Our Primal Human Needs: a framework for wellbeing

As well as the obvious ‘basic needs’ for water, food and shelter, humans have a set of basic needs which are not so obvious, but just as essential to emotional wellbeing.

These fundamental needs (an understanding from Human Givens psychology*) are, all too often, not treated with the attention they deserve. When these needs go unmet for too long, we can suffer anxiety, depression, addiction, or some other emotional problem.

And because this develops over time, it can be easily overlooked, leaving us confused about why we don’t feel right.

To make matters worse, many people aren’t always aware they have these needs or how they affect their wellbeing, so here’s a ‘checklist’ of the 9 Primal Human Needs. Knowing them and ensuring you meet them healthily, at least most of the time, is the difference between just surviving your way through the day, and that of internally thriving – even through adversity.

Before you get started, you may be thinking who on earth has time to meet all these nine needs fully?

The good news is you can meet your Primal Human Needs by introducing only a few basic changes in your life. That’s because one activity can meet many needs.

• Going for a run could fulfil 2, 5 and 7, while contributing to 8 and 9.

• Talking with a friend might go towards 1, 6, 8 and 9.

That said, it’s also really important to make sure each need is met by more than one activity, so that you build a solid foundation, that can weather any storm.

On a scale of 1-10, score how well each of these primal human needs are being met in your life right now. These scores are anonymous and are not recorded against your name etc. This is purely a personal assesment.

1. The need to give and receive attention: fulfilled through friends, family, colleagues, pets, acquaintances

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2. The need to look after mind and physical body: fulfilled through sleep, rest, exercise, healthy diet, fresh air, physical touch

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3.The need for a sense of safety and security: fulfilled through knowing I will not be abused or in danger in my daily life; feeling reasonably sure I am not going to lose my house, job and so on.

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4. The need for a sense of community and making a contribution: fulfilled through belonging to a community, association, club, a group of like-minded friends, even family: just knowing there are other people ‘out there’ who feel and think the same as I do.

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5. The need for challenge and creativity: fulfilled through learning new skills, making progress, being creative, having fun, pushing myself outside my ‘comfort zone'.

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6. The need for intimacy and connection: fulfilled through a loving partner, a close friend or relative.

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7. The need for a sense of control: fulfilled through organising finances, managing emotions, being assertive in relationships, making & acting on decisions, devising long term goals.

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8. The need for a sense of status: fulfilled through having clear roles professionally, in a relationship, community or family.

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9. The need for a sense of meaning, purpose and goals: fulfilled through a strong sense that my plans for the future are worthwhile and that I can achieve them; having beliefs and values that I hold dear and can stand up for; having shared goals with others.

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What you’re aiming for is ideally 7/10 and above. In the areas that you might score lower, ask yourself ‘what’s one change I could introduce today to nudge things up by one?’

* Source: This framework is based on the work of Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell. For more information, please see https://www.hgi.org.uk/human-givens/introduction/what-are-human-givens

https://www.supporttheworkers.org/briefing-notes – this webpage has one-page briefing notes on various aspects of supporting those delivering healthcare in the current climate. Designed for psychologists but useful concise information.

Esther has recently published a paper on mental health care for medical staff and affiliated healthcare workers during the current pandemic. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2048872620922795

Join our panel as we explore the topic of wellbeing. What does it mean? How does it impact me? How do I address personal challenges? How do I heal the inner me?

Sarah Swanton recaps the human givens and suggests what you can adjust in to help improve your wellbeing

In this video Sarah mentions two books:

Homa Arshad (orthopaedic wellbeing lead at The Royal London Hospital) talks to us about what we can do to check in with others. How simple questions can explore other peoples states of wellbeing.

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