The Human Givens Emotional Needs and Resources

Like all living organisms, humans must take nourishment from the environment, and have essential physical needs which must be met in order to survive. We need air to breathe, clean water, nutritious food. We also need freedom to move and exercise our muscles and senses, as well as secure shelter and the means to reproduce. Everybody accepts that these are 'givens': without them, we cannot thrive.

Hence, the Human Givens.

There are 9 emotional needs that should be met in order to ensure wellbeing. We also have resources within ourselves that help us to interact with our environment and meet our needs. If these needs are not met in balance, it can lead to mental and emotional distress.

The Emotional Needs


If we don’t feel safe in our environments for any reason, our emotions can take over our rational thinking, and we are more likely to become anxious or stressed.

Insecurity can be experienced in a number of ways: physical danger or a threat to wellbeing through job security, relationship difficulties and fear of failure.

Some people thrive on or can adapt quickly to being stretched, whereas others can become anxious if they feel out of their depth.

Autonomy and Control

We all need a sense of control over what happens to us and around us, the freedom to make our own decisions and choices, which helps us to feel in charge of ourselves rather than being overwhelmed by life.

It is well-known that lack of control is a major cause of stress. Autonomy in work or personal environments is a need that is often not met.


Giving and receiving attention fuels development. Paying attention to each other helps form a bond within a group and keeps a realistic perspective of events.

Emotional Connection

We all need at least one other person who supports and values us.

The person we share emotional connection with might be a friend, family member or colleague – someone we can confide in, who will accept us without judgement.

This is the time of Covid 19 and, as a result, anxiety levels are likely to be high for a number of reasons.


No one wants to be an outcast. Humans are herd animals. We therefore have an ingrained need to feel a sense of belonging to a group.

The sense of all being in it together is something that effectively reduces anxiety.


A sense of being accepted and valued within our communities. Our sense of status can include self-respect.

Perceived lack of status can induce considerable anxiety, particularly when we compare ourselves less favourably to others.

Achievement and Competence

Without a sense of our own competence, abilities, knowledge, skills and attitudes, feelings of inadequacy may develop, resulting in low self-esteem. Genuine confidence, built through expertise, develops resilience.


Enough time and space to reflect on, learn from and consolidate experiences.

Privacy that allows reflection and consolidation is fundamental, yet many people do not give themselves the time or the space to develop the right skills.

In this context, privacy doesn’t necessarily mean being in a space on one’s own, but ensuring a quiet and reflective space, be it physical or mental, where we can look back on our performance and reflect honestly, without criticism or judgement, about what went well and what needs to change.

Meaning and Purpose

Comes from being stretched, mentally and physically, having purpose in what we do, and being connected to ideas that are bigger than ourselves.

Our Innate Resources/ Internal Guidance System

We are born with innate resources which help us to meet our emotional needs, enabling us to develop different skills for coping with life. We don’t, or sometimes can’t, always make best use of our innate resources, which affects an individual’s general coping abilities.

Let’s have a look at the resources identified within the human givens framework.

Emotions and Instincts

Emotions spur us to take action to get our needs met. So our emotions have a vital survival purpose.

We are frequently exposed to powerful emotions which we have to manage. For example, dread or fear might accompany the prospect of a difficult meeting/event. We have to accept and listen to these emotions alerting us to our need to act, but not be overwhelmed by them when we have to make assessments and decisions.


The ability to build rapport, empathise and connect with others so that we can build effective teams.


This allows the development and retention of knowledge, ideas and principles.


A means of creative problem solving and decision making, enabling us to try out ideas in our minds. In our imagination we can safely to play out scenarios, using past experience and expertise to inform our decisions, and to identify potential consequences to our actions.

Mis-using our imagination can lead to excessive worry and rumination. As with all our needs and resources, it is essential to get the right balance.

Pattern Matching

Our brains constantly look for past experiences to relate to our current circumstances, to inform our decision making. Sometimes the matches are helpful and sometimes inappropriate.

All humans pattern match as a way of shortening the amount of time required to process experiences and make decisions that are in our best interests. Pattern matching is done by an organ in the brain called the amygdala, which looks out for anything that may help or hinder our survival. If survival is perceived to be at stake, it will override rational thinking so that taking emergency action can be given priority.

However, the amygdala will also react to perceived severe social threats, such as feeling uncomfortable or inferior. This can overwhelm the need to act rationally and calmly.

If people are insecure about their abilities, they may unhelpfully pattern match to a time when they did something wrong, rather than to the many times when they did something right.

Because a negative pattern match by the amygdala may trigger the fight or flight response, a previous experience that did not go well may be avoided in future or might induce a debilitating stress reaction.


The rational mind is able to analyse, plan, fine tune and question.

Enhanced Awareness

The potential to develop an ‘observing self’ that is able to step back and be objective. It is separate from intellect, emotion and conditioning. This is 'awareness of awareness itself'.

Developing the ability to look at ourselves from an observational perspective is part of the skill of reflection. By reflecting on performance, we allow ourselves to be critical within a safe space where there is no consequence or blame. This is not an excuse to beat ourselves up over what should have been done better, but it is an opportunity to look at our performance objectively, to recognise what went well and what needs to change.

It also enables us, when we are caught up and overtaken by unhelpful thoughts or feelings about a situation, to be able recognise that we are having these unhelpful thoughts or feelings, and step back from that, allowing our rational skills to come to the fore.


Sleep and dreaming are vital to wellbeing. Sleep is restorative, so it makes sense to create the most beneficial environment for optimising quality of sleep. Dreaming is the brain’s way of defusing uncompleted, unresolved or unfulfilled emotional arousals such as worries and ruminations which have not been expressed. This helps to create spare emotional capacity for the next day.

If there is too much rumination, too much dreaming will need to take place and this will lessen the amount of slow-wave physically recuperative sleep that can occur. This will probably wake the worrier early, or leave them drained and lacking motivation in the morning because dreaming takes a massive amount of finite energy.


Created by Aquila Jet Training Ltd.  With thanks to Denise Winn and Human Givens.