I have needs. Woah, did I just admit that? Yes, it’s true…I have physical, emotional, and relational needs. Sometimes I still find it difficult to admit this to myself and to others, but I need acceptance, I need stability, I need to be understood, I need air and food and water, I need hope and purpose and humour. I used to think ‘needs’ was a dirty word. The mere thought of having a need made me feel weak and vulnerable. Why did acknowledging my needs trigger such shame and fear? I was curious about this when, during an 18 week recovery group I participated in with Isis, the facilitators presented us with the Universal Needs Inventory produced by the Center for Nonviolent Communication (CNVC). I had spent much of my life attempting to reduce my sense of vulnerability in order to protect myself, and this included rejecting the part of me that ‘needed’. If I didn’t ‘need’, then I couldn’t be disappointed or hurt, I didn’t need to rely on anyone or anything, I could protect myself from experiencing further pain. Or so I thought. One of the facilitators explained that as children, when a need consistently goes unmet or is abused, eventually whenever that need surfaces, it is accompanied by a sense of shame. It made sense then, that I would work so hard to attempt to rid myself of any needs, even to the extent of denying my most basic needs. Doing so though, has been rather futile and actually detrimental, as no matter how much I convince myself that I’m unworthy of and have no need for food, water, sleep, acceptance, connection, trust, joy, understanding, and all of the other needs listed, I am human. Being human, a living, breathing organism, means physical and emotional nourishment is essential. Being human means that I am created for connection, to be in relationship with others…I cannot exist in isolation. Being human means that I am not void of emotions or needs, no matter how much I may deny their existence. When I began to accept this reality, rather than fighting and avoiding it, my capacity to identify my needs began to grow, and I was then therefore able to begin to explore ways of meeting those needs in healthier ways rather than resorting to disordered eating or self-destructive behaviours.
For the past 18 months, I have kept a copy of the Needs Inventory and the Feelings Inventory (which is discussed in the next section) in my diary as a reminder and as a tool to help articulate my needs and brainstorm how I might ensure those needs are met. I recently came across a free Android app that the CNVC developed, so in addition to having a printed copy in my diary, I am now able to access the Needs and Feelings Inventories on my phone. I usually access this a couple of times a day just to check in with myself and to remind myself that it is ok, more than ok, to experience needs and feelings. There are other apps that the CNVC have created for both iPhones and Androids, that can be downloaded for a small fee.
Below is a list of the needs that the CNVC have identified, however it is neither exhaustive nor definitive. To download a PDF of the Needs Inventory, click here, and to download the Android app, click here.
› acceptance › affection › appreciation › belonging › cooperation › communication › closeness
› community › companionship › compassion › consideration › consistency › empathy › inclusion
› intimacy › love › mutuality › nurturing › respect/self-respect › safety › security › stability › support › to know and be known
› to see and be seen › to understand and be understood › trust › warmth
› air › food › movement/exercise › rest/sleep › sexual expression › safety › shelter › touch › water
› authenticity › integrity › presence
› joy › humor
› beauty › communion › ease › equality › harmony › inspiration › order
› choice › freedom › independence › space › spontaneity
› awareness › celebration of life › challenge › clarity › competence › consciousness › contribution › creativity › discovery
› efficacy › effectiveness › growth › hope › learning › mourning › participation › purpose › self-expression › stimulation
› to matter › understanding