The six fundamental human needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs was groundbreaking in its day, but much thought has been give to this topic by many fine minds since and there are multiple ways of thinking about our most basic human needs and desires.

My own way of making sense of this is based upon some early work by Anthony Robbins, the Californian guru of personal development whose performance style is something of a stretch for the more emotionally conservative, but his work on human needs has been very useful to me.

In my interpretation of his Six Fundamental Human Needs, I summarise them as follows:

A need to feel safe

A need to have choice

A need to connect with others

A need for a sense of identity

A need for a sense of purpose

A need to renew and evolve

The first four seem to be organised into energetically conflicting pairs, which account for a great deal of the frustration and inner conflict we feel as we grow through life.

The need to feel safe causes us to move towards certainty, peace of mind, the knowledge that things will be as we expect them to be — giving us a sense of security. This need to feel safe means we seek to move away from uncertainty, risk, pain, failure, fear, anger, guilt, sadness and hurt.

Depending on our personality, we seek out safety in any number of ways including control, inflexibility, indulgences, learned helplessness, commitment, completion and firm (or rigid) beliefs about the way things are, or the way things should be including, sometimes, holding onto a strong religious faith which gives many people a sense of safety in a challenging world.

At the opposite end of the need to feel safe, we also have a need for choice and although this may not, on the face of it, seem to be the opposite of safety it inclines us to seek out variety, adventure, difference, surprise, challenge, excitement, and stimulation of many sorts.

Again, depending on our personality, we seek out choice through food, drink, drugs, changes in environment including moving homes, jobs and travel, and by pursuing a need for variety in the things we do, the people we meet (and become intimate with) and the stimulation we crave.

The American Indian author Deepak Chopra describes the ebb and flow between our need to feel safe and our need for newness beautifully,

At one level, things have to be certain or order couldn’t exist. At another level, things have to be uncertain or there would be no newness. Evolution moves forward by surprising events; the healthiest attitude is to realise that the unknown is just another word for ‘creation’. This realisation saves a person from fear, which will always arise if uncertainty is resisted.’

The second pair of needs also seem to play against each other. On the one hand our need to connect with others drives us to seek friendship, affection, intimacy, love, family, interdependence and sharing and can lead to us putting other people first. Pulling in the opposite direction our need for a sense of identity can cause us to seek privacy, independence, uniqueness and significance — often putting ourselves first.

The need for connection causes us to show sympathy, empathy, agreement, and leads to us gathering together, joining groups, clubs and societies and coming together into communities. This is where we enjoy the experience of being just like other people. The need for identity can drive us in the opposite direction, seeking solitude, tending to disagree or distinguish ourselves from others through opinion, status or lifestyle. This is where we enjoy the experience of being different or unique.

I remember only too vividly the agonies of being a teenager when, on the one hand, I wanted to be free of my parent’s influence and control, to do my own thing, be my own person, live in my own place with my own wages. Within days I was lonely, seeking intimacy with girlfriends and craving to be fully a part of someone else’s life. When this happened, I was surprised that I again felt confined, and somewhat constrained by the responsibilities of being connected intimately to someone else. This led to a craving for solitude and independence again. I think many of us go through the pain of on-off relationships because of these deep internal conflicts between the need to connect and the demands of identity. Unchecked, this conflict can lead many people to lead lives of continuously breaking relationships, multiple marriages and — in the extreme, promiscuity.

The final pair of needs does not seem to produce the same interconnectedness or push-pull relationship. To find a sense of purpose may be the single greatest drive in the human experience, and we may explore this further in other blogs. The need to grow, renew, evolve– the need to grow up and mature — is a deep seated human need that causes us to seek out leaning, personal advancement and mental and spiritual renewal.

Paying attention to our moments of frustration or restlessness may give us clues to where in this scheme of things our life is in good order and where we are out of balance.

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