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"Need" is the word we use in NVC for the deepest motivations behind anything we think or say, any action or reaction. The need that is most alive in us can change from moment to moment. Even when it is the same need for some period of time, it is arising again and again in each moment. We also call them values. Whatever we call them, we are looking for something:

  • positive - something we would like to be fulfilled, even if we don't like the current strategy someone is using to get it
  • abstract - not attached to any particular person, place or thing (then it would be a strategy - see Need vs. Strategy)
  • universal - All people share the same needs.

How to identify needs

  • Identify what feelings are present. Often this gives a clear suggestion of what need is most present. For example, if someone feels confused, they may be needing more clarity.
  • Think about a similar situation you've been in - what need was alive in you?
  • Reflect on the content of thoughts. For example, if someone says "You're so selfish!" or "You only care about yourself" they may be wanting more consideration.

Emotional needs

We are all born with essential physical and emotional needs and the innate resources to help us fulfil them. These innate needs have evolved over millions of years and are our common biological inheritance, whatever our cultural background.

Our innate needs seek their fulfillment through the way we interact with the environment using the resources nature 'gave' us. But when our emotional needs are not being met, or when our resources are being used incorrectly, we suffer considerable distress. And so do those around us.

It is by meeting our physical and emotional needs that we survive and develop as individuals and a species. Our emotional needs include:

  • Security — safe territory and an environment which allows us to develop fully
  • Attention (to give and receive it) — a form of nutrition
  • Sense of autonomy and control — having volition to make responsible choices
  • Being emotionally connected to others
  • Feeling part of a wider community
  • Friendship, intimacy — to know that at least one other person accepts us totally for who we are, “warts 'n' all”
  • Privacy — opportunity to reflect and consolidate experience
  • Sense of status within social groupings
  • Sense of competence and achievement
  • Meaning and purpose — which come from being stretched in what we do and think.

To learn more about the emotional needs, follow the link:

Alternate understandings of needs include Maslow's hierarchy of needs [1], and the work of the Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef [2]: