Do you know what your core emotional needs are and are they being met? Part 2

Part 2 – To have some autonomy, to feel competent and to have a sense of identity

In the first article in this series, you were introduced to five different categories of core emotional needs*. They were:

1. To feel safe, stable, nurtured and accepted

2. To have some autonomy, to feel competent and to have a sense of identity

3. To have the freedom to express your own needs and emotions

4. To be able to act spontaneously and to play

5. To live in a world with realistic limits, which help you to apply self-control.

 *As described by Jeffrey Young in Schema Therapy, 2003. 

It was suggested that the reason for unhappiness in your life may be due to the fact that some or all of your core emotional needs are not being met. In Part 1, you read about the importance of having safety and stability in your life as well as to feel nurtured and accepted by others. Here, in Part 2, you can look at the importance of autonomy and performance in your life.


To be autonomous is to be independent. It is to have confidence in your ability to get on in the world. If you feel that you are able to cope independently of others, to survive, to function well enough without others to do things for yourself and to perform successfully, then you do not struggle with autonomy.    


Competence is about your abilities. How capable are you in what you do? Think about your work, education and leisure activities. Your competence is also about your common sense and your ability to problem-solve. How good are your problem-solving skills? People that worry a lot are often lacking a belief in their own abilities. 

A sense of identity

How clear is your sense of identity? Identity is often described as who you think you are. To have a clear sense of your identity is to be clear about the person that you are. Often people identify with the things that they do - for example, their work and their hobbies. Identity also requires self-awareness, to know your strengths and flaws as well as how you tend to behave in relationships. 

Where does it come from?

A good starting place for dealing with some of these issues is to be clearer about their causes. Like all problems to do with core emotional needs, their roots begin in childhood and adolescence. Typically, the family home is a source of influence in the way you develop and grow. If you’ve grown up without much confidence in your abilities, then it is likely that you were subject to one or several of the following conditions as a child:

  • Your parents were too emotionally involved with you
  • You were not given enough praise or encouragement to try out new things
  • Your parents were over-protective
  • One or both of your parents displayed a lot of anxiety.

Now you may find it interesting to read that having parents who are too emotionally involved can be bad for you. After all, in Part 1, it was suggested that having parents who weren’t emotionally involved enough could have caused you problems. However, a parent who does not give space for a child to develop themselves and overshadows their emotional experiences with their own is likely to cause their child to grow up without a clear idea about who they are and what they want from life.

How much praise and encouragement did you get as a child? If you were given lots, perhaps at school as well as by your parents, then you probably feel pretty adept at developing yourself personally and professionally. However, if you were not, then it is more likely that you feel unable to make decisions that easily, and so consequently you’ve tended to rely on others to advise you, give you reassurance or go places with you.  

If you had a parent who was over-protective of you growing up, then you can probably easily recount the feelings of frustration as you were prevented or actively discouraged from trying out things separate from them. In many incidents, the over-protectiveness can come from a place of caring - but it is, in the end, misguided. Misguided because you did not need that amount of protection in order to be safe and, in the long-run, it has undermined your confidence to get on in the world.

Parents who are overly anxious are likely to display certain types of behaviour. For example, worrying a lot and avoiding a lot. Adults who struggle to contain their anxieties and shield their children from them end up giving their children a perception that the world is more dangerous than it is in reality. Of course, this applies only to circumstances in which the safety of the family members is not threatened.

What can you do about it?

This depends on you as an individual. The focus for you may not be exactly the same as for someone else who is struggling with this problem. Below are several suggestions of how to begin tackling this. Pick one that feels most helpful to you.

  • Give up depending on others to do things for you or with you so much. Make a list of all the areas in your life where you are over-dependent on others e.g. travelling, making decisions about what to do in your time off and what to do in a task at work. Practise doing it on your own. Inevitably, you will make mistakes and that is ok. Making mistakes is part of learning. If you can accept that it is ok to make mistakes, then you can keep on practicing. Over time, you’ll develop the confidence and intuition about what works best.
  • Face your fears instead of avoiding them. Make a list of all the activities that you avoid doing due to a fear of something bad happening to you. Set yourself an ideal long-term goal of what you like to do if you didn’t have these fears. Then, set out a series of smaller steps that you can take gradually to help you get there. This is part of what therapists call graded exposure. If you have avoided things for a long time because of a fear of something bad happening, then you may wish to seek professional help to support you in learning new skills to manage your anxieties.
  • If you spend too much time with or thinking about a parent or a significant other, then it is going to be helpful to reduce this. Write a list of all the advantages and disadvantages of remaining so intertwined with that person. Then, write a list of all your favourite things e.g. music, films, books, places to eat and drink and activities. Schedule some time to start doing some of these things even if they are not what those close to you prefer doing.
  • Ask yourself, how well do you feel you have achieved in your work and career? How satisfied are you with what you’ve accomplished so far? If your thoughts suggest that you do not feel successful or satisfied, then you are probably struggling with a "belief" that you are a "failure". Now, this may be for different reasons. For example, you may have tended to focus on goals which weren't that realistic. Or, it may be due to a lack of effort on your part i.e. that you’ve held back because of a fear of failing. Alternatively, you may be suffering with a particular learning difficulty that has interfered with your development. If you think the latter is the case, then it would be best to seek out professional help, again from a relevant agency.

If you have the belief that you are a failure, then the following exercises will help you let go of that belief and focus on developing your ability to achieve.

  • Repeat the words: I am not inherently inept. I’ve only failed at things because of the actions that I’ve taken. Stop over-preparing and avoiding trying. These are traps that many people fall in to when they are afraid of failure. Instead, set yourself some realistic goals of what it is that you want to achieve in your work, education, leisure, relationships, friendships and health. Develop an action plan of what you need to do to get there by setting out a series of smaller steps
  • Focus hard on paying attention to your successes. You’ve probably been focusing too much on what you fail at and neglected what you’ve done well. Write down each day something that you’ve succeeded at so that you can develop a fuller awareness and teach yourself the whole truth.

If you’ve taken the time to read this far, then you’ve taken the first step in overcoming your feelings of failure, over-dependence on others. If this is a long-term difficulty, then it will take time and persistence to work through it. Getting support from others will be important, so that you can keep on track when the going gets tough.

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

Share this article with a friend
Birmingham, West Midlands, B18 6DA
Written by Jim Lucas
Birmingham, West Midlands, B18 6DA

Get the Knowledge, Skills and Support to stop fear, shame, hurt and anger from controlling your life. We are a Birmingham-based professional Psychology Enterprise offering Counselling & evidence-based Psychotherapy, including Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (...

Show comments

Find a therapist dealing with Low self-confidence

All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals