When it comes to surviving and thriving for a human being, our focus must go to human needs fulfillment. There are six core physiological needs and six core psychological needs. These needs are universal for human beings, required by all people everywhere regardless of culture, gender, or age. Human needs are an important topic for conflict management because many conflict theorists suggest that all conflict stems from the threat, lack, or perception of threat and lack of one’s needs, even if the parties in conflict are unaware of this. In other words, all conflict might be traced to an individual or group of individuals not getting their needs met.

The Physiological Needs

The six physiological needs are probably fairly obvious: oxygen, food, water, warmth, sleep, and homeostasis (proper functioning of internal operation and regulatory systems). If the core physiological needs are not being fulfilled, your mental-emotional and physical stability will almost certainly suffer. Once they have been fulfilled, however, and you find yourself in a conflict, it would be productive to ascertain which of your psychological needs are not being met.

The Psychological Needs

The six psychological needs may be a bit more obscure, and certainly have been debated by many needs theorists, from Maslow to Max-Neef, from Fisher & Ury to Ryan & Deci. However, if you look at the research from these and other prominent economists, psychologists, anthropologists, and conflict specialists across a range of research disciplines, you will generally find they often have different labels for the very same six core psychological needs. A meta-analysis of human needs theories may reveal the following 6 core psychological needs, for which I use the acronym “SAPIEN.”

1) Safety

The need for safety goes beyond actual physical safety; rather, it is the feeling or belief that one will be safe and protected now and in the future. That one will be able to live and thrive, without an existential threat of death or suffering and without life-altering financial, legal, or psychological instability. To recognize whether this need is fulfilled, ask: To what degree do you feel secure and stable in life?

2) Affiliation

We all have a need to feel part of something larger than ourselves, and that begins with the feeling of affiliation or connection with our community—whether it be family, friends, nation, or another group. We must feel that we are accepted and worthy of being part of our social environments. To make sure you are meeting this need, ask: To what degree do you feel connected to and accepted by others?

3) Positive Self-Regard

The need for positive self-regard is about core identity. One must have a sense of who s/he is and that he or she is worthy of love, acceptance, and respect. This positive personal identity starts with how one views, thinks about, and talks to oneself. To get clear on how satisfied this need is, ask: To what degree do you feel positive about yourself?

4) Independence

The need for independence or autonomy is fulfilled by the fundamental belief that one can choose his or her own destiny. It is the basic notion of agency and choice—the feeling of power to make one’s own decisions as to the way life is lived. To discover if you or another feels this need is being threatened or is lacking, ask: To what degree do you feel free to make your own choices and live life the way you see fit?

6) Engaging Activities

Feeling engaged, stimulated, and/or amused is key to psychological health. From the first few weeks of life, we need stimulation; when we don’t have something that feels truly stimulating, we often turn to destructive or numbing habits and addictions. To assess if this need is being met, ask: To what degree do you feel interested in and stimulated by activities on a regular basis?

5) Noble Pursuits

The perception that one is making progress in endeavors that are personally valuable is extremely important to psychological well-being. Stagnation is like non-existence. To thrive, we must perceive we are growing or learning, traversing important milestones, and making our way toward new life goals regularly. To inquire about the fulfillment of this need, ask: To what degree do you feel you are making progress in the areas that are important to you?

The next time you find yourself in conflict, keep these core needs and their respective questions in mind. When you’re feeling conflicted, try to uncover which one(s) of the above needs you perceive as being threatened or lacking. And which one(s) do you suspect the other party is experiencing as unfulfilled or threatened? Understanding which needs in yourself and in someone else are not being fulfilled or are perceived as being threatened will help you address those needs directly in order to help manage or resolve the conflict.

For help uncovering which of your needs are not being adequately satisfied, or for assistance in any type of conflict, contact Pollack Peacebuilding Systems.

For a more thorough, academic paper on basic psychological needs and conflict, read my review paper HERE.

6 basic psychological human needs

Jeremy Pollack

Jeremy Pollack is the Founder and CEO of Pollack Peacebuilding Systems.

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