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It is usually obvious when we aren’t getting our physical needs met. Our mouths feel dry from thirst, our stomachs rumble, or maybe our eyelids droop down begging for sleep.

But what about emotional needs?

These are often harder to identify, evaluate and satisfy when compared to their physical counterparts. For example, what would you require to feel satisfied with your personal relationships, work and self?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

One popular theory relating to emotional needs is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In this theory, each level represents a new kind need that is usually more complex, or harder to attain than the step before it. Furthermore, each level can only be attained if the levels below are sufficiently satisfied.

So for example, according to Maslow we cannot work on fulfilling our needs in regards to a personal relationship if we do not feel safe or have adequate health, housing and food.

You can view his Hierarchy below, with the basic needs coming first.

  • Biological Needs

This refers to basic biological needs required for life (food, water, general health, etc.). If we cannot meet our biological needs, we will struggle to physically survive in life.

  • Safety

Feeling safe at home, the workplace and in public. This also involves feeling stable in regards to life’s pressures and financial matters. If we cannot feel safe at home people may feel aspects of trauma.

  • Love and Belongingness

Having intimate friendships and worthwhile relationships with others. In other words, having a sense of belongingness.

  • Esteem

Feeling good about yourself, feeling that you are respected and having a sense of independence. For many, work, a particular hobby or project may be a method of building esteem and gaining respect.

  • Self-Actualization

This involves understanding and realising your true potential. In other words, being the very best you can be. Additional feelings associated with self-actualization include having a sense of connectedness with the world and a deep appreciation for life.

A critical look at Maslow’s theory

Maslow’s theory has a few limitations. Maslow based his work on indirectly studying only a small sample of people who he looked up to such as Abraham Lincoln, Einstein and Ghandi. It is difficult to know whether the assumptions made on this small sample can be generalised to the general population and different cultural subsets within the population. In addition, it doesn’t always seem to be the case that these needs must be met in a particular order for them to be important. For example, how often have you seen someone sacrifice their own health for an important business meeting or romantic partner?

What Maslow did do however, was begin the process of analysing the different levels of our needs and what constitutes each need. In other words, he laid the foundation for future work to build upon.

How can therapy help with meeting these emotional needs?

Often when emotional needs are not being met we feel sad, anxious, rundown or frustrated. Therapy can help identify what these emotional needs are and how best they can be met or compromised.

Furthermore, someone may suffer a physical complaint, such as insomnia, which is the result of emotional needs not being met. This creates a vicious cycle, in which that person is too tired to cope with their emotional needs not being met, leaving them unresolved and worsening their insomnia.

Therapists are able to provide support, relaxation techniques and other strategies to help deal with these initial problems, while also working on the neglected emotional needs by using one or a number of the following therapies: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Schema Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and/or Emotional Needs Therapy.