainer, you need to make more money somehow.
To get the better job, you need to go back to school, or take a course online (that’s maybe paid for by the company).
To find some friends, you need to start going to social events, and possibly work with a coach or therapist specializing in social anxiety to help you get out there. You need to find ways to overcome your anxiety and depression.
So the process of levelling up as a human is basically:
Determine the need -> Find the block/missing ingredient -> Discover the resolution -> Fulfill the need -> Move on to the next emotional needs!
So now that we have different ways to look at your needs and we also know what might come up stopping you from getting them met, how can you actually go about finding what your needs are? How do you get that emotional security?
How to Actually Find Out What Your Needs Are
First, realize that all of your emotions are signals for your needs. If you feel sad, there’s usually a reason why.
It’s the same if you feel angry, alone, and so on.
Simply getting out a piece of paper or your journal and letting yourself write may help you get to the bottom of things.
You might even talk directly to the feeling or part, saying something like, “Anger, I see you. What is it that you need right now?”
Another more structured way to do this is using a table: In one column, list either your different parts or different categories of needs. Beside each of these, you can then list what each one is asking for.
You can then follow that with an “Action” column indicating what you need to do, or whom you need to go to.
|Part / Persona
|– I haven’t talked to any of my friends in 2 days! I need to call one or meet them in person
|– Call Beth
|– I don’t feel safe in this area/apartment. I need to start looking for a new apartment
|– Find a realtor
– Search Kijiji every day
|Athlete and health
|– I’m not making any progress in the gym. I need to change my workout routine or ask someone for help
|– Contact gym front desk for personal trainers
– Sign up for first personal training session
Conclusion: How to Become Awesome
If life were super simple and easy, your needs could all be accomplished right away.
But life isn’t simple. Life is kind of messy. It takes patience and persistence.
Getting your needs met is a constant, long-term process that requires patience and often some uncomfortable changes…especially if many of your needs have gone unmet for a long time. But this is a great way to fight the self-sabotaging behavior (learn more about how to stop that here) of pushing what you want down so you can actually be happy.
You may need to get uncomfortable asking for what you want and being extremely vulnerable with others.
You may need to say “No” to someone or something else to do what’s most important.
You need to destroy the mental wastes robbing you of your joy, energy and time.
But remember: Life is long. Take one thing at a time to the extent to which you can. Focus on a few key things, and let the other less important things slide as you’re working.
Handle each item, and then move on to the next.
Over time, you’ll learn how to get your emotional needs met, learn the definition of emotional health, and become the best, happiest, most productive version of yourself that you can be.