The three core needs

Everybody has three core psychospiritual needs, which can be expressed as first-person statements and as nouns:

  • I exist (recognition)
  • I am loved (affection)
  • I am part of something greater than myself (belonging)


“I exist” – the need for recognition


The need for recognition is met when people look at you, when people speak to you, when people touch you, when you are recognized by others in any way, whether positive or negative.

It is sometimes hard to have even this basic need met in our individualist society which espouses autonomy and separation rather than interdependence and community. Homeless people in particular have a hard time getting this need met, since their days are often spent trying to get others to notice their mere existence and pay some attention to their cries for help. I think this is why not only homeless people but isolated senior citizens living alone and other neglected groups are prone to developing mental illness; their basic need for recognition is going unmet and they feel like the attention they pay outward to the world is not being fairly and adequately returned. It is an imbalance in the energy exchange of consciousness. Abandonment or complete social exclusion is the extreme case of this need going unmet, and it is one of the cruellest things that can happen to a person, especially a child who is developing their identity and understanding of the world. This is why children are always calling to their parents “look at me” before playful actions such as jumping into a pool or sliding down a slide.

Regular feedback, conversation, sustained eye-to-eye contact, physical contact, recognition and validation for one’s thoughts and feelings results in this need being met. When this need is met, we feel a sense of connection to the human race. We no longer feel alone and cut off from the rest of our species. One of the worst feelings we can have is to feel invisible, to live our lives every step of the way feeling as if nobody is watching and nobody cares. We need contact, we need feedback, we need attention to be paid to us. As I’ve said and will continue to say, really paying attention to someone is one of the best gifts you can give a person. It shows that you care enough about their existence to make it the focus of your awareness at that moment.


“I am loved” – the need for affection


The need for affection is met when people touch you gently and affectionately, people smile at you, people give you compliments, praise and kind remarks, people hug you, and people take care of you.

Whereas the need for recognition can be met even by an abusive partner who yells at you – even negative feedback is a form of attention – in order to receive affection, we must receive verbal and physical contact that demonstrates the other person’s genuine care and affection for us. This need extends from friendships into intimate and sexual relationships and even to the broader community and society at large. All forms of affection are important and serve different functions. In essence, it is the feeling of living in a benevolent world which cares about your well-being and will provide what you need to develop your full potential and live happily.

Again, it is difficult for many people to meet this need. Besides the standard struggles and difficulties of daily survival imposed on us by the natural world which can be harsh and unforgiving, we have to deal with the negative energy passed on by other people who do not feel loved themselves. Most people have not developed the skills necessary to absorb negative energy from others – such as anger, hostility, criticism, and so on – and with compassion and non-judgemental understanding transform it into a learning experience. Instead, when we feel hurt or wronged, we usually unload our pain onto someone else in the form of blame, anger, unexpected outbursts and unrealistic demands. This perpetuates the cycle of negative energy and drags everybody down, with the result that many people’s need for affection goes unmet.

When it is met, our heart and mind opens, and we are free to play and be creative like a child. Being able to use all of your senses and faculties including attention, imagination, intuition and memory is essential to your unfolding as a person and to your capacity to find peace and happiness. When we feel loved and cared for, we are filled with positive energy which flows easily into our interactions with other people, melting away any worry and anxiety we may have had. We are able to be generous and giving without expecting anything in return. When a person feels truly loved, it is visible on their face, and simply by being in their presence we can absorb some of the positive loving feeling.


“I am part of something greater than myself” – the need for belonging


The need for belonging is met when you join a group with other people, you devote your time and energy to a social cause, you get involved in your community, or you take up a project which requires sustained commitment over time. Essentially it means you have committed a part of yourself toward serving others, going beyond your own immediate personal needs.

The saddest life is one in which someone spends every waking minute trying to satisfy his own personal needs without a thought for anyone else, living disconnected from family and community. Sadly, this seems to be the direction our society has taken us, where the accumulation of material possessions is seen as the backbone of our economy, occupying the greater part of our daily lives and our attention. You will notice that none of the core needs described here focus on material possessions, but all of them focus on our relations with other people. Let me be clear: it is not through getting things that you will find deep and enduring satisfaction and fulfillment; it is only through serving others and building connections that you will find the path you are seeking.

You will notice that whereas the first two needs are described mostly in terms of what you need to receive from others (and also what others need to receive from you), this third need describes what you need to give back. This is about transcending your narrow ego and coming to the realization that your life is but a small thing in the grand scheme of things. It is waking up to the truth that your identity is shaped not by what you gain or collect but by what you give – your contribution to others. Belonging means finding your place in the great human family by finding what it is that makes you special and why you came into this life at a particular place and time. It takes time and effort to discover your identity and purpose, and you will have to go through much trial and error along the way, but if you place your faith and trust in the path, in the end it will all make sense.


We seek to fulfil these needs in different ways based on our stage in life; that is, children, teenagers, adults and elderly persons all do things to try and meet these needs in their own way.

Another essential facet of our three core needs, besides whether they are met, is whether they are met conditionally or unconditionally. In order for us to enjoy full mental health, all three of these needs must be met unconditionally. Conditional provision always carries with it the implicit threat that at some point what is given could be lost or taken away, a destabilizing though that creates anxiety and worry. Only an unshakeable certain feeling that each of these is and will continue to be present unconditionally allows us to enjoy the peace of mind needed to live fully and freely.


~ by spiritualseeker1 on October 11, 2011.

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