What are Needs? Understand Them to Meet Them!

A topic that gets presented quite often in therapy is the concept of needs.  When I ask some one to explain how they are getting their needs met I am often met with confusion.  So I propose starting at the beginning, what is a need?  With a working knowledge of what a need is, you can than go on to explore which needs are being met and, for those that are not, how to meet them.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow first proposed what he called “A Hierarchy of Needs” in 1943 and subsequently published his theory in 1953 in his book entitled Motivation and Personality.

Maslow's Needs


Maslow proposes that you must satisfy your most basic needs (starting at the bottom of the pyramid) before you will go on to meet your higher order needs.  Maslow also suggests that unmet needs will result in anxiety and tension.

Physiological Needs

Are the physical needs we require to survive- air, water, food, sleep, clothing and shelter.  These are the most important needs and should be met first.

Safety Needs

Are physical and financial security, health and well-being and a safety net against accidents and illness.   Although these needs are mostly seen in children they can be seen across the lifespan.  Steps you can take to meet this needs include, providing a safe living environment for yourself and your family, maintain employment and budget your finances and take care your health, to name a few.

Love and Belonging

Is an interpersonal need involving closeness and feelings with others.  This need tends to be strongest in childhood but can also been seen unmet across the lifespan.  Humans have a strong desire to belong to a group, large (teams or organizations for example) or small (spouse or best friend for example).  Unmet needs at this level can result in loneliness, depression or anxiety.


Is the need to feel valued and respected by self and others.  Maslow proposed to degrees to esteem, (1) low level esteem is the need for respect from others and (2) high level esteem is the need for self-respect.  High level esteem  can be achieved through confidence, independence and inner competence.  Unmet needs at this level can result in weakness or helplessness.

Self Actualization

Is the identification and realization of your full potential.  At this level, one is ‘the best that they can be.’  This can pertain to a life role, career, hobby or activity for example.  Maslow said, that in order to understand this level, one must master the previous levels.

You can use Maslow’s theory as a framework to start understanding your own needs.  Start from the bottom and work your way up.  You will feel motivation to reach new levels as you master the previous one.  Which needs are being met?  Which needs are not being met and how can you get there?  It is okay to seek out extra help to get to where you need to be!