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Psychological Hunger – Identifying Unmet Needs

Have you ever felt an aching loneliness while engaged in conversation or found yourself inexplicably furious over a minor mistake like a wrong food order? These intense reactions are typically disproportionate to the event itself, but they are neither invalid nor reflective of a person’s character. Instead, these responses, or “triggers,” signal deeper, unmet psychological needs that urge exploration rather than judgement.

In recent findings, Dr. Chasity, a Licensed Psychologist and Clinical Director at Thrive Wellbeing Centre and professor at the American University of Sharjah (AUS), provides an insightful exploration into the often-overlooked concept of psychological unmet needs. With years of expertise in clinical psychology, Dr. Chasity reveals what constitutes these unmet needs and how they manifest in daily life, leading to exaggerated emotional responses in seemingly ordinary situations.

Understanding Psychological Unmet Needs 

The concept of unmet needs is pervasive across various psychological theories, often referred to as attachment injuries, unhealed wounds, or basic psychological needs. It may also be referred to as part of a greater hierarchy of needs, inner child wounds, shadow, maladaptive needs (or core beliefs), or unconscious material. These needs represent deep-seated psychological wounds that, although invisible, significantly impact an individual’s behaviour, relationships, and overall mental health.

What causes unmet needs? 

Dr.Chasity insightfully notes that unmet needs, or “psychological hunger,” encompass more than just the basic necessities for survival like food, shelter, and clothing. From childhood, individuals also require emotional nurturing—such as love, acceptance, and the freedom to express feelings and make mistakes. The failure to meet these needs during childhood can result in long-term emotional and psychological distress. “These needs are foundational, and their absence can lead to long-standing psychological wounds that affect all aspects of life, including relationships and work,” – Dr. Chasity.

What are those needs? 

The Therapeutic Approach

Schema Therapy provides a valuable framework for understanding these unmet needs through the lens of Early Maladaptive Schemas (EMS). Developed in response to chronic and harmful/neglectful early childhood conditions, EMS are defence coping mechanisms that, while initially protective, often become maladaptive “survival skills” later in life. Dr. Chasity emphasises the importance of recognising and addressing these schemas as they manifest in various forms, including:

Safe attachments and connection

We need to feel a sense of safety, stability, care, validation, and worthiness from a loving, predictable, and consistent attachment figure. Without this need met, we can experience deep agony of rejection, abandonment, defectiveness, shame, and non-belonging.

Autonomy

We need to feel supported as we grow into our identity (ability to explore and to have guidance) and a sense of being good at something. Without this need met, we can feel dependent, incompetent, and preoccupied with failure or illness.

Realistic Limits

We need to learn that not every day is a party. Actions have consequences; being responsible, short-term sacrifices for long-term gains, and building frustration tolerance are part of becoming a healthy, well-adjusted adult.

Without this need met, we can feel entitled and superior to others, and we can struggle with the self-control and self-discipline necessary to meet worthwhile goals.

Freedom of expression of needs and emotions

Not every need can be met, and not every emotion can be tended to, but this need is about the basic ability to feel a range of emotions without shaming or being told to stop it.

When this need is not met, we may resort to suppressing, masking, or sacrificing our needs and emotions in a way that is unhealthy and leaves us emotionally dependent on the approval or recognition of others.

Spontaneity and playfulness

If you have ever seen a child play, you will notice how unstructured it is—it is led by what the child notices in the environment.

Without this need met, we can put a tremendous amount of pressure on ourselves and others (perfectionism) and experience constant guilt for not being productive; we can feel like we are undeserving of good things.

The Path to Healing: Recognising When the Unmet Need is Activated

Awareness and recognising when and how these unmet needs trigger disproportionate emotional reactions are the first steps towards healing. Dr. Chasity advises those experiencing such symptoms to observe their patterns and consider their emotional intensity, which can serve as a gateway to self-discovery and recovery. As Dr.Chasity asserts, “Acknowledging these needs allows us to begin the healing process, ultimately leading to a healthier, more fulfilling life.”

For additional information and resources, please visit www.thrive.ae