Tuesday 28 May 2024

Balancing Psychological Hungers is important

We all have physical needs. Food, shelter, desire etc.

But along with it, there is another set of needs which are equally important. They are psychological hungers.

Eric Berne of Transactional Analysis fame identified that human beings have three psychological hungers. They are the need for Certainty/Structure; the need for Stimulation; and the need for Recognition

And just like the distress we feel when our physical needs go unmet for a long time, when our psychological needs are not fulfilled, we feel disturbed.

More importantly, we need a certain degree of all the three to function properly. When there is an imbalance, it is not natural.

Certainty/Structure is representation of degree of control we have in life. It comes from the ability to predict the cause and effect of our actions, if not perfectly, to some extent. If we live in an environment when there is no structure, it can be very unnerving. This is why employment uncertainty can be such a debilitating situation to be in. This is why it is so hard to deal with unpredictable people. On the flip side, having too much certainty numbs us and makes us unreactive. Too much structure means we are not able to react with flexibility, and that makes us fragile.

Stimulation is the need for excitement. It is the inbuilt desire for curiosity and finding something interesting. Boredom is mostly intolerable. Without stimulation, the passion we feel for most things will not sustain. But again, too much stimulation is toxic. The most pertinent example I see of this overstimulation is our addiction to our phones and to scrolling. That is cheap stimulation and we have become addicted to it.

Recognition is the need to be heard, seen and acknowledged. This comes from our social nature. Our lives are lived in the intersection of our relationships with different people who inhabit our world. If we don't feel acknowledged, we feel adrift. This can happen in the workplace, in our intimate relationships and in our own spiritual journeys as well. Too much recognition, makes us vulnerable to becoming trapped in a need for external validation. 

These three hungers are present in every human being. So, as we look to fulfil these needs for ourselves, we should acknowledge that others need this as well for their efficient functioning.

And here is the wonderful part. Unlike our physical needs, where giving someone food does not ensure you receive food, or desiring someone does not ensure you are desired, the psychological hungers operate on a different pathway.

In the realm of interpersonal relationships, you get what you give. Let’s take the example of recognition. If you seek recognition, the best way to get it is to provide recognition to others. If you walk into a crowded party where people are all speaking to each other, and nobody has seen you, the best way to get acknowledged and included is to go and say "hi!" to a friend or acquaintance, or wave and call someone's name out, even if they are at the other end. 

Similarly, a co-worker who helps provide some structure to a new employee, by showing them some of the easy ways to do things around the office, will feel the reciprocation of the new colleague soon enough. 

If you are lacking stimulation in life, cultivate a sense of excitement and energy for the most mundane interactions. Smile and talk excitedly to the cashier at your local grocer. They will be obliged to reciprocate.

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