Soul Articles

Psychological well-being through the fulfillment of your basic psychological needs

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When our basic psychological needs are fulfilled, we feel comfortable and completely well. You certainly know this feeling of satisfaction and joy when spending time with someone important to you. In this case, your basic need for attachment is satisfied. If you simultaneously experience something together that you enjoy and for which you have been involved in the planning-process, your basic needs for self-determination and pleasure are also fulfilled. If we lack the fulfillment of our basic needs over a more extended period, we feel unhappy and can become ill. In this article, we will give you a practical guide on how you can discover and fulfill your needs.

Why it is essential that you consciously engage with your basic needs:

Due to our own high expectations of ourselves or expectations that others hold of us, often there doesn't seem to be room in our daily lives to explore and fulfill our own needs. We want to raise your awareness that you have a right to meet your basic psychological needs, stay healthy and enjoy your life. Just as it is essential for your well-being to eat healthily, and get enough exercise and sleep, it is also crucial to meet your basic psychological needs to stay psychologically and physically healthy in the long run.

Step 1: Discover your needs

Before we can respect our needs and can take care of them, we must first become aware of their existence. There are different concepts regarding basic psychological needs. In this article, we will be following the concept of Prof. Dr. Klaus Grawe (1), which includes four basic psychological needs:

1. Need for attachment

We all depend on close attachment figures to survive, especially in our first years of life. However, our need for attachment plays a role across our entire lives. Research has shown that fulfilling social relationships has an impact on our health and longevity (2).

2. The need for orientation and control

Inherent in our nature is the need to think about our future and to plan. Along with this, we often worry about our future. We need to be able to shape our lives self-determinedly and to create a world of security for ourselves. If this security feels threatened, for example, by a war or a possible or actual job loss, negative emotions arise in us.

3. The need for protection and increasing our self-esteem

High self-esteem is related to our life satisfaction (3). Healthy self-esteem arises primarily from our interpersonal relationships and the feedback we receive from those around us.We can increase our self-esteem through feedback from others and by achieving goals we have set for ourselves. If we do not receive any positive confirmation from outside and also have the feeling that we have not achieved anything, our self-esteem is hurt, and we experience negative emotions.

4. The need for pleasure and avoidance of displeasure

We strive to feel pleasure and to avoid the feeling of displeasure. To prevent feeling emotionally numb, depressed, and bored, we must keep inviting ourselves to permit and feel joy. By the way, we are, of course, also capable of postponing our pleasure gain because we know, for example, how good it will feel when we work hard for our goal and finally achieve it.

Step 2: Check the fulfillment of your needs

Now ask yourself to what extent the four basic needs are currently fulfilled in your life and where you might lack fulfillment. To do this, you can observe yourself over several days. For example, take a few minutes every evening and reflect on your day. 

For this, direct your focus on your daily feelings. When do you feel good? When are you satisfied with yourself? When do you feel secure and connected? When do you feel joy and pleasure?

Also, observe when you don't feel well and when negative emotions arise in you.

After you have collected these moments for yourself, consider them in terms of the four basic needs. Which basic needs were met in the moments when you felt good, and in what way? And which basic needs were violated in the moments when you did not feel good? 

Not all of our basic needs have to be met 100% of the time in every moment of our lives. It is natural that, depending on the situation, some needs are more important than others. The goal is, therefore, not to fulfill all needs continuously and entirely but to find out when you lack which need to such an extent that it impairs your well-being. 

Once you have developed an awareness of your basic psychological needs and their satisfaction, you can begin to work on fulfilling them. Depending on the need and situation, the journey can look very different. For example, sometimes, our needs have been disregarded in a quite detrimental way, so it is necessary to work through the thoughts and emotions associated with them to achieve a state of need fulfillment in the present moment. Your experiences do play an essential role here. 

We are happy to support you in working through your past experiences and finding ways to fulfill your basic needs in the here and now. The essential ingredients for success on this discovery journey are curiosity and goodwill towards yourself and your feelings. 

Author: Anna Seger


(1) Grawe, K. (2014). Neuropsychotherapie. Hogrefe.

(2) Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B. & Layton, J. B. (2010). Social relationships and mortality risk: a meta-analytic review. PLoS medicine, 7(7), e1000316.

(3) Lyubomirsky, S., Tkach, C. & DiMatteo, M. R. (2006). What are the Differences between Happiness and Self-Esteem. Social Indicators Research, 78(3), 363–404.