The end and beginning of the year are often a time to reflect or carry out a life audit, aka new year resolutions. You probably know I’m not a fan of those, but this time of year makes me reflect on the desire for happiness and all that entails; you know the mantra ‘I’ll be happy when…’
This speaks to our emotional needs, the feelings or occasions where we feel fulfilled, happy, or at ease. We desire emotional nourishment as much as we need food and water. For example, feeling safe, appreciated, or part of a community. In their absence, we may be dissatisfied, miserable, or unhappy.
Depending on individual factors such as genetics, culture, identity, and upbringing, we have our own unique emotional needs; they are feelings or occasions where we feel fulfilled, happy, or at ease. For example, feeling safe, appreciated, or part of a community. We may be dissatisfied, miserable, unhappy, or worse in their absence.
Sadly, most of us learn little about the non-food nutrition needed to keep us in tip-top shape until things begin to go wrong. Humans are complex, and without continuously scanning and working on our emotional needs, we can slide into that place of struggle that can become suffering.
There is an ongoing exploration into why some people seem more susceptible to experiencing distress. In contrast, others appear more resilient to the disappointments and knocks of life.
Healthy development and functioning can be defined using the ideas of emotional nourishment or basic psychological needs. Emotional nourishment and meaning are innate, universal, and essential for humans to function positively; it’s a crucial ongoing process that allows us to operate, coexist, and live harmoniously in a group or community. These natural aspects of the human experience apply to all people, regardless of ethnicity, gender, age or culture. When blocked, people will show signs of non-optimal functioning – distress and failure to thrive.
Science once believed that babies arrive as a blank slate, but we now realise from advances in neuroscience this is not true. Infants are born with vast, sophisticated knowledge and know-how. For example, newborns can wriggle to the nipple and suckle at the moment of birth, but they also know how to seek emotional comfort via skin contact.
Unlike other mammals born with much higher hereditary components, only 50% of our knowledge is genetically scripted; the remaining half requires training to fulfil our potential. Humans are unique in understanding the world and other people; we use mirroring and pattern matching.
However, if our primary caregivers, parents or educators weren’t taught very well about satisfying their own emotional needs, sharing this intelligence may be problematic and explains part of the story of repeating patterns of poor emotional wellbeing observed in some families and communities and is a factor in intergenerational trauma seen in many marginalised groups.
According to The Human Givens Institute, there are 9 emotional needs:
- Security and safety – an environment that allows us to develop fully.
- Attention – a form of nutrition given and received.
- Sense of autonomy and control — having the discretion to make responsible choices.
- Emotional intimacy – to be known and totally accepted, good and bad, by at least one other person.
- Sense of competence and achievement
- Feeling part of a wider community.
- Sense of status within social groupings.
- Meaning and purpose – from being stretched and challenged in what we do and think
- Privacy – because we all need the opportunity to reflect, decompress, learn from, and consolidate experience. Some individuals, particularly introverts, empaths, those recognised as neurodiverse or sensitive to overstimulation, may need to decompress more than others
- When you read the emotional needs list above, which ones are easy for you to get met?
- Are any missing or challenging to achieve?
When life gets tricky, or you wake up at the beginning of a new year feeling flat, it’s helpful to identify which of your emotional needs are not being met and take steps to achieve them.
Without them, life can become mundane, miserable, or meaningless. We may lose inspiration or motivation, doubt ourselves, and think we cannot accomplish anything significant, but like all feelings, that’s temporary.
Knowing your own emotional needs can help you tackle and overcome life’s ups and downs with greater ease and empower us to take back control of our happiness. While this requires some self-awareness and emotional intelligence, we don’t have to do this alone. There are many free resources and books, but the support and guidance of a wellbeing expert such as a psychotherapist or therapeutic coach may be helpful to get back in balance so that you can flourish or thrive.
The Human Givens Institute has produced an Emotional Needs Audit (ENA); it’s an easy to complete measuring tool used by many in health, wellness, and education spaces, including GPs, teachers, healthcare practitioners, and therapists. You can access and a PDF copy to complete in confidence here.