Personality Needs

The grand essentials of happiness are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for. 

I guess that everyone is familiar with the concept of needs – Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy (pyramid) of needs is one of the most common psychological ideas roaming in the general population. Similarly, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s model of the Flow (or “being in the zone”) is also very common. The two concepts are generally enough to describe what is necessary for someone to be happy and how should one organize their life so as to achieve this. A bit of a fringe idea is the one sketched by Eric Berne with his “personality hungers”, which I covered in the past, both in this infographic (link) and also in a coaching article (link) (in Romanian). Moreover, when thinking strategically in therapy situations, Richard Erskine’s relational needs and his principles of integrative psychotherapy are probably the best tools available (link).

However, so as to understand what really drives a person through life and what motivates her actions, I often use an easier method; it is best suited for quickly profiling someone and understanding their motivations. A human being needs:

  1. Power (as a way to achieve safety)
  2. Affiliation/Belonging (as a way to get affection)
  3. Personally Significant Achievements (often professional, but not limited to that)
  4. Insight (to understand or make sense of life).

In short, it is about power, affection, achieving and insight. However, it is useful to discuss a bit these ideas in depth.

Power is often seen in antithesis with love. Power wants to have, it “takes” stuff; love wants to “give”; it shares. Power will sacrifice everyone and everything; love will protect and maintain. If one sees “games of power” or “power struggles” in a family, that family is likely sterile from an emotional viewpoint (or is fast approaching an utter affective void). However, the “balance of power” in a couple, family or social group is one of the most important aspects – if not ‘the’ most important one. People need power and You need power, whether you agree with this or not. The problem is how you manage this power and when you use it. For instance, a man needs his power to fend for his family, to go to work and provide for his wife and kids, he needs power to defeat anyone trying to bully him and to reject various blackmail attempts in and outside his family circle. A powerful man will deter an intrusive mother-in-law. A powerful human being in general will be able to physically fight so as to defend their children. A powerful woman will use influence (imagine what you want here!) so as to solve problems that can’t be solved otherwise. It is therefore wrong to advocate for decreasing power in one’s personality at the cost of love; even if the 2 concepts are often opposing, they are supposed to be in a healthy balance.

Partnership with other human beings can be in itself a form of power. During youth, one is focused on achieving power and testing one’s limits; during the rest of the adulthood, power coming from connections (from who you know and what friends and acquaintances you have) is taking the stage. However, when talking about this personality need, I do not refer to affiliation as a form of power, but rather to affiliation as a way to satisfy emotional needs of belonging. Everyone needs a “tribe”. Everyone needs to cuddle somewhere. Everyone needs a hug, even the ugliest and the most undesirable person. This “hug” can go from sex (typically for psychopaths who cannot feel much or at all, although they verbally pretend the contrary) to deep spiritual connections (typically for “flower power” individuals who can go “deep”, and by “deep” you can understand many things). Most “normal” people hold a balanced attitude between the “extremes” of hugging, generally valuing both sexuality and psychological intimacy in various degrees. But the need for a hug is always present, even in persons who do not seem to need it. And this is an insight that should be always kept in sight.

An achievement is typically linked to the professional realm: a good job or position offers both power (because you are useful to others) and connections (opportunity for romantic love or friendship). But I mentioned “personally significant” achievements, that is, these achievements can be unrelated to one’s job or profession. It’s mostly about hobbies. Playing a musical instrument is an achievement. Writing a book is an achievement. Learning a new language is an achievement. Beating one’s opponents in a computer game is an achievement. Travelling in a new country is an achievement. And so on. People are naturally competitive; they are obsessed with evolution, with scores, with testing their limits, sometimes for the pleasure of it. This nature fights boredom, stagnation and passivity. Although (philosophically) one can say that people are suffering from a meaningless “Brownian movement” (or agitation), it is in our genes to behave so, despite the impermanence of our life and the final destruction of our identity at death. Therefore, do not assume that someone doesn’t want to achieve something, even if it sometimes can be just a “successfully achieved suicide”, done “in style”.

You might think that not everybody is passionate about insight, about understanding why we are here in this world and what is the purpose of this life. Some people just exist, using the others and seeking personal comfort… and period. However, most people, if needed be, are interested about their health and will ask their doctor what is the cause or what can be done regarding one disease or another. Similarly, you will see that people are generally curious, even if only about the next episode in a movie series or the last gossip (political or not). When their own interest is engaged, people will immediately seek insight; the only difference is that some people are fond of a life of learning, while others are practical and down to earth, and will only care about insight when something bothers them or crosses their path.

If power, affection, achieving and insight are not satisfied, people get mad. They get mad in a pathological sense, developing mental health issues, or they become active, visibly pursuing satisfaction of these 4 areas or realms. Hence, they become predictable… for the trained eye. And more, they sometimes try to seek satisfaction in the wrong realm, most frequently increasing their power so as to get “hugs”, although corruption is also frequent, when the “quality of your network of friends”, and its proper usage, is either a way to achieve or a pathway to power itself.

I invite you to introspection! How powerful you are? How powerful you are in relation to your partner, your family members or your friends? Do they seek you? Do they call you? And what about your social network? Do you have one? Yes? How big? No? Why? And what do you do so as to create one? A real one or a virtual one, on the internet? How helpful is an online connection, how effective in real life and how meaningful? Dare you speak with your online friends what you cannot speak with your real life friends? Is social media a good replacement for reality and embodied (physical) persons? How’s sex with a virtual friend? Can you do without touching another human body? Yes, I didn’t mention sex as a human need, I just spoke about connection and belonging – you read correctly. How about achievements? Do you use – or do you put to work – your acquired skills? Do you mostly wear your professional “hat” or you have other “hats” as well? Do you “understand” what I’m talking about in this article? What are the conclusions you take with you from my written monologue, what are your insights? No insights? Was it a loss of time? Why do you read me, seriously? What is that thing – or that insight – that you are searching for?