In therapy last week, my therapist shared with me the six basic needs of all humans–connection, purpose, security/safety, acceptance, belonging, significance. These are the human needs at the emotional level, not necessarily the survival level.

He then asked me to visually demonstrate on a piece of paper the order of importance these needs had in my life. I came up with the above pyramid to represent my needs, with the most “established” ones on the bottom, building in strength to the top need that is most elusive.

Purpose and significance are on the bottom because I’ve been driven so hard by the need to find my purpose. In doing so, a fringe benefit I establish on my own terms is significance. I have kept myself busy enough with work, school, and various side endeavors that these two things feel more or less “achieved”.

Security and connection comprise the second tier. I have created plenty of connections in my life. They aren’t all good connections though. Some of them are likely just imagined connections. But they create the illusion, at least, that I’m connected. To this day, I can point out who my real, true connections in my life are. Security is also one I’ve manufactured for myself. Beyond just relationships, I manufacture security with the nice, big apartment I live in; the car I drive; the cool, interesting, or “desired” things I own (especially my music collection). These two needs, security and connection, are satisfied in my life, to a superficial, if not outright disingenuous, degree.

Belonging and acceptance were the hardest to place for me. I thought when my therapist first wrote them on the white board that they are the same thing. Then, I realized the fine line between belonging and acceptance is that you might feel you belong somewhere, but you won’t always be accepted. Acceptance is a bit more (if not a lot more) elusive.

I put belonging on the second tier because most of my life has been about finding a place to fit in. In my endless activities of purpose and significance, filling the void of pursuit, the one thing I tried to land in was some kind of niche, some kind of home. Writing, video production, corporate jobs, gender identities, grunge kid, anti-conformist, social worker vigilante; creative, weird genius–all various titles and lifestyles I have identified with or tried to pursue. All places that I’ve tried to belong.

Acceptance then became the easiest for me to identify as the number one need. I do not feel accepted anywhere, truthfully. Whether real or imagined, whether by my own fears and inner voices or someone else’s opinion, I have not stayed anywhere long. No group, no title, no beliefs seem to fully encompass me for long before I realize that, despite belonging, I am not accepted. This revelation, whether real or imagined, moves me to unrest. I can’t feel happy, I can’t enjoy where I am because I am not accepted.

The inner voice tells me I don’t deserve to be there, that no one wants me there, that I’m just a fraud. Sometimes, this causes me to leave. Sometimes, I act destructively to silence it. Other times, I treat others poorly, in an effort to compensate and show that I’m tough. And other times still, I silently carry on, inwardly filling up with toxic shame and self-hatred. It doesn’t last long before I’m hurting myself or others, in some form or another.

It was then that my therapist shared how my inner addict works. The addict works to soothe and comfort me. To put out the fire, as he said. “I’m going to get you these needs!” The inner addict says. And so she does. With really ineffective, harmful habits, but it’s the only way she know to fix the problem.

Driven by the inner critic and the addict, I’ve gotten nowhere but bad. With this knowledge though, I’m better armed to fulfill my basic needs the healthy way.

I’m only 6 months in. It can only get better from here.

2 thoughts on “[Re-Plug] Hierarchy of Basic Needs

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