“When therapists work intelligently from ‘the Human Givens’, progress is usually swift and inevitable.”  - THE EUROPEAN THERAPY STUDIES INSTITUTE

We are all born with innate knowledge programmed into us from our genes. Throughout life we experience this knowledge as feelings of physical and emotional need.

These feelings evolved over millions of years and, whatever our cultural background, are our common biological inheritance. They are the driving force that motivates us to become fully human and succeed in whatever environment we find ourselves in. It is because they are incorporated into our biology at conception that we call them 'human givens'.

Our physical needs: As animals we are born into a material world where we need air to breathe, water, nutritious food and sufficient sleep. These are the paramount physical needs. Without them, we quickly die. In addition we also need the freedom to stimulate our senses and exercise our muscles. We instinctively seek sufficient and secure shelter where we can grow and reproduce ourselves and bring up our young. These physical needs are intimately bound up with our emotional needs — the main focus of human givens psychology.

Our emotional needs: Emotions create distinctive psychobiological states in us and drive us to take action. The emotional needs nature has programmed us with are there to connect us to the external world, particularly to other people, and survive in it. They seek their fulfillment through the way we interact with the environment. Consequently, when these needs are not met in the world, nature ensures we suffer considerable distress — anxiety, anger, depression etc. — and our expression of distress, in whatever form it takes, impacts on those around us. 

People whose emotional needs are met in a balanced way do not suffer mental health problems. When psychotherapists and teachers pay attention to this they are at their most effective.

In short, it is by meeting our physical and emotional needs that we survive and develop as individuals and a species. 

There is widespread agreement as to the nature of our emotional needs. The main ones are listed below.

Emotional needs include:

  • Security — safe territory and an environment which allows us to develop fully

  • Attention (to give and receive it) — a form of nutrition

  • Sense of autonomy and control — having volition to make responsible choices

  • Emotional intimacy — to know that at least one other person accepts us totally for who we are, “warts 'n' all”

  • Feeling part of a wider community

  • Privacy — opportunity to reflect and consolidate experience

  • Sense of status within social groupings

  • Sense of competence and achievement

  • Meaning and purpose — which come from being stretched in what we do and think.

Along with physical and emotional needs nature gave us guidance systems to help us meet them. We call these 'resources'.

The resources nature gave us to help us meet our needs include:

  • The ability to develop complex long term memory, which enables us to add to our innate knowledge and learn

  • The ability to build rapport, empathise and connect with others

  • Imagination, which enables us to focus our attention away from our emotions, use language and problem solve more creatively and objectively

  • Emotions and instincts

  • A conscious, rational mind that can check out our emotions, question, analyse and plan

  • The ability to 'know' — that is, understand the world unconsciously through metaphorical pattern matching

  • An observing self — that part of us that can step back, be more objective and be aware of itself as a unique centre of awareness, apart from intellect, emotion and conditioning

  • A dreaming brain that preserves the integrity of our genetic inheritance every night by metaphorically defusing expectations held in the autonomic arousal system because they were not acted out the previous day.

It is such needs and tools together that make up the human givens, nature's genetic endowment to humanity.

Over enormous stretches of time, they underwent continuous refinement as they drove our evolution on. They are best thought of as inbuilt patterns — biological templates — that continually interact with one another and (in undamaged people) seek their natural fulfilment in the world in ways that allow us to survive, live together as many-faceted individuals in a great variety of different social groupings, and flourish.

It is the way those needs are met, and the way we use the resources that nature has given us, that determine the physical, mental and moral health of an individual.

As such, the human givens are the benchmark position to which we must all refer — in education, mental and physical health and the way we organise and run our lives. When we feel emotionally fulfilled and are operating effectively within society, we are more likely to be mentally healthy and stable. But when too many innate physical and emotional needs are not being met in the environment, or when our resources are used incorrectly, unwittingly or otherwise, we suffer considerable distress. And so do those around us

For further information please see http://www.hgi.org.uk/archive/human-givens.htm


More about the Basic Needs

Your basic needs are hardwired into you and are what identify you as human. So you are hardwired to seek out security, company, meaning, intimacy, status and achievement, control over your life, stimulation etc. When your basic needs in life are met, you have the spare capacity to enjoy life and focus on what could be your real potential. We all share needs but some have greater appetites for those needs than others. Some people need more company, more security than others, for example, and this will vary from time to time according to your life circumstances. So if someone has just been made redundant they may be in need of greater attention at that time.

Some people spend whole life times striving to fulfil basic needs and therefore fail to develop the ‘spare capacity’ to focus on other things. When your basic needs are not met you will instinctively and sometimes unknowingly try to meet them in ways that may be damaging or unsustainable; such as through addiction and obsessively creating negative scenarios (often without realizing it).

Many psychological and physical problems result from unmet basic needs and, in turn, may actually block their satisfaction.

In many cases, you can recognize which of your basic needs are not being appropriately met, and knowing this, you can help yourself by finding more appropriate ways to have them met. Please read on and find out more about each of the basic needs.

The therapy I use works from a Human Givens Approach where appropriate. Tto book a confidential session with me, go to the Contact Me page.

The basic needs are explained below. You can obtain more information about the Human Givens and Basic Needs from the Human Givens Organization where you can also find details of the Human Givens Book or related courses.

The need for a sense of safety and security

You need to feel that your environment is basically secure and reasonably predictable. Financial security, physical safety, health, and the fulfillment of other basic needs all contribute to the completion of this need. As with all of the following needs you can take it too far and become obsessive about it.

