8 minutes

Learn what you need, it’s very important!

In recent days, my attention has been drawn to press reports about the number of suicide attempts among children and teenagers in Poland, in 2023. After several years of very strong increases, the situation has somewhat stabilized, but there are still very, very many of them – over 2000! Behind each is a story of a young person on the brink of despair. These stories, though often unspoken, are an alarming signal that should prompt us adults to think more deeply about the causes of this situation and take action. Today, my personal view on this issue. But before that, there will be a somewhat lengthy introduction.

One of my greatest discoveries

In my deliberations, I won’t be particularly innovative. However, what I want to write about today turned out to be one of my greatest life discoveries for myself. It’s about NEEDS, our needs. For the first time, I encountered a structured approach to the issue of needs – also how their fulfillment or lack thereof affects our emotions, and then behaviors – many years ago. However, at that time, I did not grasp how important this issue is. I treated these topics as another interesting concept, something that “flew by me” and little remained of it. And that’s a pity.

The topic of the importance of needs, however, started to insistently appear in my life in recent years. Actually, it persistently returned from different directions as part of my study of “what life is about”. As it entered through the door, and I – again trivializing it – imprudently kicked it out, it came in through the window. And so on and so forth – it was almost a constant element linking many different threads related to my thoughts and studies of “life”. Therefore, I finally decided to surrender and devote more time and engagement to it. The result? Today, needs are at the center of my attention, also literally – in my home office, above my desk, hangs a huge poster with human needs (see below, an English version is available here). When something is internally boiling within me, the first thing I do is try to reach the sources using this map.

Although for me personally the issue of needs has become an important topic relatively recently, it is one of the foundations upon which today’s psychology is built. It assumes that human actions are motivated by needs. When our needs at a given moment are satisfied, we feel fulfilled, perceive life as something positive, and feel comfortable. When they are not met, they give rise to emotions in us, signaling that something is wrong. That some actions need to be taken. All of this seems simple at first glance:

  • we feel happiness, it means everything is okay,
  • we feel that something is boiling inside us (emotions) -> we interpret what it is about (which need is not satisfied) -> we take appropriate adaptive actions and as a result -> we feel happy and fulfilled.

Unfortunately, in reality, it is not so rosy.

Nothing works

There are several reasons for this situation. First, we are usually not aware of our needs. We are not taught this anywhere. Meanwhile, recognizing needs is a step without which we cannot respond to them. Sure, when we are hungry, the gnawing in our stomach reminds us of the need to eat. When our eyes are closing, we know that it signals the need for sleep. Similarly, with the need for shelter (once a cave, today a home/apartment) and a few others. But these are not our only needs. This list is much, much longer! Besides physical needs, we also have needs for joy from life (humor, fun, adventure, …), self-realization needs (usefulness, authenticity, achievements,…), autonomy needs (own daily rhythm, freedom of choice,…), social needs (being seen and heard, trust,…), spiritual needs (meaning, contact with nature, transcendence,…). All of these need to be satisfied. Of course, not all at the same time, but this adds an additional challenge because our needs change, even throughout the day.

Second, not being aware of our own needs, we usually focus on what the world (media, education, upbringing patterns) indicates to us as what will bring us joy and satisfaction. And this is a great, great trap. The world directs us towards GOALS, WHICH IN THE VAST MAJORITY ARE NOT CONGRUENT WITH OUR INNER NEEDS. As a result, we often struggle in our lives – although the list of our achievements and successes grows, the internal peace is as absent as ever. All this resembles a ship that has set the wrong course and lands not where it should (I described my own experiences in this regard some time ago in “Correct Your Course!“).

Third, we pay too little attention to our EMOTIONS. This is again largely a derivative of upbringing and education patterns, within which emotions often turned out to be something “not proper to show,” “a sign of weakness,” etc. As a result, many of us treated and treat them in one or several of the following ways: suppress, restrain, deny, displace. In practice, this has an internal dimension (pushing certain things into our subconscious) and an external one, compulsive shopping, using various substances, drifting into the virtual world, etc. This is nothing else but a time bomb that sooner or later explodes in us. Not to mention that in this way, we do not give ourselves the slightest chance to reach the level of needs.

As can be seen from the above, the whole mechanism described above, linking our needs, emotions, and our well-being, usually does not work. In most cases, it’s not about this or that element of it, but about the whole! Meanwhile, we are like a tree seed, which to fully develop needs the satisfaction of a full range of needs. If we water it but do not provide light and fertile soil, nothing will grow from it. If we water it but plant it in the desert, the only thing we can expect is its stunted form.

The problem lies in us, adults

It’s high time to return to the issue mentioned at the beginning, that our children and teenagers are struggling to cope with the world. It’s no surprise. We adults are struggling with it, and as a result, we do not provide good life recipes for our children. This is why we face the paradox that although as a nation we are wealthier than ever in history, we do not know how to live. In this pursuit of wealth – thus, goals imposed on us by the world – we failed to notice a long list of other needs, those emotional, mental, relational, and spiritual. Everyday examples, such as addiction to social media or the lack of deeper, personal relationships, illustrate how their neglect manifests in the behavior of young people. If we understood the basic principles of life and functioning, first, we ourselves would have a completely different attitude to what comes “from the world,” we wouldn’t pay it so much attention, and secondly, we would know that it’s necessary to set clear boundaries in their use by our children and youth.

Not having the skills and tools to comprehensively satisfy our own needs, we are unable to properly guide our children and take care of them. We usually connect with the physical part of us, and much less with the others: emotional, spiritual, mental. The same applies to our contacts with children. As a result, many young people grow up believing that a person’s value is defined by what they possess materially, what title they have acquired, etc. This leads to emptiness and frustration. It leaves permanent marks on their further life, as beautifully written by L.C. Gibson in “Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents.

Don’t blame yourself!

I write all this not to induce a collective sense of guilt in us. In my opinion, the mechanisms described above represent universal truths about how the world works, but nobody passed them on to us. And certainly, we were not taught this in schools. However, we have a chance to change this! We can enrich the chain of human relations by adding the missing dimensions. It depends on us whether we will take the time to realize that each of us is not only physical. Also, that the role of parents is much broader than just satisfying a child’s material needs. It is important to help young people in identifying, understanding, and dealing with emotions, which in turn are a direct expression of unmet needs. Society, schools, and families should take concrete steps, such as implementing educational programs focused on emotional development, to address this problem. Only by supporting the understanding and satisfaction of emotional and spiritual needs can we help young people find the path to true happiness and avoid tragic consequences.

Everything must start with and from us. How? There is already a lot of helpful literature on the subject today. Based on my own experiences, I can suggest something practical to start with. If you are interested in examining your needs, I recommend the compilations and tools (e.g., needs test) available on potrzebopedia.pl and empatify.pl. The poster that proudly hangs above my desk comes from the latter.


The image accompanying the text was generated by AI (DALL-E)

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