The needs that will change your life are those you have of others, not yourself. We are not talking about a to-do list or a set of New Year’s resolutions: “I need to get more exercise,” “I need to stop yelling at the kids,” “I need to earn more money,” and so forth.
In our view, all human needs (not drives, remember) fall under only four categories: physical safety, emotional security, attention, and importance. Thinking in relation to these categories can help identify them and ensure that they are functional. It can also be very revealing. For example, when Stan couldn’t tell Marty which category his need for her to take care of his parents fell under, it was a clue that the need was dysfunctional. In reality, this need reflected his own dependency and ambivalence toward them.
Four Categories of Needs
1. Physical safety
2. Emotional security
A functional need may fit under more than one category. Marty’s need that her husband not yell at her came under every category: physical safety (yelling triggered memories of father), emotional security (so she could let down her guard), attention (that wasn’t the kind she wanted), and importance (yelling is not a sign of respect). Placing needs under these categories can also help mutual understanding.
At first, Stan couldn’t understand why Marty objected to his criticism—it was just how people (i.e., his parents) spoke to each other. He began to listen when she explained that her need not to be criticized was crucial to her physical safety.
When a small child is constantly criticized, she may feel that her caretakers regard her as not good enough. And if she’s not good enough, why would the adults keep her and not abandon her, like an unwanted puppy? Any young child fears abandonment even more than abuse—think of the certain death that awaited a hunter-gatherer toddler left by the band to fend for herself. If you come away with nothing else from this post, please understand that no one has a right to criticize you.
“But what about constructive criticism?” you might ask (someone always does).
We believe that there’s no such thing. Criticism is always about control. If you want someone to do or not do something, you tell her very specifically what you want.
If you wish to express an opinion, you use an “I” statement and acknowledge that you are saying something about yourself, not about the other person. If you want to control someone by forcing her to try harder to please you, at the same time making it impossible to do so, you criticize.
Other examples of needs under physical safety include, “Don’t hit me,” “Drive at the speed limit and stop at red lights,” “I need you as my boss to pay me $75,000 a year with full benefits and a month vacation,” and “I need you to help me distribute pamphlets for my business.”
For Marty’s physical safety, she asked Stan to spend one day every weekend getting their house in better shape because it was an important financial asset. She also needed him to take care of her if she became sick, by driving her to the doctor, picking up prescriptions, and preparing food.
Men in particular often have trouble identifying their physical safety needs. “I don’t need anything from my wife,” Mike proclaimed to his Uplift group, sitting back with his arms crossed. “I just want her to be happy.”
“OK,” Bob replied. “It’s all right with you then if she sleeps with other men, maybe men who have AIDS?”
Mike moved to the edge of his seat. “Absolutely not!”
“And if she spent thousands of dollars on remodeling the kitchen without asking you?”
“Don’t be absurd!”
“Perhaps you have some needs of your wife under physical safety after all,” Bob said softly.
“Yeah, I guess so,” muttered Mike.
Trust is the essence of emotional security. Needs under this category might include,
“I need you to do what you say you’re going to do,” “I need you not to lie to me,”
“I need you [Daddy] to take me to the ball game Saturday like you promised,” or
“I need you to invite me along when you and the other junior executives in our department go out for a drink after work.”
During a couples’ session with her husband, Howard, Joni complained that she couldn’t count on him to follow through on promises, even small ones. Howard had promised to be home by 10:00 p.m. after a drink with the guys at a local bar but hadn’t come home until 11:30 p.m. Joni was furious.
“I didn’t notice the time,” groused Howard. “So what? It’s not like I was out having an affair or spending lots of money.”
Howard finally understood that his wife needed to be able to rely on his word, even in seemingly inconsequential things, to feel emotionally secure. He agreed he’d call her and let her know he was going to be late if the situation arose again.
One of your most important requirements under emotional security is probably that your companion tells you what she needs of you. People who don’t let you know clearly what they need of you are—perhaps unconsciously—controlling you.
Not knowing what the other person needs (or that she needs you for anything) will create uncertainty, low self-esteem, and fear of abandonment. After all, if the person has no needs of you, why would she stay?
The need for attention seems obvious on the face of it, but you will probably need to think about what you really want under this category. Many people’s first attention need is to “be listened to.” That’s fine, but what does listening really mean to you?
When Alicia first started spending time with Bob, she discovered that he sometimes continued to read the paper when she spoke to him. “You’re not listening!” she accused. “Yes I am,” he replied. “I can do two things at once.” That stopped Alicia for about thirty seconds. “But I don’t feel like you are,” she came back. Bob saw her point and from then on either stopped reading during a conversation or arranged for them to talk later, after he had finished.
So, what does an individual need to do to make you feel that he’s listening? This might include not walking away, looking you in the eyes, not talking over you, making noises above the level of a grunt to indicate understanding, and showing an interest by asking questions.
Howard came up with a great need under attention, one that totally surprised his wife, Joni. “I need you to come after me when I leave the room during an argument,” he admitted. “After all, there’s nowhere I really want to go, but once I do, I’m embarrassed and feel I have to go out driving for hours or something.” It was a need Joni, who herself hated to be left alone after a fight, was happy to meet.
Other examples of needs under attention might include, “I need you to take my arm or hold my hand in public,” “I need you to smile and say hello when I enter the room,” and “I need you to make eye contact and nod several times during a business meeting with clients to let me know I’m doing OK.”
John Gottman, author of Seven Secrets of Successful Relationships, studied many couples in laboratory conditions to find out exactly what made marriages work. He believes that a sensitivity in making and receiving “bids” for the partner’s attention is a major factor. These bids are unique to each person but are often ignored or simply unnoticed by the receiver. We suggest that you remove the guesswork by telling your partner exactly how and when you want attention or at least giving her the code for your subtle messages.
All of us need importance and we seek it with greater or lesser success. When do you feel important? What could those around you do to help you feel more so?
“Ben never introduces me to his friends,” complains his girlfriend. “I feel like I’m some sort of pariah.” Praise and acknowledgment, in public or private, are basic requirements for us to feel good about ourselves.
Another fairly ubiquitous need under importance is to have a say, indeed a veto, over all decisions that involve the person or the relationship. Allie remembers when her husband, Brad, drove up to the house and proudly showed her the new Mercedes convertible he’d just bought. “We’re just scraping by as it is, and it won’t fit both us and the kids,” she protested in horror. “But I thought you’d like it,” he replied, boyishly crestfallen.
It took a while for the relationship to recover from that incident, and both Allie and Brad now see it as a turning point. After they calmed down, they realized they would have to get clear about their needs if the relationship was to work. Allie insisted Brad consult with her before making any major purchase. They now discuss any expenditure of fifty dollars or over.
We know a fourteen-year-old whose need for importance is that his mother not kiss or hug him in public and a seventy-five-year-old who asks that her adult children not make decisions about her future without consulting her.
Another client, a dedicated FBI agent who was one of the few women to rise to her level in the bureau, felt she had hit the glass ceiling. She needed her bureau head to send a memo to his supervisor in Washington, D.C., outlining her successes and suggesting a promotion.
“Telling my boss what I needed was much scarier than going undercover in a drug ring,” she admitted. “But I felt really good about myself when he did it.”
Source Credits: Creating Optimism: A Proven, 7-Step Program for Overcoming Depression, Based on the popular Uplift program, written by Bob Murray Ph. D., and Alicia Fortinberry, published by Mcgraw-Hill