Emotions are a preparation for action with an expectation that the action will meet a need. From this definition, two things can be said with some confidence. Firstly, all behaviour is needs-driven; behaviour is an expression of an individual’s attempt to get a need met; a demonstration of a need being met; or the perception that a need currently being met by that behaviour is threatened. This is a significant principle, for it provides an answer to that rhetorical question: “Why would they do this?” It removes the often frustrating search for an explanation for behaviour that to our minds does not make any sense.
Secondly, the definition allows for this statement to be made:
…if a person with an undamaged brain is getting their emotional needs met well, they will not have psychological problems. There is no more profound statement that can be made about mental health.
Tyrrell, I. 2005
The Human Givens therapy and education approach is based on the proposition that every human is born with an enormous amount of innate knowledge that has accumulated over centuries. This knowledge facilitates our survival and ability to adapt to and interact with our environment.
This innate or instinctive knowledge is expressed in two ways:
- as needs, physical and emotional expectations seeking fulfilment
- as resources, the guidance systems that help us get our needs met.
This needs and resources balance results in sound emotional health, and problems arise when needs are not met, or resources are not used appropriately.
Physical needs include a wholesome diet, regular exercise, restorative sleep, as well as shelter and security.
Emotional needs, previously thought of as things that get in the way of clear thinking, are becoming recognised as equally important as physical needs. Emotional needs (with the corresponding fears that arise when they are not met or getting them met is threatened) may include:
- Life/growth/survival, and the fear of death, annihilation, danger
- Love/intimacy/connection, and the fear of rejection loneliness and alienation
- Challenge/exploration, and the fear of losing problem-solving ability
- Significance/meaning, and the fear of insignificance, meaninglessness
- Control/autonomy, and the fear of being overwhelmed and not coping.
As well as needs, we are all given a set of resources that can help us get these needs met. Things like imagination, long-term memory, the ability to learn through metaphor, a dreaming brain, and the capacity to observe ourselves. This latter resource, called ‘the observing self’ is particularly useful therapeutically in separating the person from the condition – one can often see the effect of this in response to the question “How does this thing called depression con you into thinking is such black or white; all or nothing thinking?”
Tyrrell, I. (2005) Tuning in to our natural endowment: the human givens. Journal of Holistic Healthcare, Vol 2 – 4.