|Today I stumbled upon a list of forty ’emotional needs’ on a fascinating site, EQI.org, by Steve Hein. He constructed the list from the sites of several students of emotional intelligence and of Maslow’s hierarchy (which has five levels of needs — physical, security, belonging, self-esteem and self-actualization). The forty emotional needs cut across the four highest Maslow levels, and I’ve sorted them roughly according to this hierarchy:
Security Needs (needs from others): the need to be:
Belonging Needs (needs from others): the need to be:
Self-Esteem Needs (needs from others): the need to be:
Self-Actualization Needs (needs of self): the need to be:
clear (not confused)
I’ve added learning to the final list, because I believe that we have a need to be constantly learning, improving ourselves (just check out the most popular section of the bookstore if you doubt me). Otherwise I think Steve’s list is pretty complete. I agree with his omission of happy from the list, because I think happiness is the result of us fulfilling most of our physical and intellectual/emotional needs, not a need in itself.
The list interests me from two perspectives:
I accept that this is all rather abstract — talking about our emotions in such analytical terms is a bit bizarre. But then that’s what psychologists do, and I have to believe we can find a better way of coping with our emotional needs than their dubious and expensive approaches.
So in short I’m thinking about three different alternatives to psychotherapy and medication to deal with modern emotional stresses:
I’ve done enough self-analysis to know myself reasonably well, and I am convinced that the only emotional needs I now have are the need to be free (the first one in the list above) and the needs to self-actualize (the last 14 in the list). Of these needs, all but the first are needs that I can fulfill (and have fulfilled) within myself. All I ‘need’ of others and our society is to be free. Perhaps this is a rationalization, but it explains why, when I am in the forest alone, or playing with cats and dogs, I am completely happy, fulfilled. I never suffer from emotional insecurity, loneliness, or lack of self-esteem. I love to love and be in love, but I feel no need to be loved.
So this third, ‘outgrowing needs’ approach seems to work for me. Still, I like the first, ‘Now Time’ approach, because while I don’t need it, it does help me cope with the four stresses that continue to dog me (grief for Gaia, anxiety about coming civilizational collapse and what it will mean for my granddaughters’ generation, trying to live up to others’ unreasonable expectations of me, and impatience with my tendency to procrastinate on things that are important). And, as I reported in my review of Karla McLaren’s Emotional Genius, I also like the second, ’empathy’ approach, because it would seem to be the most useful to help the people who I love, to become happier.
Readers of this blog are aware that I have suffered from two serious ailments in my life: chronic depression, from adolescence until quite recently, and a chronic auto-immune disease called ulcerative colitis since 2006. I have speculated on the causes of these maladies (I blame the social consequences of overpopulation and overcrowding for our depression epidemic, and environmental pollutants for our auto-immune disease epidemic). But whatever the cause, the trigger or catalyst for both diseases is undoubtedly emotional stress. There is a growing consensus (both Steve Hein and Karla McLaren write about this) that depression is not an emotion, but a ‘shutting-down’, a putting on the brakes, that occurs in us when we get overwhelmed by a sustained trauma. It is the longer-term emotional equivalent of the physical shock that wracks our bodies in the case of a sudden severe injury. Severe depression is painful, ghastly beyond description, like an endless feeling of drowning.
I am not a believer in ‘curing’ such maladies, because even if we could confirm the causes, we could probably not ‘cure’ them — they are a fact of modern life. All we can hope to do is prevent the stresses that trigger them. I made huge changes in my life to reduce the likelihood of such stresses recurring, and they are helping. But there’s a paradox: To some extent we learn to cope with stress through practice, and now that I have less stressors in my life, I sense that I am becoming more vulnerable to the smaller stresses that still occur, and to any future, unpredictable major stresses that may occur. I am getting out of practice.
I am hopeful that by learning to live more in Now Time (the first approach), I will not become traumatized and needy when such overwhelming stresses inevitably occur. I have used the third approach (outgrowing my emotional needs) as my principal ‘preventative medicine’ for future emotional illness, and plan to use the first approach as a back-up.
But I do recognize that our world is a prison, an asylum, and that most people live lives full of anxiety and steeped in emotional trauma. Their unmet needs span all five levels of Maslow’s hierarchy, and (since I’m not really a believer in psychotherapy or psychopharmacy) I suspect the best approach for helping them is probably the second one — empathy.
Being something of a misanthrope, empathy is not my strong suit, and it is something I am not practiced in. But it’s important to me to learn, and the listening and attention skills it requires will benefit me in other ways, so I am going to dedicate myself to getting better at it. Here are some of the things I’ll be practicing:
Dave’s Empathy Skills Learning List
There are a lot of other emotional competencies (like conflict resolution and consensus-building) but my sense is that I should focus my initial attention on the five areas above. I’ll be looking for courses, and opportunities to practice these skills as I develop them. If anyone knows of really good programs in the Toronto area, please let me know.