Emotional Nutrition – our Innate Needs

Well Being

Out of the blue, after 20yrs in the same job, there is a change in management and Jeff starts to feel anxious about going into work. There have been some recent changes and a few redundancies. He no longer feels secure in his job, and he is finding it difficult to keep up with the changes.

Susie has agreed for the in-laws to move in while they await the completion of their new bungalow down the road. It was fine for the first few weeks, but now she is starting to feel hemmed in, both physically and emotionally. She feels she has lost control of her space and her privacy.

A mother of 3 children suddenly feels lost when her last child leaves home. Her sense of purpose has gone. She doesn’t know how to fill her time, or fill that need to give and support. She no longer feels needed.

Ashley’s best friend who lived round the corner, has moved to the States with her husband who has a new job. They were very close friends, and would meet weekly over coffee. They had both supported each other during challenging periods over the last few years. Now Ashley feels lost. She has no one to turn to when she needs to talk things through.

Innate Needs.

All the above are examples of one of our innate needs not being met. There are 9 innate needs. They are needs that nourish us emotionally, just as good nutrition nourishes us physically. If one of them is not met, we will feel the impact, to a lesser or greater degree depending on how well all our other needs are being met. Usually, over time, we adjust to the change in circumstances, get it met by something new or change our circumstance. So, Ashley, may take action and start socialising more so that she can meet new people and make new friends. With the in-laws moving in, it may require a change in behaviour to obtain that privacy, such as going out daily for a walk or setting boundaries.

If, however, too many of the innate needs are not being met, life can start to feel very challenging, and this will affect us emotionally and psychologically.

Privacy doesn’t seem like an important need. If, from the moment we get up to the time we go to bed is full on, running round after the kids or family and going to work, we start to feel exhausted, not just from the physical and mental side of things, but also emotionally. We need time to process our emotions and think about the things that have gone on through the day and plan the next day or our future. Otherwise, we start to feel like a hamster on its wheel. Just having 30 mins a day to reflect on life, by going for a walk or having coffee quietly is therapeutic. But, on the other hand, if we spend too much time on our own we become isolated. Social contact is important. We need emotional connection in the form of friendships and intimacy. The elderly are particularly vulnerable and loneliness is a killer.

Security and a sense of control are very closely linked. The former can be lost in an instant, such as being involved in an accident or suffering a heart attack. Or it can come on gradually when we realise that a new colleague is a bully, or our local pub has just changed hands and is attracting unsavoury clientele. But also we may feel we have lost control if we develop a chronic illness or noisy neighbours move in and we are not getting any sleep. Living in constant fear causes anxiety and prevents us growing as a person. Some friendships make us feel safer and more secure than others, those are relationships where we feel we are not judged and we can be ourselves. Having responsibility, say at work or in a marriage gives us feel in control. Being told what to do all the time has the opposite effect.

Learning a new activity, passing exams, feeling competent at something, all give us a sense of achievement and make us feel good about ourselves, building our self-esteem. This can be physically or intellectually. For the mother, providing a good home which she is proud of will give her a sense of achievement. If work is unsatisfying, then finding something outside of work to excel at, perhaps being captain of the local cricket club, and being the top scorer each season is necessary. But we also need to do things that stretch ourselves physically, mentally or creatively. This gives meaning to our lives, otherwise life seems pointless.

We are also social creatures, and we would never have developed as a species if we had not been so. We thrive on being part of a larger  community, such as the church, a political group, a voluntary organisation, or being at university. It makes us healthier physically and emotionally by being part of a larger network. We feel supported, and we feel connected by having similar values or interests within the group.

Then there is giving attention and receiving attention which is like a bank account. We need to have the right balance of the two. If we give too much, such as being in a caring profession, or a mother of a large family, we start to feel drained. Being acknowledged and appreciated at work is receiving attention, but being criticized or bullied is also a form of attention. It is the positive attention which is what we thrive on. But those of us lacking attention, negative attention is better than none. We may even go out of our way to get attention, and this can make us vulnerable to manipulation. However, too much attention whether good or bad, stifles us.

Lastly, we need to feel recognised and valued as an individual. We need to feel that what we do is worthwhile and is for the good of others and that others recognise this and respect us. This is termed status. It is not about what we do but about how others respond to what we do. A cleaner can have this need met just as easily as the boss of a large company, if others approach her for help or appreciate what she is doing.

In summary, we have a variety of needs which nourish us emotionally. If one is not fully met, then we can cope. But if severally are severely lacking or many of them could be met better, we start to feel emotionally deprived. Life then becomes a rocky ride…..

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