Ask yourself: “Do I feel safe and secure in my life?”

The need to pay attention to the mind/body connection

You need enough sleep, exercise, rest and adequate nutrition in order to have the spare capacity to focus on anything ‘higher’ in life. Unless these basic elements are taken care of, the whole of your life can be devoted to nothing more than the instinctive search for rest, sleep and proper food. How you eat, sleep and exercise is directly related to your mental and emotional health and wellbeing.

Ask yourself: “Am I sleeping properly?”, “Am I getting enough exercise?”, “Am I eating healthily?”

The need for autonomy and to feel in control of your environment

It has been demonstrated that the circumstances you face in life are less important in predicting levels of anxiety or unhappiness than how much control you feel you have over your life (or the lack of it). For example, elderly people in homes tend to be healthier if they have at least the minimum of control, such as a choice of whether they receive visitors in a communal sitting room or in their own private room. Torture victims who survive the longest and who are the least traumatised after a period of imprisonment are the ones who felt at least some control in their appalling circumstances. Techniques such as inwardly counting to ten before screaming, or screaming ‘in their own way’, gave a small sense of control that made all the difference. Women experience less pain in childbirth if they have learned breathing or relaxation techniques as this lends them control. People often come for therapy because they feel unable to control aspects of their lives.

Note: You might feel an event is uncontrollable, and therefore stressful, and then you need to distinguish between an event or situation versus your own reaction to it. focus on your own emotional reactions to it, as this is where you still have control.

Ask yourself: “How do I react to thoughts and external events/situations? Do I feel I don’t have any control over them?”

The need for intimacy

It is important that you feel that there is at least one person with whom you have a ‘special relationship’. Someone who can second guess your feelings, who ‘understands you’ and who cares especially for you and someone for whom you can especially care.

A need for intimacy may become diverted if your special relationship is with alcohol, or obsessive, compulsive behaviours. When this happens any real relationship will inevitably suffer as a result.

When you attempt to satisfy a need in inappropriate ways, problems are likely to develop. For example, stalkers notoriously feel they have an intimate connection with someone when in fact they do not.

Attention – the need to give and receive it in interactions with others

The need for attention in everyday interaction with others is central to fulfilling your basic needs. Think of it as an appetite that varies in intensity and which, if unmet, can be met inappropriately and may therefore disrupt work situations and relationships. When you experience difficulties it may be because you receive too little attention or too much inappropriate attention. By clarifying this in your mind you can begin to make effective changes. When your need for giving and receiving attention is met appropriately then you can have ‘spare capacity’ to truly work or learn without these needs compromising your effectiveness.

The need for a sense of community and to make a contribution

The recognition that ‘people need people’ was born out of research that showed people who live with a strong sense of community are healthier both physically and emotionally.

When you become depressed you tend to cut off support and social contacts causing a sense of isolation and creating a ‘vicious circle’.

It is also important to feel you ‘give’ as well as ‘take’ in life. Contributing to the wider community seems to help you as well as those you are contributing to. It seems as if human beings have a natural instinct to help others and to be a contributing part of a wider group. When this “instinct” is not fulfilled, it seems that problems can arise. This need also feeds in to the need for status.

The need for Status

It’s important to feel important. You probably know some people for whom this need is too important! However, if you feel recognized for being a grandmother or parent or good son or daughter, this may be enough. Young people finding their feet can have improved self-esteem if they feel they have attained a position of trust and recognition. Young boys in Birmingham who were at risk of exclusion because of behavioural problems were trained as mentors and paid for helping younger kids who were also at risk of exclusion. Not only did the mentors’ own behaviour improve, they also reported greater levels of happiness, contentment and self-esteem. Much disruptive, problematic behaviour may be a misapplied attempt to meet this need for recognition.

The need for challenge and creativity

The human brain, just like the body, is there to be exercised and developed. You can feel incomplete and dissatisfied and even depressed when you stop stretching yourself and reaching beyond what you thought you were capable of. Self esteem and confidence is partly a recognition of your own attributes and strengths – seeing what is already there – and also developing new ones by being stretched. The TV show (from a few years back) Faking It, where contestants have a month to become expert in a particular field to the extent they can fake it to real experts is a perfect example of what normal human beings are capable of achieving in a short time when they are stretched. The resultant changes in confidence, self-respect and enjoyment of life are amazing to see!

The need for meaning and purpose

A sense of meaning and purpose comes from having your other needs adequately met. For example, your life may feel more meaningful when you have at least one intimate relationship, feel connected to a wider group, feel stretched and challenged, etc. A sense of meaning and purpose can also derive from an active religious/political or other ideological belief system. When life feels devoid of meaning, you can quickly lose motivation. A strong sense of purpose and meaning provides great resilience to you, as all kinds of effort and even hardship become ‘worth it’ when undertaken in the service of the greater meaning.


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Nick Meredith - Therapist, Coach - Using Hypnotherapy, NLP and Solution Focussed Therapy

Nick Meredith
















































I normally work from my office in Wansford, just outside Peterborough in the Cambridgeshire region. I also practice from the Barns at Wansford Surgery.

I am accessible from Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire and places like Peterborough, Cambridge, Oundle, Stamford, Rutland, Wisbech, Oakham, Market Deeping, Huntingdon, March, Bourne, Corby, Whittlesey, Ramsey, Spalding and Kettering.