6 psychological needs: Why we might not be getting our needs met

Why do we crave love, intimacy and connection even from the most unsuitable of places or people? Although we have very little control in the world, there might be a psychoanalytical explanation as to why we are drawn to things that may only end up making us feel unhappy, sad and unfulfilled.


A Transactional Analyst, Eric Berne stated that we all have psychological hungers and if they cannot be ‘fed’ in a balanced way then we will find any means to get whatever we can, wherever we can get it, regardless of it being healthy or safe.

Just as food and shelter are absolutely vital for our survival, Berne’s work suggests we also need to feed six other biological and psychological hungers (also known as needs) in order to survive. Berne described these six needs as contact, recognition, incident, stimulus, structure, and sex/passion hungers.

1. Contact hunger

Contact hunger is the need for physical touch from other people. Such as a hug, holding another’s hand, a pat, a massage, or any other form of physical touch.

2. Recognition hunger

Recognition hunger is the need to be noticed or to receive attention and acknowledgement, which can only be supplied by another human being. It is a need for a sense of belonging and a feeling that other people know you exist in the world. This is why in infancy being fed milk is not enough for a baby. For a fuller and healthier development, a child also needs sound, smell, warmth and nurturing touch around them. Adults also need this type of recognition. Berne states that to feed this hunger, verbal strokes such as a simple nod, a greeting from another, or receiving a compliment or praise are important.

3. Incident hunger

Incident hunger is the need for anything unusual, challenging, exciting, novel, or different. It is doing something out of the ordinary. When you are bored or feel life is dull, then you are experiencing a lack of incident in your life. It is just as important to plan incidents into your life rather than just have them happen to you. It is important to note, there can be negative unplanned incidents, such as losing your house keys or somebody crashing into your parked car. Whereas, planned positive incidents can involve booking a holiday, going to a party, meeting new people and going on adventures.

4. Stimulus hunger

Stimulus hunger is the need for sensation, arousal and input into our five senses, which involves sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Just as we need verbal strokes, we also need physical strokes that invoke all of our senses.

5. Structure (time) hunger

This is the need for time structure or what one does with his/her time in order to avoid boredom. It is the need for security and to be in charge of one’s life. It can vary from some of us having too much time structure or not enough. It is important to remember that as much as you plan your work time, it is as important to plan your playtime. Having goals, keeping a balanced calendar, going to work as well as making time to relax, have fun or taking part in a passion or hobby can be some of the ways to fulfil this need.

6. Sex/passion hunger

Sex or passion hunger is the need to be aroused and it can be met in many ways. Such as having enthusiasm about a hobby, watching or participating in sports, dancing and having physical and/or psychological intimacy with others.

All of these hungers are inter-connected, so when we are low on one, the rest are also impacted. When one need is not being met, there is a tendency to focus too much energy to get that particular need met, instead of having them all in balance.

Often, if we did not receive enough love, care, nurture, attention, protection, security or support as a child, we will seek these needs out from others. We may try to make others responsible for fulfilling our needs, such as seeking validation or approval from others, or staying in a bad relationship because it feels better to be in that instead of being alone. We may also rely on other external means, such as materialism, throw ourselves into our work, over-eat or drink excessively. 

All six hungers must all be in balance or it can leave us starving for love, acknowledgement, excitement, intimacy and connection.

Many of us attempt to feed and fulfil these needs. Berne stated some of us may try to satisfy such hungers through any means possible because it is deemed better to have something rather than having nothing at all, as nothing will only lead to starvation. However, such an approach to seek satisfaction may not fully satisfy us in the long term and can lead to huge emotional burdens.

Counselling and psychotherapy can be a safe space to discover what psychological hunger(s) you might be starving or over feeding. It can create an understanding of how you might be able to feed your psychological hungers in a much healthier, safer and balanced way and thus get your needs met more positively.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London SE1 & SW18
Written by Daljinder Bal, MBACP and UKCP Registered
London SE1 & SW18

Daljinder Bal is a psychotherapist who works with individuals aged 14 and over, either remotely and/or in person. She works with a range of issues but fundamentally believes that although there is no magic fix, we can learn more about ourselves through the process of counselling and therapy in order to create positive change.

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