Why Emotional Needs Matter
“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”
As a former teacher, I have seen how important, in our culture, is to think our way through things with a heavy emphasis on thoughts and changing mindset. There is no doubt that our mind is incredible and capable of amazing things.
Meta-cognition (thinking about our thinking) was very important in helping students develop critical thinking skills. In essence, it helps us formulate decisions, problem solving, planning, and organizing.
Now, as a mental health counselor, I understand how important and essential emotional needs are. So, let’s begin with one important question:
How do we feel about feelings?
Dr. Julie and John Gottman have found the importance of assessing and considering meta-emotions which is how we feel about feelings. In some cases, individuals view feelings as helpful, important and valuable and feel very comfortable talking about feelings and even encourage expression.
Yet, for some individuals, feelings are viewed as negative, unhelpful, or unproductive and go through great lengths to avoid or minimize them.
To clarify, there is no right or wrong way to approaching emotions, so long as we are aware of our intention when we experience them.
An important consideration in regard to avoiding emotions is that emotional needs are signals that we need something.
In fact, it is often that the more we avoid them, the more they persist.
It isn’t done intentionally or on purpose. In many cases, they are often dismissed because emotional awareness can be quite unpleasant.
Our brain, nervous system and body sends us signals in various ways, a change in mood or energy or just unpleasant body sensations. We may avoid feeling what we feel to protect ourselves from the discomfort.
In my clinical practice I have learned how important is to be aware of both the mind and the heart. They provide us with glimpses of our internal emotional and cognitive landscape.
Both stories form our internal narrative. They shape our behaviors, choices, and life.
What are examples of emotional needs?
The following are examples of emotional needs.
- cared for
In essence, when met, emotional needs represent worthiness and human dignity.
It means that our existence is honored and that it matters.
Now, there may be parts of us that recognize and understand the value of emotional needs but may experience barriers either receiving it or even providing it.
Everyone’s narrative about emotional needs is different since it relies heavily on how our caregiver(s) approached our needs while growing up. This is often referred to attachment style.
Of course, this does not define us. There is so much more to emotional needs that are not exclusive to our caregivers such as resilience, protective factors and other caring adults.
Now, what can we do to help meet emotional needs, even if we had difficulties in the past or present?
- Identify which are your current emotional needs? You may begin by asking yourself:
What do I need in this moment?
Pick your top 3 and make those a priority, for example: safety, acceptance, and play
- Consider, with whom or under which contexts can those emotional needs be met?
This may mean engaging with people or settings more frequently, such as a caring family member or friend, church, school, and so on.
- Consider, which emotional needs could you provide yourself?
This may mean changing our self-talk, affirming ourselves, practicing appreciation, improving our sleep and self-care.
- Reduce exposure to contexts or individuals who inflict or perpetuate dismissing emotional needs.
This may mean reducing engagement with those individuals or contexts, for example: a critical friend or judgmental family member, high stress environment
- Increase exposure to context or individuals who provide safety, acceptance, engagement and energy.
This may mean increasing engagement in hobbies, school functions, and social events.
Basically, there are things we can do that can help nurture needs while some may deplete needs.
I will close with a final consideration; emotional needs do not exist in isolation. They exist in the presence of others. Of course, this doesn’t mean we depend on others to make us happy. However, when emotional needs are successfully met, it increases relational satisfaction and overall wellbeing.
My hope for you is to live wholeheartedly. Life is, after all, sensational.
With warmth and kindness,
A., V. D. (2015). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York (New York): Penguin Books.
Level One Theraplay @ Marshack Interaction Method training. (2019)
Brene Brown Quotes. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/brene_brown_553094