Emotional Needs

For emotional well-being and mental health each of us needs to meet certain emotional needs. Leaving them unmet is a major contributor to emotional and mental distress. The following is based on the pioneering work of an organisation called the Human Given Institute. The term ‘human givens’ refers to four related ideas:


  1. Our ability to experience mental health, personal growth and optimum functioning is dependant upon our ability to satisfy nine genetically programmed emotional needs in an ongoing and balanced way. These needs are universal in that they apply to all people regardless of culture or gender
  2. We are instinctively trying to fulfil these needs using specific resources that we are born with
  3. Our emotions are what drives us to take action so that we can get these needs met
  4. If we are unable to meet our emotional needs and/or apply our resources adequately this will inevitably lead to distress (anger, fear, anxiety and stress) and mental ill-health.


The nine emotional needs are:


Emotional Need 1 - Security


This includes the security of living in a safe environment and neighbourhood, and the safety of knowing that you are physically and emotionally safe in the presence of the people that you surround you. This includes people at home and your place of work. Security also includes feeling secure in your work, job and relationship. Feeling safe and knowing how to deal effectively with fear provides us with the necessary environment so that we can develop and grow our potentials


Emotional Need 2 - Giving & Receiving Positive Attention


You just have to watch a small or big child, to witness how powerful this need is. Children need attention, it’s an essential nutrient and they will do everything in their power to get the attention of their parent, either through behaving themselves and performing well or of that fails, through misbehaving. Either way they need attention and so do we as adults. Much of what we do and say and how we dress, interact and project ourselves is influenced by our need for quality, sincere attention. However to thrive psychologically as human being we need to give and as importantly receive positive attention. Many of my clients are good at giving, but not so good receiving and digesting the energy of positive attention. This is often rooted in low self-esteem and co-dependency and counter-dependency (module eight)


Emotional Need 3 - Connection with a wider community


We are intrinsically social creatures and need to feel that we are part of something beyond our immediate family group. Having a wider social network (friends) and enjoying the company of people with similar or common interests is a key need if you are to create total health. Having a network of friends and participating in groups or community related projects are well known to protect against depression. 


Emotional Need 4 - An intimate close relationship with at least one other person


Intimacy means having meaningful emotional contact with another person. Whilst the depth of the interaction will naturally vary, in respect of emotional growth and healing the most benefit is derived from being able to share the truth of ourselves, the good, the bad and the ugly with them. When this is received with understanding and acceptance the process of healing is supported. This kind of relationship could include your partner, a friend, therapist and/or spiritual/religious teacher.


Emotional Need 5 - Autonomy


A person who feels that they have some degree of control in respect of their life situation (work, finances and relationships) is able to withstand stress and life’s challenges much more effectively than someone who has no or little control. For example people with little or no control at work, experience high levels of stress and anxiety than those with more control. Taking responsibility for your health and emotional well-being demonstrates that you are already increasing your autonomy.


Emotional Need 6 - Status


In any given social situation we each need to feel that we have our place and purpose, a sense that we are being recognised and respected for who we are. This needs to include our place within the home and at work. Status is something we give to ourselves and receive from others


Emotional Need 7 - Competence


Self-esteem – the estimation of ourselves - is intimately tied up with feeling competent and having a sense of accomplishment in what we do. This can apply in many aspects of your life including relationships, lovemaking, work, recreation and sports. This comes about when by taking actions that is in alignment with our gifts, strengths and values.


Emotional Need 8 - Privacy


This is not so much about removing ourselves from contact with others, but about knowing that we can control the amount of contact that we have with others, plus also using our private time to reflect on and consolidate our experiences. It’s also about balance and moderation. So for example there are plenty of people with depression or social anxiety who isolate themselves from others, this will not lead them to greater well-being, whereas someone who is actively engaged in their life, but takes time out regularly to rejuvenate and reflect on their life situation and circumstances will experience greater well-being


Emotional Need 9 - Meaning and purpose


Our minds are constantly trying to attach meaning to what we do and what we experience. When something has meaning, it takes on importance and adds depth and flavour to our life, for better or for worse. Something that holds a positive meaning to you, for example a vision to make a success of your business, enables you to look beyond and find solutions to problems and challenges which would otherwise be blockages to your development and success. Tied in with meaning is purpose – the feeling of determination and drive that comes from having a vision and belief in what you are doing. Taking actions that are aligned with your values, growing and evolving as human being and being stretched and engaged with the world are some of the keys to creating positive meaning and purpose.


In addition to the nine emotional needs, nature has also endowed us with the specific resources to meet them. These resources include:


  • Curiosity - the ability to develop learn and acquire new knowledge and insight
  • The ability to build rapport, empathise and connect with others.
  • Imagination, which enables us to solve problems, plan our futures, instruct the subconscious mind and alter memories that might be adversely affecting us.
  • A conscious, rational mind that can analyse, make plans and control our emotions
  • The ability to ‘know’ – understand the world unconsciously through metaphorical pattern matching
  • An observing self – a part of us that can step back from and observe our emotions and thoughts
  • Dreaming is nature’s way of discharging stress. Expectations that aroused the autonomic nervous system during the day and were not discharged, are metaphorically completed in dream stories during REM sleep, leaving us refreshed and ready for the new day.


