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Building Resilience : Healthy Self-Care


Healthy self-care is the ongoing process of responding to the physical and emotional needs of your body and mind in a way that is balanced and moderate.  The physical needs are for healthy food, water, physical activity, sleep, rest, relaxation, sunlight and a healthy environment.  The emotional needs are for security, giving & receiving positive attention, connection with a wider community, an intimate close relationship with at least one other person, autonomy, status, competence, privacy and meaning and purpose.

The underlying intention of healthy self-care is the desire to not only prevent illness and support your recovery from various health problems, but to take care of your bodymind in a way that enables you to experience your fullest physical, emotional, psychological and social potential.

How to meet your emotional needs

To experience a high level of mental health and resilience each of us needs to meet certain emotional needs.  Leaving them unmet is a major contributor to emotional and mental distress.  The following is based on the pioneering work of an organisation called the ‘Human Givens Institute.’  The term ‘human givens’ refers to four related ideas:

  1. Our ability to experience mental health, personal growth and optimum functioning is dependant upon our ability to satisfy nine genetically programmed emotional needs in an ongoing and balanced way. These needs are universal in that they apply to all people regardless of culture or gender.
  2. We are instinctively trying to fulfil these needs using specific resources that we are born with.
  3. Our emotions are what drives us to take action so that we can get these needs met.
  4. If we are unable to meet our emotional needs and/or apply our resources adequately this will inevitably lead to distress (anger, fear, anxiety and stress) and mental ill-health.


The nine emotional needs are:

Emotional Need 1 – Security

This includes the security of living in a safe environment and neighbourhood, and the safety of knowing that you are physically and emotionally safe in the presence of the people that surround you.  This includes people at home and your place of work.  Security also includes feeling secure in your work, job and relationship.  Feeling safe and knowing how to deal effectively with fear provides us with the necessary environment so that we can develop and grow our potentials.

Emotional Need 2 – Giving & Receiving Positive Attention

You just have to watch a small or big child, to witness how powerful this need is.  Children need attention; it’s an essential nutrient and they will do everything in their power to get the attention of their parent, either through behaving themselves and performing well or if that fails, through misbehaving.  Either way they need attention and so do we as adults.  Much of what we do and say and how we dress, interact and project ourselves is influenced by our need for quality, sincere attention.  However, to thrive psychologically as human beings, we need to give, and as importantly receive, positive attention.

Emotional Need 3 – Connection with a wider community

We are intrinsically social creatures and need to feel that we are part of something beyond our immediate family group.  Having a wider social network (friends) and enjoying the company of people with similar or common interests, is a key need if you are to achieve total health.  Having a network of friends and participating in groups or community related projects are renowned for helping to protect against depression.

Emotional Need 4 – An intimate close relationship with at least one other person

Intimacy means having meaningful emotional contact with another person.  Whilst the depth of the interaction will naturally vary in respect of emotional growth and healing, the greatest benefit is derived from being able to share the truth of ourselves – the good, the bad and the ugly with them.  When this is received with understanding and acceptance, the process of healing is supported.  This kind of relationship could include your partner, a friend, therapist and/or spiritual/religious teacher.

Emotional Need 5 – Autonomy

A person who feels that they have some degree of control in respect of their life situation (work, finances and relationships) is able to withstand stress and life’s challenges much more effectively than someone who has no or little control. For example, people with little or no control at work, experience high levels of stress and anxiety than those with more control. Taking responsibility for your health and emotional well-being demonstrates that you are already increasing your autonomy.

Emotional Need 6 – Status

In any given social situation we each need to feel that we have our place and purpose; a sense that we are being recognised and respected for who we are.  This needs to include our place within the home and at work.  Status is something we give to ourselves and receive from others.

Emotional Need 7 – Competence

Self-esteem – the estimation of ourselves – is intimately tied up with feeling competent and having a sense of accomplishment in what we do.  This can apply in many aspects of your life including relationships, lovemaking, work, recreation and sports.  This comes about when taking actions that are in alignment with our gifts, strengths and values.

Emotional Need 8 – Privacy

This is not so much about removing ourselves from contact with others, but about knowing that we can control the amount of contact that we have with others, plus also using our private time to reflect on and consolidate our experiences.  It’s also about balance and moderation.  So, for example, there are plenty of people with depression or social anxiety who isolate themselves from others; this will not lead them to greater well-being.  Whereas someone who is actively engaged in their life, but takes time out regularly to rejuvenate and reflect on their life situation and circumstances, will experience greater well-being.

Emotional Need 9 – Meaning and purpose

Our minds are constantly trying to attach meaning to what we do and what we experience.  When something has meaning, it takes on importance and adds depth and flavour to our life, for better or for worse.  Something that holds a positive meaning for you, for example a vision to make a success of your business, enables you to look beyond and find solutions to problems and challenges which would otherwise be blockages to your development and success.  Tied in with meaning is purpose – the feeling of determination and drive that comes from having a vision and belief in what you are doing.  Taking actions that are aligned with your values, growing and evolving as a human being and being stretched and engaged with the world, are some of the keys to creating positive meaning and purpose.

In addition to the nine emotional needs, nature has also endowed us with the specific resources to meet them. These resources include:

  • Curiosity – the ability to develop, learn and acquire new knowledge and insight.
  • The ability to build rapport, empathise and connect with others.
  • Imagination – which enables us to solve problems, plan our futures, instruct the subconscious mind and alter memories that might be adversely affecting us.
  • A conscious, rational mind that can analyse, make plans and control our emotions.
  • The ability to ‘know’ – understand the world unconsciously through metaphorical pattern matching.
  • An observing self – a part of us that can step back from and observe our emotions and thoughts.
  • Dreaming is nature’s way of discharging stress. Expectations that aroused the autonomic nervous system during the day and were not discharged, are metaphorically completed in dream stories during REM sleep, leaving us refreshed and ready for the new day.

Using these resources to meet your emotional needs in a healthy and balanced way is one of the most important keys to emotional and mental health.  A failure to meet our emotional needs, leads to emotional and psychological distress – whether we are aware of it or not.  If left unresolved, this accumulated distress often deteriorates into anxiety, addictions, depression and in the predisposed psychosis.  The key therefore is to identify which emotional needs need to be met.

  • Thanks to Dr Mark Atkinson for contributing this article

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