Relational Needs

One of the important concepts in Integrative Psychotherapy is that of Relational Needs. Relational needs are the needs that grow out of human interaction, and being aware of these needs in ourselves and in others can help develop and nurture human relationships. Being aware of these needs can also help us gain insight into the feelings, behaviours and motivations in ourselves and others.

Relational needs are the emotional needs that can be met through our social connectedness and are different from the needs for survival and for physical safety that Abraham Maslov placed at the base of his hierarchy of human needs.

All people experience these relational needs and they are present in all components of our life, from cradle to grave. Often these needs are out of our awareness, but they push into our awareness if they are not being met.

When relational needs are not met, they become more intense, more pressing, and are experienced as an emptiness, a longing, or a nagging loneliness. Some people may become frustrated, angry, or aggressive in the face of unmet needs, or they may become depressed, lose energy and hope. They may also develop beliefs about their life such as “There’s nobody there for me” or “There’s no use trying” or “Nobody can be trusted” as a way of explaining the inner distress they feel. These symptoms are often most problematic for those, who in their early development, experienced pervasive and chronic failure of caregivers to meet their relational needs .

When dealing with relational needs in therapy, it is the client’s relational needs that are kept in the foreground; while the therapists relational needs are also there, they must be kept in the background.

The 8 Main relational needs are as follows:

1. Need for security: For a relationship to be secure, it must be safe to be oneself and to show all of yourself without being ridiculed, shamed or blamed. You need to know there is no danger of losing the other persons respect and caring if you show who you really are. To feel secure requires that your needs and feelings be accepted as normal without being humiliated for having those needs and feelings.

In therapy, this is about creating emotional safety for the client so they can be vulnerable and fully express themselves. This often takes much more than verbal reassurances – it relates to trust that must be earned and is a visceral “felt experience” that your vulnerabilities will be respected, understood and protected.

2. Need to be validated and affirmed as significant: This is the need to be appreciated, cared for and to be respected not only for what you can do, but for who you are. It is the need to be recognized and understood by others – that they see your needs as legitimate and are willing to try and understand the significance of the feelings and emotions you have (rather than dismiss or devalue them).

3. Need for Acceptance by a stable, dependable and protective other: This relates to the need to be able to look up to and rely on parents, teachers, elders, and mentors to gain protection, encouragement, and information from them.

4. Need for mutuality or confirmation of personal experience: This is the need to be in the presence of someone who is similar to you – someone who understands because he or she has been there as well. This person can understand what it’s like to walk in your shoes without having it explained, since they have been there, or they are like you are in some important way.

Support groups help meet this need – e.g. A.A., sexual abuse survivors groups, bereavement groups etc.

5. Need for self definition: This need is in some ways the opposite of the previous one since it relates to a need to define ourselves in relationship as unique and to have the other person accept and respect that uniqueness. So, it is the need to be different rather than the need to be similar.

Kids who grow up in environments where there are high demands for conformity, or have to obey rules and orders without questioning them may never have had the chance to learn how to define themselves.

6. Need to make an impact on the other: This relates to the need to have some power and influence to affect another in some way. That may be to change their way of thinking, change their behaviour, or to elicit an emotional reaction from them. It is important not just to have the effect on another person, but to also have that impact acknowledged by them.

7. Need to have the other person initiate: This is about the need for the other person to reach out and initiate contact with you. Any relationship where you always have to take the first step, always initiate, always be the one to approach the other will eventually become painful and dissatisfying. For example, if one partner in a relationship says “You never initiate sex”, or one friend says to another “It’s always me who picks up the phone to call you” there is often some hurt and resentment related to this.

8. Need to express love: We all have the desire to express love and caring towards another, and to have this accepted and valued by the other. This may be expressed by thankfulness, gratitude, giving affection, doing something for the other, creating a nice surprise for another – there are many way we can express love and affection.

When the other person notices and appreciates what we have to offer, we feel cared for and valued. When what we offer is routinely unnoticed, declined or not valued, we feel unappreciated and slowly back off emotionally from that relationship.

For further information contact Lindsay Stewart

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