Using these resources to meet your emotional needs in a healthy and balanced way is one of the most important keys to emotional and mental health. A failure to meet our emotional needs, leads to emotional and psychological distress – whether we are aware of it or not. If left unresolved, this accumulated distress often deteriorates into anxiety, addictions, depression and in the predisposed psychosis. The key therefore is to identify which emotional needs need to be met.


What Emotional Needs are Unmet?


I ask all my clients to fill in the following emotional needs questionnaire and I invite you to do the same. (Write it in your notebook or journal). The following is a slightly modified version of the human givens questionnaire - you can access the original by visiting www.enaproject.org/. Read through each question slowly and rate how well the following emotional needs are being met in your life now. For each emotional need, give yourself a score of between 1 and 7 (1 = emotional need completely unmet and unfulfilled, 7 = emotional need completely met and fulfilled).


Watch out for the tendency to rush this exercise or to score yourself too highly. Ask yourself once you have a score in mind, ‘does this score feel accurate?’ If it does, great, write it down. If it doesn’t, reassess and score again.


                                                             No                          Sometimes                        Yes

                                                            1          2          3          4          5          6          7


Do you feel secure in all major areas of your life?                                                                   ____

Do you feel that you are receiving enough positive attention?                                                   ____

Do you think you give other people enough positive attention?                                                 ____

Do you feel that you have a choice as to how you live your life?                                                ____

Do you feel connected to some part of the wider community?                                                    ____

Do you take time for reflection when you need and want to?                                                      ____

Do you have at least one intimate relationship in which you are totally accepted

for who you are?                                                                                                                   ____

Do you feel emotionally connected to your partner? (if applicable)                                              ____

Do you feel emotionally connected to your close friends?                                                           ____

Do you feel emotionally connected to your family? (if applicable)                                                ____

Do you feel competent in your main occupation?          (if applicable)                                          ____

Do you have a sense of accomplishment in what you do on most days?                                       ____

Are you respected and acknowledged by your friends?                                                                ____

Are you respected and acknowledged by your work peers? (if applicable)                                      ____

Are you respected and acknowledged by your family?                                                                 ____

Are you respected and acknowledged by your partner? (if applicable)                                           ____

Overall, do you feel that your life is meaningful and fulfilling?                                                     ____


Having completed the questionnaire, go through it again reflect on whether the score you have given yourself is an accurate reflection of reality. Note which areas scored five or less. Generally the lower the score for a particular emotional need, the greater the need for some action to be taken in order for that need to be met. My experience has been that a score of 5 or less represents a barrier to well-being, and that a score of 3 or less is indicates an unmet need that is almost certainly contributing to stress and/or a mental health problem.


How to start meeting your emotional needs


Once you know what your unmet emotional needs are its time to start taking practical action to meet them. Start by writing down the three lowest scoring emotional needs below






It’s now time to meet these needs. For each emotional need I have provided a series of questions and suggestions that are designed to support you in discovering creative and simple ways to meet that particular need. I have provided a template into which you simply insert the unmet need that you want to work on. The template asks you a series of questions to which you will need to write your response to. It will guide you through the same process that I use with my own clients. Start with the unmet emotional need that is troubling you most now.


The Emotional Need Fulfilment Process


Ask yourself the following questions and write down your answers in a journal or on a piece of paper. Just place the emotional need that you want to work on into the space with italics


  • What does ‘emotional need’ mean to me? If this need was being fulfilled, what would be different and positive about my life right now?
  • I wonder how I can meet ‘emotional need?’ Allow ideas to flow without judging them at this stage, write every idea down.
  • What underlying beliefs are contributing to my issues around ‘emotional need?’ How can I transform them? See section one (transform your self-limiting beliefs)
  • What practical steps can I take today in order to meet my ‘emotional need’?
  • Who can I ask for support and help in relationship to this issue?


For example


  • What does ‘giving and receiving positive attention’ mean to me? If my need for giving and receiving positive attention was fulfilled, what would be different and positive about my life right now? Close your eyes and imagine that this is true for you – what would you see, hear, feel, notice? Give yourself plenty of time to do this.
  • I wonder how I can give and allow myself to receive more positive attention? Allow ideas to flow without judging them at this stage, write every idea down.
  • What underlying beliefs are contributing to my issues around attention? How can I transform them? See section one (transform your self-limiting beliefs)
  • What practical steps can I take today in order to increase my ability to give and receive attention?
  • Who can I ask for support and help in relationship to this issue?


Case Study


A client of mine called Chris, did the emotional needs questionnaire and scored low in: security; competence, wider community and intimate relationships. Here is the list he came up with (which he did with the help of a good friend)


  • Security – move house, put additional bolts on the door, install a burglar alarm,
  • Competence – ask boss for more training, ask boss to be moved to the human resources team (I have a lot of HR experience), find a new job, take an online course or evening course in business management
  • Wider community – take evening classes, volunteer at local woodland trust, go to meditation classes in local village hall, join rotary club


Of the ideas he came up with he put into action over a period of two weeks those that were italicized. Despite his fears and reservations about talking to his boss, his boss agreed and within a month he was doing work that he felt competent in. he felt much more safe with the bolts and burglar alarm, he also subsequently started a neighbourhood watch scheme, much to the delight of some of the local residents and he took up voluntary work and regular meditation classes. Within four weeks his depression and anxiety had lifted and he felt “more empowered and at peace than he had ever been.” All because he started meeting his emotional needs.


 now move to embrace gratitude







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