The needs that must be met

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

We all have needs — healthy or unhealthy, good or bad, functional or dysfunctional — they are, simply, part of what drives us, writes Jan Aitken.

Jan Aitken
Jan Aitken.

Needs must be met in order for us to be our best. To help understand them, we can broadly divide needs into two main categories: physical and psychological (including emotional and spiritual). So that includes things such as ensuring we are fed, kept warm, safe, feel loved, valued, accepted, see where we fit into the wider world around us  and as we grow, forming friendships, intimate relationships and finding value in what we do.

As babies and children, we are not able to meet our own needs. We are reliant on those around us to meet them, and then to teach us (by modelling) how to have these needs met on an ongoing basis. How we meet our needs, rather than what they are becomes an important factor in how our lives are lived with "ease" or with a sense of "dis-ease".

Because of our early inability to satisfy our needs on our own, we are vulnerable to the beliefs, values and just plain old whims of our parents/caregivers and the environment/society in which we are raised. These vagaries of childhood can mean that some needs become more prominent in our lives than others. It can also mean that the ways we learn to satisfy those needs don’t necessarily turn out to be healthy or functional in the long run.

We can develop ways of meeting needs that lead us to use unhealthy behaviours, e.g. perhaps if we didn’t grow up feeling valued, we learned to work hard (to the exclusion of every other aspect of our life) to get positive feedback from teachers, colleagues and employers. But at some point there is a feeling that life is empty, there is no-one to share life with, life is lonely. The need was met short term but now that strategy isn’t working any more.

It becomes an unmet need.

Having unmet needs can be disconcerting. For many, acknowledging we have an unmet need is something we would rather not do. We do not want to be thought of as "needy", as being  reliant on others — that is something to be avoided. But an unmet need is simply a justifiable human need that has not been fully met because you have not experienced enough of it in your life. You may feel a bit ashamed  or have a sense of wrongness or embarrassment about asking others to directly meet the unmet need. Because of this you have developed habitual behaviours, usually unconsciously, to ensure  others  give you what you want and satisfy your unmet need. You continue this habitual behaviour, despite the cost it has for you.

So, ask yourself if there is anything in your life that you do, any actions or behaviours you keep repeating, that cause you a feeling of discomfort or you are just plain sick of? What do you do in your life that doesn’t serve you well? Why do you do it? What does it give you that you really need? Once you have identified what the need is, it is time to look at how you can have that need fulfilled in a healthier way.

It might be a good idea to throw some ideas at someone you trust, either a friend or a professional, to help you work out what unmet needs you might have.      Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach.

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The needs that must be met

An unmet need a temporary phenomenon  that can be satisfied (it may take time)

• dominates your life until it is handled,

• is often from childhood, part of your development that has not been fulfilled. That is nobody’s fault. Blame won’t help you meet your needs

• is not a value (that is something at your core and does not change) or a want

• is not an addiction

• can change over time

• is just a symptom

• initially owning up to it may cause you a feeling of awkwardness, embarrassment


• much time being wasted trying to get unmet needs met

• attracting needy people

• creating unhealthy, energy-draining cycles


• There are pay offs, that is, what has encouraged the unhelpful behaviour up to this point

• unmet needs can provide energy. However, it is like friction — it is draining and becomes like a pebble in a shoe: it is unhealthy and unsustainable energy


• become motivated and run on healthy energy: love, healthy relationships, values

• orient life around your values

• have room and love for other people

• experience an increase in self-confidence without arrogance

• experience a natural decrease in wants and musts


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