Basic psychological needs – what we need to feel good

Hunger, thirst, lack of sleep – Surely you know from your own experience how uncomfortable it is when basic physical needs are not met. In the long run, this can even lead to physical damage. It’s not quite the same with the lesser-known basic psychological needs, yet there are many similarities.

Basic psychological needs

We are confronted with our physical needs every day. Unpleasant sensations such as tiredness or stomach growling make us aware of them and cause us to comply with them. It is similar with the psychological needs. If they are not fulfilled, unpleasant feelings occur. However, since we usually have much less experience with them – in contrast to physical needs – and they do not entail any consequences that are essential for survival, we find it more difficult to deal with them. No wonder, because which and how many basic psychological needs there are, is controversial even among experts.

In psychology there are different theories about the number and type of basic psychological needs, which differ slightly. Some place a particular need as especially important, others postulate a combination of varying numbers of equally important needs. Particularly recognized and empirically well-documented is the approach of psychologist Klaus Grawe, who names the following four basic needs:

1. The need for attachment

The need for attachment plays a very central role, especially in the first years of life, when we are dependent on the help of other people. If we have in this phase a reference person (for example mother or father), who is reliably there for us, we develop a basic trust in other people and relationships. If we lack such a reliable caregiver, we have an increased likelihood of later developing attachment disorders and mental illness in general. So our first relationship experiences shape us for our whole life.

But even later, as we grow older and more independent, the need for attachment has a significant impact on our satisfaction. Maybe you know situations in which you are unhappy because you feel alone or miss a certain person? In these moments your need for commitment probably signals that something is missing.

2. The need for control and self-determination

If we feel securely attached to a caregiver, we soon develop other desires: for example, to shape our lives independently, to understand and control situations, to be able to make our own decisions.

This need is violated when we often experience that situations are unpredictable and we can not influence them, z.B. When we don’t have clear, reliable rules set for us in childhood or when uncontrollable events occur later in life, when we unexpectedly lose our jobs several times.

3. The need for self-worth

Surely you have already experienced how good it feels to receive praise, to achieve success, to reach self-set goals? Then your need for self-worth has kicked in. This is the childhood drive to feel good, competent, and valued by others. If we grow up in an environment that has confidence in us, recognizes our achievements, and at the same time conveys to us that even bad achievements belong and do not change our value, this need is fulfilled.

4. The need for pleasure

Shirking for hours on end to clean up the apartment, go to sports, study for the exam – what seems like laziness at first glance is basically the result of a healthy human need for now. Because from birth, we all strive ceaselessly to have pleasurable experiences and avoid unpleasant or painful ones.

In the course of our life we should learn to allow ourselves pleasurable experiences such as good food, being lazy, hobbies. Because these make us happy and satisfied. However, it is just as important to deal with feelings of displeasure and to endure them to a certain extent in order to achieve longer-term goals. For example, if we want to achieve a good result in an exam, it is essential that we make an effort to study and endure feelings of reluctance to do so.

Fulfilled needs make you happy

When our basic needs are met, we are well. Then we experience positive feelings like joy, satisfaction or pride. Perhaps you know the feeling of happiness and security when you see an important person again after a long time? There is probably your need for attachment fulfilled. You may also be familiar with the free, beautiful feeling of a long-awaited long-distance trip? Probably the need for self-determination rejoices here.

But your needs do not have to be met 24/7

Of course, it is not always possible to fulfill our basic needs in the best possible way. In certain situations and phases of life, for example after moving to a new city or after a breakup, basic needs can be temporarily frustrated. However, with time, we usually manage to create the necessary circumstances to shape our lives according to our needs again. For example, by making first contacts with other people in a new city. Such phases are necessary again and again in life to enable personal further development. In addition, it is during these times that we gain confidence in ourselves to be able to overcome difficulties.

Persistently neglected? Unfulfilled needs can make us unhappy and ill

If basic needs are persistently not met, this is not only associated with persistent negative feelings and tension, but also with an increased susceptibility to mental disorders. For example, if our need for attachment is frustrated over a long period of time because we have no social contacts, we are likely to suffer from strong feelings of loneliness and may even develop a depressive illness.

Similarly, if different basic needs are in conflict with each other for a longer period of time. When, for example, entering into a new relationship satisfies the need for attachment and at the same time violates the need for autonomy.

In such cases it is important to look at our needs and to think about how we can better meet our needs, or how we can better meet our needs. can reconcile them.

Why violated needs are particularly severe in childhood

It is problematic when our basic needs are repeatedly not satisfied in childhood, for example because there is no one we can rely on or because we are constantly devalued by others. Then the needs remain constantly active and control our behavior. It’s a lot like unsatisfied physical needs like hunger or thirst, which don’t just go away either. If, for example, our need for self-esteem is massively frustrated in childhood, we direct our behavior excessively toward its satisfaction, for example by striving for outstanding successes.

Even if the past cannot be changed, we can still deal with our needs frustrated in early childhood later on and find a good way to deal with them. This is an important topic in almost every psychotherapy.

One prefers to travel the world alone, the other is looking for love for life

While we all have the same needs – how important a need is to an individual and what strategies help them meet needs, on the other hand, is highly individualized. Depending on our learning experiences and our personality, certain needs are more important to us than others. While autonomy is sacred to one person and he prefers to travel the world alone for weeks on end, close, stable relationships are more important to the other person. In addition, individual needs can increase or decrease in importance during certain phases of life. One example is the separation from the parental home that begins in puberty: Here, the need for self-determination is particularly strong, while the need for attachment to the reference persons mother and father temporarily takes a back seat. The need for self-determination outranks attachment, so to speak.

A first step to well-being: know(ing) your own needs!

The most important thing for your well-being is to get to know yourself and your needs, and to find out what helps you to satisfy them. Your feelings give you an important clue. Think about the situations in which you feel most comfortable: Among close friends? Or when you achieve success? Then think about which need could be satisfied in these situations. And conversely, if negative feelings occur, you can ask yourself what’s wrong with you right now. If you have the impression that your needs are strongly conflicted and you are suffering from this, it can be useful to seek professional support.

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