November 21, 2019

6 Basic Mental Health Needs

Mental Health & Wellbeing

We all know that food, water, shelter, and clothing are basic human physical needs that must be met for us to thrive and survive in the world. But, what about our basic psychological needs? Dr. Jeffrey Young, developer of Lifetrap therapy, also known as Schema Therapy, suggests 6 basic psychological needs in order to thrive in the world.

He suggests that childhood is the foundation for these needs being met or unmet. This influences and forms how we come to view ourselves and the world as adults. Our primary caregivers, immediate family, and early friendships either promoted and facilitated meeting our basic emotional needs or hindered these needs. Our parents didn’t need to be perfect, but psychological problems typically occur when serious shortfalls happened in any of these 6 areas.

Basic Safety

When a child’s need for basic safety is met, it produces a sense of being stable, secure, cared for and protected in the world. There is predictability and availability from parents, teachers, and other close adults. Rest is possible. Safety brings trust, which gives space to relax.

Unmet basic safety needs happen when the most intimate people in a child’s life, those who are supposed to love, care, and provide for the child, instead abuse or abandon the child. This unmet basic need for safety brings a pervasive sense of worry and fear that something bad is going to happen. One can have intense moods, become impulsive, and have a heightened sense of vulnerability in the world.

Connection to Others

This is having a sense of connection that comes from developing intimacy with those who are closest to us, such as parents, spouse, and very close friends. It also develops when we have a sense of belonging within our social connections. Emotional intimacy and social belonging brings a sense of being loved and cared for, having a place in the world, and being a valued contributor.

The unmet need of connection, either through intimacy or belonging, lends itself to feelings of isolation, loneliness, not really being known, understood, or cared for, and not feeling like you fit in the world. This can happen when parents are absent, emotionally distant or cold, have poor communication, or offer little physical affection. It can also happen in childhood social circles, if one is rejected, bullied, embarrassed, or left out. Children can become loners or maintain superficial relationships even with their closest friends, avoiding exposing weaknesses, failures, or other vulnerabilities.


The need for autonomy is the need for developing confidence in your own thoughts, abilities, and judgements about the world. It is developing your unique identity and sense of self, apart from others, and moving in the world with independence. Parents who meet the need for autonomy encourage their children to explore and engage in the world, take responsibility, help them develop self sufficiency, and teach them how to exercise good judgement.

Unmet autonomy needs happen when parents are overprotective, making decisions for their children and adolescents, undermine their child’s natural inclinations and judgements, constantly warn about dangers in the world, and foster dependence on the parent. This can inhibit independent functioning in the world, bringing self doubt and fear.

Self Esteem

A feeling that you are worthwhile develops in childhood when you feel loved and respected by others, especially by your parents, peers, and at school. A sense of being appreciated, accepted, encouraged, and successful fosters self esteem.

Unmet needs of self esteem develop when excessive criticism and rejection are experienced. This might happen with a parent, with peers, or at school. You may have felt unlovable, undesirable, or a failure. This leads to feelings of inferiority. A person grows to lack self confidence, feel insecure, and hypersensitive about their shortcomings.

Self Expression

Receiving the need for self expression means you were allowed the freedom to express yourself, your thoughts, feelings, needs, and interests. As a child you learned that your needs are just as important as others. You were allowed to work and play with reasonable standards.

On the other hand, unmet self expression needs meant that you were punished or made to feel guilty for expressing your thoughts, feelings, or needs. Your parents needs were probably more important that your needs. You may have been shamed for being uninhibited, playful, curious, or expressive. Work was more important than play. Your parents may have held high standards for work or performance. You learned to suppress your own needs for the sake of others.

Realistic Limits

Parents who met this need for their child’s emotional development set realistic boundaries on behavior, with consequences. Self control and self discipline were promoted. You were taught to follow through with commitments and responsibilities, respect the freedom of others, consider the perspective of others and not hurt people unnecessarily. These parents do not overindulge their children or give excessive freedom to their behavior. Realistic limits means that you learned to accept boundaries on your behavior.

Those whose needs for realistic limits were not met in childhood can struggle socially. Others may view them as selfish, controlling, or narcissistic. One can have difficulty meeting long term goals because they are impulsive and seek immediate gratification. If this is you, your parents may have been overly permissive, you were rewarded for manipulative behavior, they may not have supervised you adequately, and you almost always got what you wanted.

Perhaps as you read this blog you noticed one or two needs that may have been lacking in your childhood. Maybe you can see how you are being affected today by some of your childhood experiences. This blog is really just the tip of the iceberg in exploring the impact of unmet emotional needs. I would be happy to meet with you to delve deeper and explore how you can overcome and heal from the negative impacts. Give me a call today!

Written by therapist Amie Bilson

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