How Many Basic Needs Do We Have?

Do you ever think about what you really need to be fully the person you are, and to what extent you need those things? The things you need to be in place in order to be you, all of you, fully you.

I need my dog and my friends and my work. That’s about it I think. Well, actually, maybe not. Having my dog around isn’t necessary for me to be me. Or is she? Maybe she is. And my home – having space that is just mine for the long periods of alone time I need. And my sanity. And my health. Well, maybe not my health – I’d still be ‘me’ if I was sick. Wait, I also need freedom, not being constricted by person or circumstance. I also need to feel like I belong, somewhere, or to someone – it helps me to accept and be comfortable with who I am. And I need to be creative in how I work. I think that’s it. Wait, no, I also need to feel safe. That’s vital. When I do not feel safe, either physically or emotionally, I am not ‘myself’, the me of me hides deep inside and what is left on the surface is just a smiling facade of myself. Okay, thats it, I think.

There are many theories on human needs. You’ve probably heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. That’s one theory. Carl Rogers (1902 – 1987), one of the master practitioners of Psychotherapy, agreed with the main assumptions of Maslow’s theory, but had an addition – that we also need ‘conditions of growth’ to be present in our relationships in order to grow, develop and self – actualise. These conditions of growth are: unconditional positive regard (being accepted and not judged), congruence (honesty, disclosure, integrity), and empathy (being listened to, understood). According to Rogers we will grow and actualise in the relationships in which the conditions of growth are present.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs

Roger’s theory on personality is that our behaviour is tied to our self concept, which is formed by our experiences during identity forming years, and how others evaluate us (or how we think others are evaluating us.)

I subscribe to Rogers’ theory on our needs and personality, but I also subscribe to another – William Glasser’s Choice Theory and the Five Basic Needs.

William Glasser (1925 – 2013) was a psychotherapist and psychiatrist who argued that we are born with personality intact, and this personality is made up of the five basic needs – Survival, Power, Love & Belonging, Freedom, and Fun. Our behaviour is always need meeting, even if the choices we make aren’t the best.  The needs are completely neutral – neither positive or negative. The choices we make in meeting those needs are what we have control over, and our choices can be helpful or unhelpful, but our needs are not changeable and also, never the problem. If you compare them you’ll see that there are some parallels to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. If you want, as you go down through the list, see where you’d rank out of five for each one.


This relates to our survival as a species, so how we go about continuing the human race, protecting ourselves from harm and so on. It also includes ‘security’ and how we ensure sure that we are safe. Unlike the baby iguana, I don’t like entering situations without knowing what’s going to happen and I only take calculated risks. I’m also an enormous planner. I think I’d be about a 3/5.


man lifting weights

A high need for power does not make you a megalomaniac. ‘Power’ includes feeling worthwhile, feeling significant, feeling like you are contributing something, that you are achieving. You can meet your power need by becoming a politician or a CEO or by tending to your garden, or by getting a degree, or by reading a piece of poetry to an audience for the first time, or by cleaning out the attic, or by delivering a speech in the UN. Think along the lines of the term ‘personal power’. I am definitely 5/5 here. I need to feel in control of what I do and when I do it. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and very much an organiser and leader. This doesn’t mean I go around bossing people about and trying to recruit followers. It just means that I know this is a part of me, I accept it, and try to make helpful choices when it comes to meeting that need. The same goes for all of them – the choices we make to meet the need are the thing we can work with, not the need itself.

Love & Belonging

love heart
image source

This includes connecting to our family, our friendship groups, our work groups, colleagues, neighbours, hobby groups etc. If you have a high desire to be liked this could be a clue about this need, but maybe not. I have high ranking here – about a 4/5 – but I do not have a high desire to be liked. Having a strong need to give and receive affection does not mean that you are ‘clingy’, or ‘needy’. These are just behaviours, chosen to meet the need. There are plenty of helpful choices people make to meet this need, like just connecting with friends and family more often than a person with a low need would.


man jumping
image source

Freedom includes your autonomy, having your own space, being in charge of your own time, the direction of your life, being independent. I think I’d also rank high here, about a 4/5 again.


children playing
image source

Pleasure and enjoyment, and remember that what is fun for some may be horrifying for others, so only use this guide to map over your own way of being, not others. I actually have a freakishly low fun need. I am happy to work forever. But it is still one of the five needs, so I want to meet it from time to time, just not that often. I’d say I’m around a 2/5, or even a 1/5. Great to end this list on that note, revealing myself to be zero craic whatsoever.

Glasser’s theory is that our needs are set from birth and do not change over time, though how we may behave to meet them will no doubt change over time; a five year old’s idea of fun is very different to a 50 year old’s, for example. Our behavioural choices is completely individual and can hit more than one need at the same time, as well. I meet my power, fun and freedom needs by doing Yoga every day. Meeting friends for a pint can meet literally all the needs at the same time for me.

The other thing to note is that this is probably happening unconsciously. You are unlikely to think one day that you’re not feeling your ‘personal power’ as much as you’d like, and then undertake something to change that. Or that you feel a lack of love, and so make plans with friends. You’re more likely to feel an urge to finally sort out the shed or ring your best friends for a drink or check on your Credit Union account, or you begin to feel under-appreciated at work so maybe start investigating promotion opportunities.

Remember, all behaviour is purposeful, all behaviour is need meeting – don’t judge it, take a step back and look compassionately at your choices to see if they meet the need in a helpful way, or an unhelpful way. ‘Choice Theory’ and the Five Basic Needs are just another way to understand human behaviour, just another map to place down over our way of being in the world and see if anything sits right, just another way to be curious and wondering about how we are and what we do and why we do it.

If you are interested there is plenty of easy to digest information online about Choice Theory and the corresponding therapy – Reality Therapy.