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Psychological Needs of Humans

The human psyche is a complex tapestry of emotions, desires, and needs.

Among these, psychological needs are fundamental to our well-being and overall functioning.

What are psychological needs

A psychological need revolves around mental and emotional well-being, setting it apart from our clear-cut physical or biological needs.

While we can easily identify physical needs like shelter, food, or clothing, psychological needs are more elusive often hidden beneath the surface.

These needs are pivotal in our personal growth, adaptation, and life satisfaction.

They are universally felt, regardless of cultural or economic background.​1​

Two of the best-known theories on the importance of psychological needs are Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the Self-Deteremination theory.

group of friends having meal

Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs (HON)

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a psychological theory proposed by Abraham Maslow in 1943 that describes a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid.​2​

From the bottom of the hierarchy upwards, the needs are:

  1. Physiological Needs: These are the basic needs required for human survival, such as:
    • Food
    • Water
    • Warmth
    • Sleep
    • Breathing
  2. Safety Needs: Once physiological needs are met, the individual’s attention turns to basic security needs to be free from the threat of physical and emotional harm. Examples include:
    • Personal security
    • Financial security
    • Health and well-being
    • Safety against accidents and injury
  3. Social Belonging or Love Needs: After physiological and safety needs are fulfilcled, social needs are the third layer of human needs. This involves emotionally-based relationships in particular, such as:
    • Friendships
    • Intimacy
    • Family
    • Sense of connection with others
  4. Esteem Needs: Esteem needs refer to the desire for respect from peers, recognition, fame, prestige, and attention. This includes:
    • Self-esteem
    • Confidence
    • Achievement
    • Respect from others
  5. Self-Actualization Needs: This is the highest level in Maslow’s hierarchy theory and refers to realizing a person’s potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth, and peak experiences. It’s about becoming the best version of oneself.

Maslow believed these needs are similar to instincts and play a prominent role in motivating human behavior.

The idea is that individuals must satisfy lower-level needs before progressing to meet higher-level growth needs.

Once these needs have been reasonably satisfied, one may be able to reach the highest level, which is self-actualization.

However, if the most basic needs are unmet, individuals cannot fully devote themselves to fulfilling their potential.

Over the years, Maslow refined his theory, introducing more levels and nuances, but the five-tier model remains the most widely recognized and cited.

Self-determination theory (SDT)

The Self-Determination Theory is a comprehensive framework for understanding human motivation and personal development.

Developed in the 1970s by psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, this theory has been refined and expanded upon through decades of research and empirical studies.

At its core, the Self-Determination Theory suggests that universal psychological needs must be satisfied for individuals to achieve optimal growth, well-being, and health.

These needs are not just whims or desires but have a central role in our psychological health and motivation, much like vitamins are essential for our physical health.

According to the Self-determination theory, a person’s psychological needs – autonomy, relatedness, and competence – must be met to grow and flourish optimally.​3​

When these core psychological needs are met, we don’t just experience improved well-being; we also unlock a reservoir of intrinsic motivation.

This intrinsic motivation empowers us to pursue challenging tasks, learn new skills, and push our boundaries.

In contrast, people might still be motivated when these needs are unmet, but this motivation is often extrinsic, driven by external rewards or punishments rather than genuine interest or passion.

Autonomy: The Need for Independence

Autonomy is the innate need to be the master of one’s own life, to make decisions, and to have control over one’s actions and choices. This desire for freedom is about feeling that you are the driver of your own life rather than being a passenger.

Autonomy Examples:

  • Choice in Tasks: Being able to choose which tasks or projects to work on rather than always being told what to do.
  • Flexible Work Hours: Having the freedom to set one’s own work schedule allows for a better work-life balance.
  • Decision-making: Being involved in decision-making processes rather than having decisions imposed.

Consequences of Autonomy Deprivation:

  • Decreased Motivation: A lack of autonomy can dampen enthusiasm and interest in tasks, leading to a diminished drive.​4​
  • Reduced Psychological Well-being: Feelings of frustration, resentment, and a loss of self-worth can emerge, accompanied by heightened stress, depression, and anxiety symptoms.​5​
  • Diminished Creativity: Autonomy fuels creativity. Its absence can stifle innovative thinking, creative fulfillment, and problem-solving abilities.​6​
  • Strained Relationships: A constant feeling of being controlled can lead to conflicts and communication breakdowns.​7​

Relatedness: The Need for Connection

Relatedness, or connectedness, refers to the desire to form meaningful connections with others. It’s about feeling understood, cared for, and valued by those around us.

Relatedness Examples:

  • Meaningful Conversations: Engaging in deep and genuine discussions with friends, family, or colleagues fosters a sense of connection.
  • Group Activities: Participating in group events or hobbies, such as joining a book club, sports team, or community choir.
  • Family Gatherings: Spending quality time with family members during holidays, reunions, or regular family dinners.

Consequences of Relatedness Deprivation:

  • Profound Loneliness: An absence of meaningful connections can lead to feelings of isolation and emptiness.​8​
  • Low Self-Esteem: Without validation from others, one’s self-worth can plummet.​9​
  • Mental Disorders: The lack of social support can increase the risk of depression and anxiety.​10​
  • Impaired Social Skills: Forming new relationships becomes challenging without regular social interactions.​11​

Competence: The Need for Mastery

Competence, or mastery, is the intrinsic desire to be effective in one’s pursuits. The experience of mastery is about feeling capable and confident in one’s abilities to achieve desired outcomes.

Competence Examples:

  • Academic Achievements: Earning a degree, certification, or excelling in a particular subject or course.
  • Professional Success: Receiving a promotion, completing a challenging project, or being recognized for one’s contributions at work.
  • Creative Expression: Successfully creating art, writing, or any other creative behavior and feeling proud of the result.

Consequences of Competence Deprivation:

  • Decreased Confidence: Doubts about one’s capabilities can arise, leading to diminished self-belief.​12​
  • Reduced Motivation: A feeling of incompetence can deter individuals from taking on new challenges.​13​
  • Impaired Performance: Inability to meet expectations can reinforce feelings of inadequacy.
  • Increased Stress: Constant worries about not meeting standards can lead to emotional distress.​14​


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