9 Basic Emotional Needs Everyone Has & How To Meet Them
We all have emotional needs. But what exactly is the definition of an emotional need? Let's talk about examples of basic emotional needs, how to figure out what our own individual needs are, and how to get those needs met.
What are emotional needs?
Emotional needs are feelings or conditions we need to feel happy, fulfilled, or at peace. Without them, we may feel frustrated, hurt, or dissatisfied. Some examples of emotional needs might include feeling appreciated, feeling accomplished, feeling safe, or feeling part of a community. As humans, we seek emotional nourishment as much as food and water. It is your birthright to be emotionally nourished.
Everyone has their own unique set of emotional needs, which might be the product of your upbringing, your genetic predisposition, your identity, and other individual factors. But for the most basic human emotional needs, many people refer to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, a theory in psychology developed by Abraham Maslow in 1943. Displayed as a pyramid structure, Maslow's hierarchy shows the progression of human needs from basic needs like food and water at the bottom of the pyramid to self-actualization at its apex. Maslow's research psychologists have identified nine specific emotional needs common to all people across cultures.
The 9 basic emotional needs:
We need a safe place—an environment that enables us to lead our lives without experiencing undue fear and that allows us to develop our potential.
If this emotional need isn't being met: Make a list of things in your environment that make you feel insecure or unsafe, and then identify action steps you can take to change that. Perhaps you would feel more secure if you equipped your home with burglar alarms and new locks. Or perhaps you're constantly worried about being fired from your current job; you may actually find more peace by quitting or switching jobs rather than remaining in a situation that's making you feel insecure.
In order to feel fulfilled, we need to feel like we have the power to exist autonomously and direct our own lives.
If this emotional need isn't being met: Have a frank conversation with your boss or partner or family about where you need to have more control or clearer boundaries. It's time to be lovingly assertive about this.
Receiving attention from people we care about and giving them attention in return is valuable. Giving attention to your own self is equally, if not more, valuable.
If this emotional need isn't being met: Prioritize quality time with your partner and friends. Set aside time for it in your calendar. Just because we have friends or partners doesn't mean we are meeting their needs for attention or that they are meeting ours. It takes effort.
To be emotionally fulfilled, we need to feel connected to other people. We need to experience friendship, love, and intimacy.
If this emotional need isn't being met: Make it a priority to spend time with your friends or even make new ones. If you're feeling lonely in your relationship, see if there are ways to create more emotional intimacy between you and your partner.
Connection to community
We are social creatures, and our brain is a social organ. We need to feel connected to something greater than ourselves.
If this emotional need isn't being met: Prioritize spending time with others. Maybe that means arranging a regular coffee get-together in your home. Or can you mentor someone in your field or do volunteer work for people less fortunate than yourself? Can you check in on an elderly neighbor? (Here are a few more ways to form real connections with your community.)
Mental and emotional well-being require that we have time and space enough to reflect on and learn from our experiences.
If this emotional need isn't being met: Block out half an hour a day, just for you. Have a long bath or take a walk to digest the events of the day and mentally rehearse for what's coming up. More sensitive people often require more time to fully digest the stimulation (or overstimulation) of the modern world.
A sense of self
It's not enough to have a group. We need to have a sense of our value within the group dynamics we're part of.
If this emotional need isn't being met: Can you gain a special position in the organization you belong to? Can you be the go-to guy for specific information or specialize in an area of your profession? Perhaps you can be the captain of a quiz or sports team.
A sense of achievement
In order to maintain our self-esteem, we need to have a sense that we are accomplishing things of value.
If this emotional need isn't being met: Make a list of all your achievements—awards, qualifications, languages, promotions, giving up smoking, losing weight, or even all the rough periods you've survived. You must have skills and strengths that got you through those periods. Remind yourself regularly of these. What more can you achieve? What new goals can you set?
In the same vein as feeling that we're accomplishing things of value, we all need to have the sense that we're part of something greater than ourselves, having a coherent set of beliefs about life and what it's all for.
If this emotional need isn't being met: You can find meaning in starting a family, supporting a cause, finding a philosophy/belief system or a political ideology that resonates with you. Somebody once said that the greatest thing about life is that it is meaningless—which gives you the huge opportunity to give it any meaning you want. If you find yourself feeling apathetic, existentially confused, like nothing has any point, focus on the little things—to see the world in a grain of sand. These moments are as meaningful as you want them to be: The pleasure of sipping tea; breathing fresh air; walking and living on a beautiful planet—drink in those moments and let them nourish your soul.
Quiz: What are my emotional needs?
It's time to do an emotional needs audit on your life.
Look at the needs above. On a scale of 1 to 7, how well do you feel you are meeting each one? If you score 3 or under, that need isn't being sufficiently met. This might result in feelings ranging from a bad mood to stress, anxiety, or a feeling that something's just "off."
This is normal: It's your brain telling you something is wrong. It's just a sign that some of your emotional needs are due for a little nourishing. Remember, we all have the innate resources to meet our needs. For example, we have the ability to build a rapport with others, to empathize, to connect with people; we have the imagination required to plan; and we have a rational mind. We just need to take some intelligent action.
Why knowing your emotional needs is important.
Knowing your own emotional needs can help you better tackle life's problems. According to Maslow, if you're dealing with a condition such as depression, anxiety, or addiction, at the most basic level it's because one of your fundamental needs is not being met. (This is, of course, excluding biochemistry and genetic predisposition.) So, solving most of our life's problems starts with identifying which of your needs are not being met. For instance, if someone is depressed after losing their job, it may be because they have lost status, autonomy, and possibly connection to others. These are vital emotional needs, which no amount of "talking it out" will restore. Meeting these needs is the most effective route back to good mental health.
Likewise, if someone isn't meeting your emotional needs in a relationship, it's important to address this directly and convey what it is you need from them.
Understanding our emotional needs empowers us to make ourselves happy and can relieve a sense of helplessness. We can look at the imbalances in our jobs, relationships, and environments from a unique perspective. Instead of thinking there is something "wrong" with us, we can ask, "What emotional needs are not being met?"
(This requires some self-awareness, of course. Here's how to increase your emotional intelligence.)
Once you meet these needs in balance, you realize you have more power in your own life with you and that the journey to meeting these needs and helping others to meet theirs in your relationships, occupations, and communities can itself be very fulfilling.
William Barker is an English teacher and life coach using the human givens approach to help people deal with stress and learn more about themselves. He has clocked up hundreds of hours in personal development with teenagers, CEOs, military personnel, entrepreneurs, and more.