Basic Needs

Basic Needs
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Basic Needs traditionally refer to food (including water), shelter and clothing. When basic needs are unmet, they motivate survival driven action. We must satisfy basic needs before we can attend to growth oriented behaviors. Basic needs (physiological needs) are the foundation in Abraham Maslow’s pyramid of human actualization.

Maslow's heiarchy of needs pyramid, displaying self-actualization on the top

Fundamental Survival Needs

The body needs calories to function. The body constantly is performing survival functions that require energy. We provide energy by consuming a variety of nutrients including protein, fat, and carbohydrates. For example, without food, the body begins to atrophy and eventually dies. Ample hydration allows is necessary for critical survival processes to occur. Without water the body cannot process food or remove wastes, we cannot survive without water. In general, our bodies cannot survive harsh elements for extended time. We need shelter from the natural elements and protection from other organisms fighting for survival. Our organs and muscles need oxygen. Even short periods without oxygen can irreparably damage critical organs necessary for survival.

Maladaptive Behaviors that Interfere with Basic Needs

While oxygen has little flexibility, the other basic needs can be neglected for varying periods. Sometimes maladaptive addictions take priority over sleep, food, and shelter. We still need the basic but healthy and sufficient supply of those needs are often restricted in favor of the louder demands of addiction.

For example, we may forego sleep during a week long methamphetamine binge but eventually before the body crashes; or a heroine addiction may be fed, postponing consumption of needed calories. Consequently, the body deteriorates from malnourishment.

Basic Needs and Motivations

Fulfilling needs are part of the survive and thrive equation with thriving equivalent to Maslow’s self actualization. However, the motivating force doesn’t always push us to thrive. Basically, needs are more than a tidy ingrained motivating force. Needs emerge from a complex interplay between emotion, conscious thought, and action. Leslie S. Greenberg Ph.D., a Research Professor Emeritus of Psychology at York University in Toronto, wrote that, “needs, thus, do not derive from drives, but from affect” (2015, location 943).

Basic Needs for Survival

Needs for survival stir strong emotional reaction. The more immediate the impact the more violent the emotional reaction to deprivation of the need. Heightened emotional reactions leave traces in memory that create positive and negative relationships with behaviors associated to the need. Filling our lungs with air feels good, or drinking a glass of cool water in the heat delights. The behaviors that satisfy the physiological or psychological need are embraced.

Physiological needs such as consumption of calories or sleep have a more distal consequences and, therefore, a much reduced emotional reaction to deprivation. Staying up late watching a show, missing important rest, may be enjoyable and the tiredness next morning can be combatted with a strong cup of coffee. Overall, we fill these needs in bits and pieces, often without an extreme memorable emotional reaction.

Greenberg elaborates that needs are “the seeking of those states that lead to adaptive reduction in negative affect or increase of more positive adaptive affect that are associated with the reduction of negative states through learning” (location 960). Antonio Damasio, Professor of Neuroscience and Director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California wrote that “selective strengthening and weakening of populations of synapses as a result of experience carve out circuits that become needs (Damasio, 1999).

Our responses to needs are learned. Neglect of key ingredients of survival stir an emotional response and our reactions to that response creates relationships between external events and behavioral reactions.

Behavioral Efficiency in Fulfilling Basic Needs

Thriving is obtained through efficiently satisfying basic needs, avoiding distress of depravation and providing peacefully assured that those needs will be satisfied in the future. When our behaviors and structure leads to these secure states, we thrive. Certainly, efficiently fulfilling basic needs eases the mind, allowing for pursuing the other psychological needs of self actualization.

We can’t ignore the larger role that governments, families, and cultures play in this process. Outside forces intervene on personal paths to security, disrupting and destroying personal freedoms necessary for thriving. 

Books on Self-Actualization and Basic Needs

Fulfilling Greater Needs

The more our basic needs are satisfied, the more our drive towards fulfilling them eases, allowing for pursuit of other activities directed towards filling other needs higher on the hierarchy pyramid.

We also call basic needs our primary needs or physiological needs

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Damasio, A. (1999). The feeling of what happens. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace.

​Greenberg, L.S. (2015). ​Emotion-Focused Therapy: Coaching Clients to Work Through Their Feelings. American Psychological Association; 2nd edition.

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