I need water. I need a dependable car. I need to invest. I need chocolate. We use the word “need” all the time at varying levels of intensity. If you ask someone what they need, you will get a wide range of answers. In becoming more aware of our needs, we take the first steps towards self-care. So how do we get started? Let’s get some common ground established first.
I believe that each person experiences four basic levels of need: survival needs, functional needs, thriving needs, and comfort needs. The degree to which we are healthy depends on whether or not these needs are being met. The first level I would define is that of survival. This level consists of things like food, water, air, and rest, which are necessary for us to live.
The second level is that of function. At this level, our survival needs are covered, and we can attend to things that help us function adequately in our careers, relationships, and responsibilities. At this level of need, we are maturing in our ability to steward our resources and utilize them well. An example of a functional need would be the need for a dependable car to travel to work. This car (a ’93 Corolla, for example) would allow me to get to work, yet it would not have to be extravagant (like a Bentley).
At the third level, we are healthy and beginning to thrive. Because our basic survival and functional needs are met, we now have the resources to invest in healthy relationships. Our focus can also shift from meeting our present survival and functional needs to investing in future needs and endeavors. For example, we may begin saving for retirement or begin investing into new friendships.
The fourth level is that of comfort. In this level needs are not only met, but there appears to be an overabundance. Interestingly enough, this is often the most visible measurement of success and what is seen as the goal. This however is not a healthy measurement because someone can portray opulence but actually be at starvation level in the lower level categories of need.
We not only have different levels of need; we also have different areas of need. The most commonly agreed upon areas of need are physical, emotional, mental, and, depending on your beliefs, spiritual. In order to be healthy human beings, we must be willing to attend to each of these areas, not just the physical. For example, all humans have a level 1 emotional need for intimacy. Without close relationships in which we feel valued, understood, and loved, we may begin to feel emotionally “dead.” We also have a level 2 emotional need for companionship in order to function. Companionship can provide a stabilizing effect in our lives, and it’s been rightly said that “A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” Being part of a healthy community is an example of a level 3 emotional need that helps to promote growth. In the context of community, we can flourish as individuals and also help others to flourish. Finally, social networking displays the potential for excess in the emotional area. Many of us have over 2,000 “friends” on Facebook, well beyond what we can realistically maintain relationally.
Success in one area of need does not necessarily equate to success in all areas. We can be thriving at a level 3 in the area of physical need, yet be barely surviving at a level 1 in the area of emotional need. Over-devotion to one area of need may cause drought in another. In order to create balance in our lives, we must show attention and care to all the areas of need, rather than forcing our efforts in one area in a vain attempt to satisfy the others.
We are often more aware of our areas of need when we’re going through a transition. For example, I may have my emotional needs at a healthy level, only to move to a new city and experience a deficit. Or, I may take on a new responsibility in my career which reveals a weakness in an area of need. In these moments, we must realize that growth often uncovers needs. When we accept these needs as a part of growth, rather than denying that we have them, we move towards a mature handling of self-care.
The tendency in our perfection-driven culture is to hide our weaknesses and “play up” our strengths. For this reason, I often avoid revealing my needs to others. However, in a healthy community, people feel safe being vulnerable and expressing their needs. We may long to be self-sufficient, but we must realize that to be human is to experience needs. A healthy community is a safe place in which these needs can be expressed, embraced, and ultimately met.
I need to rest. I need to start looking for a minivan. I need to reconnect with some of my close friends. I need to a good book to read this summer. What do you need? In taking time to discover our needs in the various areas of our lives, we can begin to invest wisely and move towards health in every area.
Grace and Peace,