As so many people keep saying, “These are unprecedented times” and many of us are navigating through a lot of change and uncertainty at the moment. How well we cope with all this heavily depends on our emotional resilience, which in turn relies on us adequately fulfilling our primal needs.
Some people just seen to be innately better able to cope with life’s ups and downs than others. But for all of us, if we are meeting our primal needs effectively then we should have enough emotional capacity to deal with most stuff that life throws at us – whether good or bad.
So, what are these primal needs?
Need one: security
We are need an environment where we feel safe and can flourish. This covers many aspects of our lives – a stable home environment, confidence in our relationships, a secure job or welcoming college or school, leisure activities.
Need two: attention
We should be both giving and receiving attention in a healthy balance. Our days should include meaningful interactions with others. Too little attention can lead to isolation and too much can lead to us feeling smothered or resentful.
Need three: control
It’s important to have a level of autonomy in shaping our lives and the necessary space and ability to make our own decisions without others exerting their control over us.
Need four: community
We all need a sense of belonging and of being a member of a wider community. This is essential for both companionship and contribution. There are many different forms of community that we can be a part of.
Need five: intimacy
This is more than just sex – it’s having someone who accepts us unconditionally (“warts and all”). It doesn’t even have to be a human, we can get fulfilment from our pets or from a deity.
Need six: status
We have a primal need for a sense of standing within our various groups and environments – peers, family and social groups. We want to be respected.
Need seven: achievement
We want to be able to mark our abilities and competence, it could be in sport, academia, life skills, family or in some other way.
Need eight: privacy
We should have a place and time enough to give us a space where we can reflect and recuperate from the stresses of life. It could be an imaginary place rather than a real one.
Need nine: meaning and purpose
Without a direction in life, we tend to drift and become a bit lost in terms of who we are and what defines us. We function better with goals, priorities, expectations and aspirations.
Am I meeting these need adequately?
The only person who can truly answer that is you. Perhaps make a table like the one below and fill it in the best you can.
List each need, spend a little time reflecting on what it means to you then consider what aspects of your life currently fulfil it and overall how well fulfilled (or unfulfilled) it currently is. Use a scale of 0-10 where 0 is completely unfulfilled and 10 is totally fulfilled.
Any that you have scored less than a 6 or 7 are probably areas where your needs aren’t being adequately met and you may want to consider what you could do about that.
You should also look at the whole thing and ask yourself the following:
- It is balanced or are you currently giving too much attention to some needs at the expense of others?
- Are you too dependent on a single source for fulfilling your needs – such as your work or your partner?
- Are you meeting some of these needs through dysfunctional means, for instance intimacy being satisfied by drugs or alcohol; giving or receiving attention through a controlling relationship?
- If you are currently having therapy, is the therapy itself (or the therapist) meeting some of your needs. Obviously this can help you get back on your feet, but just like learning to swim without armbands, you have to learn to meet your needs without therapy.
- Is there anything about the way you currently live your life that constrains you from fulfilling your needs?
Balance is so important. Think of the times when we experience an anti-climatic feeling when we complete or achieve something. You know the feeling – you’ve worked so hard to get here, expecting to feel that all is good with world, but remain unsatisfied and strangely empty. Why is that? You’ve probably put all that effort into raising you accomplishment of a single need, while others are still wanting.
Similarly, it’s unwise to be in a position where most of your eggs are in a single basket – for instance most of your needs are satisfied by your job or your partner. If you lose your job or your partner leaves you, then you will immediately plummet into a state of low fulfilment and will struggle to cope with minor setbacks in life. You may also become depressed.
How can I improve my scores and balance?
Of course the answer is very dependent on what needs aren’t being met currently or what is causing the imbalance. The only generic advice I can give is to try out new things that align with what’s missing and to work with significant others in your life to make changes and see how things pan out. It doesn’t have to be over-ambitious – you are much more likely to follow through on minor adjustments to your life than you are to quit your job and join a monastery.
If you want any help with assessing or improving your levels or fulfilment, please get in touch.