6 min read

The Reality of Emotional Needs

When our physical needs aren't met, our physical health declines. We may fear illness and death. When our emotional needs aren't met, our mental health declines. We may fear suicidal ideation or worse. But when these needs are met? We thrive.
The Reality of Emotional Needs
Photo by nikko macaspac / Unsplash

This might feel a little harsh, so hear me out...

There's nothing that more clearly demonstrates to me a lack of emotional awareness - and the presence of emotionally neglectful and abusive behavior - than someone showing that they don't believe emotional needs exist.

The easiest way to pick up on this is when we notice people casually dismissing big feelings as small deals, "dramatic", "weak" or "nonsense".

When we casually prioritize emotional needs over physical and material needs. Or act like emotional needs simply don't matter or put them in the bucket of "wants".

And if someone had said that to me a couple of years ago I would've written them off as dramatic...so I get it.

I was in this camp. A lot of us were raised in this camp.

We can't help our conditioning. We didn't choose it. And it makes sense for us to think feelings are no big deal when alllll of the evidence shoved in our faces supports this.

But there's different evidence we missed.

And the truth is this conditioning is hurting us all.

We hurt ourselves with how we dismiss our own emotional needs. And we hurt others when we project those beliefs onto them.

But the most important thing is this:

We have the power to stop the pain by learning the truth.

And I mean really learn this. Let it sink into your bones.

The Reality: Emotional Needs Exist

Emotional needs exist, and pretending they don't or lumping them in as luxuries or "wants" isn't serving anyone.

We know emotional needs exist because we all turn desperate or belligerent when ours are going painfully unmet. Nobody's above this truth.

We know emotional needs exist because we all seek to love and be loved, respect and be respected, like our lives depend on it (because they do).

We know emotional needs exist because we thrive in loving community and fall apart in isolation and lovelessness.

But if all of that isn't enough, we know emotional needs are real because suicide rates don't exist in a bubble of materially impoverished communities.

People can "have it all" materially and physically and still fall victim to clinical depression and suicide.

People can live physically and materially safe-ish lives and still fall victim to depression and suicide.

We treat this like it's a mystery. The math is staring us in the face.

People who fall victim to depression and suicide have emotional needs that have gone grossly unmet for extended periods of time.

And when our emotional needs go grossly unmet for extended periods of time, we lose our lease on life.

If we don't get our needs met and feel our lease on life return to us, we stop feeling a burning desire to live.

Then, eventually, we surrender.

But only after fighting like hell for those emotional needs to be met. Even if the fight most days is a fight to get out of bed in the morning.

Maybe it would help for us to accept that these needs exist. Emotional needs exist.

They're not basic "wants". They are not "luxuries".

They are not optional.

They are the food and water of our spirit and without them we whither.

If we accept this, then maybe we can accept that educating ourselves on our emotional needs will actually help us learn to meet them in healthy, constructive, life sustaining ways.

Then everyone is happier, loving, feeling loved, thriving, and wanting to live.

What Are Our Emotional Needs?

In my work I stumbled across a list of Universal Human Needs.

It surprised me how many of these needs were purely based on emotions instead of material and physical survival.


Acceptance, belonging, consideration, trust, choice, spontaneity, authenticity, presence...

The list goes on.

Like the screenshot mentions, this list isn't exhaustive nor definitive, but as a starting point it feels really true to me.

Imagine a life without ever feeling accepted.

Imagine a life without ever feeling considered.

Imagine a life without ever feeling belonging.

A life where you've never felt inclusion, closeness, empathy, support, or warmth.

Imagine that life.

I don't know about you, but these sounds like painful lives to me. I know firsthand because I've lived life without these things.

My lease on life diminished accordingly the longer this went on.

But the more aware I become of my needs, the more I accept them as true, real, and necessary, the more I'm able to stop calling myself dramatic and focus on finding constructive, healthy solutions for getting those needs met...

The more I love to live, and live to love.

Because living a life where your emotional needs are being met is a good life that's worth living.

And it's a good life that supports you in loving others, too.

Identify Your Most Critical Emotional Needs (Activity)

You want to really get clear on something that will help your mental health in the short term and long term?

Let's do an exercise:

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