Unmet Emotional Needs? How to Identify and Meet Them

There is nothing as frustrating as being unhappy and not knowing why or what to do about it.

Thankfully, when it comes to our basic emotional needs, we’re a lot more straightforward than you might expect. 

Unmet needs are the source of all unhappiness. Which means when you know how to meet them, navigating life becomes much easier.

This post will explain what your needs are, why you need them and how to meet them. 

Let’s go!

Three Basic Emotional Needs

We have three core emotional needs as humans and they motivate every single conscious and unconscious behaviour:

  • We need to feel loved and that we belong.
  • We need to feel significant and have self-esteem. 
  • We need to feel certain – covering safety and control.

This model of emotional needs is adapted from Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy:

(You may also notice that it aligns fairly accurately with the chakra system).

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Of course we have physiological needs (food, shelter, sauvignon blanc…) but from a psychological perspective those things just tend to make us feel certain and safe. 

And of course, love and significance mirror love and esteem needs.

So, as humans we’re constantly striving to either meet or protect these needs.

If they’re threatened or if we’re running low on them, that’s when you see some crazy-ass behaviours…

They’re all deficiency needs. 

So, our motivation to attain them increases when we aren’t meeting them

It’s an away from motivation. Meaning that while yes, having those things is great, it’s the terrifying thought of being without them that drives us.

Basic Emotional Needs – It’s a Balancing Act

Let’s visualise that each person has *3 emotional buckets* that they clasp tightly to their chest 24/7.

Basic Emotional Needs Diagram
Basic Emotional Needs

In order for us to not feel like we’re dying (which I’m sure we can agree is great), we need to maintain an equilibrium of liquid in them at ALL times.

But the problem is, these buckets have holes in them – so we need to keep filling them up day in day out. And naturally, sometimes life comes on over, throws a tantrum and kicks the buckets over – making a massive mess.

(In fact, “my buckets are smashed over” is a firmly accepted term in our household).

When the Buckets Are Low

If too much liquid leaves the bucket it leads to isolation, worthlessness, and uncertainty. People in that position will do just about anything to get them filled back to an acceptable level.

If we’re running low on our needs, we can also take drastic measures to preserve whatever is left in the buckets. 

When the Buckets Are High

When the buckets are all extremely filled it feels euphoric. Those perfect mountain-top-moments when you feel like you can take on the fucking world. 

You thought the bucket analogy was already the best it could possibly be? It gets better.

Mirroring what goes on biologically – when you feel love, significance and certainty, the receptor sites in your brain get “filled up”. You’re effectively chemically rewarded for meeting these needs. 

* Metaphor credit goes to NLP gods Jess and Nick Reed-Robbins. 

Why Do We Need to Meet Our Emotional Needs?

Being social mammals – we’re built to exist in groups, and these three emotional needs strengthen our chances of survival within that structure.

If we’re loved, we’ll have the support and protection of the tribe. If we’re deemed important we have better resources and can attract a mate. When we’re certain we can be productive.

Conversely, if we feel isolated, worthless and uncertain, the likelihood is we’re not on good terms with the rest of society. And I can’t imagine chancing it with the wolves would have gone down successfully during the Ice Age…

We have the same primal needs now as we did tens of thousands of years ago.

And so, we’ve evolved to feel good when we have our needs met – it’s your brains way of giving you a gold star for survival skills. ★

Our emotional needs are intrinsic to our survival

It is literally a matter of life or death. 

It feels like a matter of life or death when you’re not meeting them. There is nothing on this planet that feels so utterly dreadful as unmet emotional needs – it’s your body giving you an obnoxiously loud danger alert.

It’s extremely hard to resist something or someone that meets your needs. Because we get rewarded when we get them – we’re wired to find them addictive. 

Survival is addictive

Any behaviour or vice you struggle to stop is highly meeting a need.

Depending on our map of the world, unconscious programming, beliefs and emotional state – we meet our needs in resourceful ways or unresourceful ways.

I.e. you can get your needs met by oozing benevolence, or by being a massive jerk.

Remember, something doesn’t have to be good for you (or others) to meet your needs – it can be really destructive. Self-sabotage always has a positive purpose and is intertwined with our needs.

How to Meet Your Own Emotional Needs 

1. Short Term Solution – Identifying Personal Needs

Naturally, a great immediate resource is simply identifying how you personally meet your basic needs and doing more of those behaviours.

Start off by taking an emotional needs inventory. 

Here are some questions to help your investigation: 

  • Do you feel loved, significant, certain? 
  • Which need do you feel you’re meeting the best?
  • Which need do you feel you’re lacking in the most?
  • How are you currently meeting your needs for love, significance, certainty? 
  • Are you meeting them in resourceful ways or unresourceful ways? 
  • What behaviours make you feel loved, significant, certain?

Try to identify the things that YOU do that make you feel great, not the external stuff.

Once you’ve pinned down the resourceful ways you can meet your needs – do more of it!

2. Long Term Solution – Doing the Shadow Work

To meet your needs much more efficiently in the long run (and transform your life while you’re at it), the answer lies in healing the big stuff.

By figuring out what limiting beliefs are causing bucket leakages and stopping them in their tracks, your buckets will retain liquid much more efficiently.

Allow me to explain.

Our experience is perceived according to our beliefs.

I used to have an extremely damaging belief (that basically ran my life) – “people don’t like me”. 

Every external situation you could possibly imagine would be unconsciously distorted to fit in with that belief, even things that had absolutely nothing to do with me. 

Any slightly awkward encounter or even just seeing other people have a good time without me would have my PEOPLE DON’T LIKE ME neurosis lit on fire – leaving me feeling worthless and isolated.

And that’s not even getting into the self-fulfilling prophecy side of things. Trust me, I was so exhausting that most people genuinely didn’t like me.

If we change our beliefs, we can apply a different meaning to situations.

Information from the external world is filtered in a different way.

Without that belief, I don’t distort the world around me to provide evidence for it.

So, when we remove our limiting beliefs, the metaphorical holes in the buckets get filled in. More life-sustaining liquid is kept in the buckets.

This is what I do day in day out with my clients. If you have limiting beliefs that are causing you pain, I can help you dissolve them.

Go Forth and Meet Your Needs!!

Understanding this concept truly is the starting point not only for self-awareness and healing but also making sense of the world around you.

I get that this can seem basic, but it really underpins everything, for everyone.

So go get yourself some love, significance and certainty

And of course, if you need help getting started – you know where to find me.

Love Rae x

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