What is a Need?

What is a Need?

Abraham Maslow states that there are four basic needs. We’ve all heard them: air, food/water, clothing, and shelter. Everything else is called a “want”. This archaic and simplistic idea of human need trivializes and discounts many important needs we possess. And unless you’re a guy named “Bear” out trying to survive in the wilderness without the comforts of modern society, this idea does little to help us understand, and deal with why we do what we do.

“Everything we do, say, and think is in response to some need we have.”

We all need ...
We are all in Need in some way.

Dana’s Lowerarchy of Needs defines a NEED as follows:

A NEED is the internal force which drives us (by way of the mind) to pursue a particular course of action, to speak a particular word or sentence, or to make a particular choice.

A NEED is a force (I call it a driver) in the human body or the conscious or subconscious mind. Like gravity, we can’t see, smell, hear, or taste it. But … we can certainly feel it! More importantly though, and just like gravity, we feel (and respond to) the effects needs have upon us. Needs drive our every action, each of our daily conscious as well as subconscious thoughts, all of our speech, etc. A need is a propulsive (or repulsive) force within us. Needs move us and they can compel us. Needs are responsible for EVERYTHING we say, do, feel, act. They rule our lives. They also affect the lives of those we come into contact with.

Needs originate from a variety of sources.

Some are in us at birth: the need to breath, to suckle, to express frustration (cry), to eliminate waste, and to bond with another human being. My favorite need in this category is the innate need to create (more later). Opinion and research diverge as to where all needs actually come from after that. The debate as to whether the environment or our genetics are the source of many of our drivers and subsequent actions, is still going on … this is called the “nature or nurture” debate. Research abounds.

A particular need can also originate from life experiences: it can come from social or other human contact, from foods we intake … pretty much from anything. Our needs can also come from personal growth and development, and even from spontaneous personal insight. Needs are puzzling and mysterious.

A basic human need.
A basic need

However, needs CAN be categorized … and grouped, in order to analyze and help us understand them.

  • A Needs can be subconscious, conscious, unconscious, or a combination: the need to breath, the need to eat, the sex drive.
  • Needs can be healthy or unhealthy (functional/dysfunctional): the need for social interaction and stimulation (healthy), or the need to continue eating past the brain’s “full” signal (not so healthy).
  • A Need can be constant or they can be periodic, they can also be sporadic or regular: the need to eat regularly, the need to cough during a cold, the need to tap your feet in time to the music. The preparation for reproduction … predictably-cyclical in women, almost constant in men.
  • Needs can make sense to us, or seem so bizarre that we just shake our heads: “Alice, the surgeon feels the need to wear gloves when she operates, while Jack feels the need to wear gloves throughout his day to avoid contact with dangerous and life-threatening micro-organisms. And don’t forget Adrian Monk, the detective who feels the need to ovoid stepping on sidewalk cracks (and other fun behaviors)
  • A Need can be subtle and ignorable or so overwhelmingly compelling that they preclude the very basic survival need: the need to say something rude to someone who offends us can be ignored, the need to take one’s own life is profoundly strong.

Most of us have experienced the drive to “create” in some form or other … artists are a good example.

painter at the beach
Why do artists create art?


Because they have to.

Very few of us who love to create can argue with that powerful unnamed force that drives us to pursue our passion. We don’t understand it, but we certainly feel it. Sometimes it’s so powerful it drowns out every other need.

We’ve all heard of a special few who have gone into a compulsive and frenetic state blocking out everything except breathing and using the bathroom. They’ve ignored food, social interaction, and sleep … fundamental survival needs. All because of a very powerful unmet need. There have even been movies made about painters and scientists who have ”crossed” over the “sanity” line while in one of these states (Russell Crowe in “A beautiful Mind”). When an unmet need becomes so

OCD Handwashing
OCD Hand washing

overwhelming in someone who is challenged with moderating the need-driving force within, it can become an obsession. In the above movie, the protagonist had OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Needs can be “attracting” (positive) or desirous. When “attracting” needs come into the consciousness … we become aware of them, we call them “wants” … regardless of whether they’re healthy or unhealthy. This is contradictory to the contemporary definition of a “want”. We teach children that a “want” is something they don’t really need, but desire. That circular definition precludes the conscious desire to get healthy needs met. I WANT to eat dinner. Mary WANTS to make hug Louise. Bob WANTS to get to his therapy session on time. Nicole WANTS the $2000 handbag. Ed WANTS to practice his violin, Damon wants to hit someone.

A “want” is a subset of a need, not an “opposite” as many schools still teach.

A ” want” is simply a “positive”, “conscious” need.

Needs can also be “repelling” or “non-attracting”. These are things we avoid or steer clear of. Dangerous situations, breaking laws, etc. are good examples.

  • Sophie wants to obey the posted speed law.
  • Nando needs to carry a flashlight on his evening hike.
  • Black Belt Archie needs to exercise restraint while sparring with a lower belt student.
  • We all should* have a fully inflated spare tire in in our vehicles.

This concept of attracting and repelling needs is not unlike the behavior of two magnets in proximity. If the poles are opposite, they attract, if they are the same, they repel. Needs act on us in similar ways.

Consider suicides. This is a legitimate, genuine, need. How can any of us deny the fact that there ‘s a force that is so powerful, it overshadows the need to live (self-preservation). Suicide is the need to avoid internal pain. This is a good example of a “repelling” need. The pain is so overwhelmingly strong that the owner of the need must do anything, even take his/her own very life in order to eliminate that pain.

Needs can be complex and powerful, wispy and barely perceptible, yours and/or mine, yet we all must attempt to understand those needs we possess, and if possible the needs of those other humans we share our planet with. At the very least, know that the person we are communicating with has their own set of needs … and that they just might differ from ours (see my post on Conflict of Needs).

*Should is the expression of a Need or a Want on the part of the speaker … in this case, your author 🙂

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