Posts tagged needs

The Four Needs for Meaning

Roy Baumiester, has written about the four needs for meaning that all humans have and I find that a useful framework. He believes, and I concur, that all four needs need to be satisfied to a reasonable degree, if a person has to live well. Even if one need is thwarted, one would be forced to search for meaning in that part of his or her life.

These four needs are as follows:

  1. Need for purpose (self-concordance?): We need to interpret events that happen to us and around us as leading to some goals or fulfillment. We cannot be doing random stuff, nor random stuff can happen to us; everything has to have some purpose or meaning. We need to conceptualize ourselves as goal driven, either acting the way we are due to external goals or due to intrinsic fulfillment.
  2. Need for values and justification (self-righteousness?_: We need to justify our acts (and inaction) by resorting to moral values that guide what we do and what we don’t do. We simply cannot be seen as acting capriciously, in our own eyes, and need a moral yardstick to act and justify the act. We need some consistency of behavior and that consistency has to come from a good point- that as a moral person this is what I am and this is what I do.
  3. Need for (self) efficacy:  We also need some control over our life and and need to believe that we can achieve our goals/fulfillment or realize our values. We need to believe that one can make a difference by one’s own actions. Even if we don’t have any real control, we need to have an illusory sense of control.
  4. Need for Self-worth: We need to feel good about ourselves; normally this is driven by a need to perceive one as superior to others due to either one’s achievements, attitudes or belonging to an elite social group. By one mean or another, we want to assert that we are worthy human beings, and possibly worthier that the average joe.

I would now extend this analysis of four needs for meaning and link it to the four major existential concerns. Existential concerns like death, when activated experimentally using say mortality salience paradigms, can lead to search for meaning.

So here is what I think the linkage looks like:

  1. Death: Existential reality of death reminds us that we are biological animals that will perish one day;  however there is a strong drive to transcend death; as a result whenever concerns about death are activated, we search for methods to enhance self-worth and stick closer to our cultural worldview. Both of these results are widely supported by the terror management theory. From a biological animal we want to become a cultural animal that has self-worth.
  2. Isolation: Existential reality of being social individuals who are still never able to get under the skin of the Other, and the deep drive on the other hand to reach out, leads us to look for deep existential connections and relations with others perhaps the whole of humanity as our brothers and sisters. We need to believe that by our actions we can forge connections and create ripples of meaningful difference to others. From an isolated social individual we want to become a part of connected and related humanity and this we do by exercising our self-efficacy/ control.
  3. Freedom: Existential reality of being free to make choices without there being any adequate grounds for making a choice, and the deep desire to make meaningful and responsible choices leads us towards moral values and guidelines that can provide a yardstick on which to make choices. As willful agents, we do not want to make random choices and we also don’t want to be governed/ determined by  external constraints/rewards and so the need arises to have an internal compass or moral guideline- choosing our values and then living life in accordance with that. From mere willful agents, we want to become moral and responsible agents.
  4. Meaning: Existential reality of living in world that is inherently meaningless, combined with a deep rooted desire to find meaning in everything we do, leads us to turn to purpose- we want to lead purposeful lives and expect the world to be a purposeful and meaningful place. We cannot just observe events dispassionately, we need to interpret and imbue them with meaning. From impartial objective observers of the world, we want to become meaning-making, actively-constructive observers.

It is my firm belief that until and unless one has confronted the existential realities full-on and come to grips with them, one would not be able to satisfactorily find the four meanings in life and would continue living an impoverished life.

Basic Needs, Basic Beliefs, Basic Pathologies

Kahneman in his book ‘Thinking fast and slow‘ elucidates the two type of thinking processes involved- a system I consisting of fast, intuitive processing, and a system II consisting of slower, more deliberate processing. Lesser known is the fact that a similar dual process theory of personality that precedes his work is by Seymour Epstien.

The Pleasure Principle (song)

The Pleasure Principle (song) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Epstien is know for his Cognitive-Experiential Self theory of Personalty (CEST), according to which he reintroduced the concept of unconscious in psychology, in the form of the Experiential system, but his unconscious was not maladaptive and instinct driven, but more adaptive in nature.

Essentially, Epstien acknowledges the massive role Experiential system has on the rational system, postulating that most of the behavior is Experiential driven and only pots hoc rationalized by the Rational system.

The Experiential system, though unconscious is not made up of repressed desires or works on the Pleasure principle, but instead is geared towards satisfying four basic needs. He later added two super-ordinate needs – one related to Valence or positive affcet- negative affect polarity and the other related to Arousal. Its pertinent to note that the Experiential system of CEST is very much affect driven and ‘hot’ rather than ‘cold’ in nature.

Essentially, Epstien himself tacitly split the four needs into eight by claiming that each need can be split around the super-ordinate need of positive affect- negative affect polarity. Here are the four basic needs made explicit.

In classical Freudian theory, the one most basic need before his introduction of a death instinct was the pleasure principle, which refers to the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of and pain (Freud, 1924/1960). Some learning theorists such as Thorndike (1927) make a similar assumption in their view of the importance of affective reinforcement. For object-relations theorists, most notably Bowlby (1988), the most fundamental need is the need for relatedness. For Rogers (1951) and other phenomenological psychologists, it is the need to maintain the stability and coherence of a person’s conceptual system. For Allport (1961) and Kohut (1971), it is the need to enhance self-esteem. (For a more thorough discussion of these proposals see Epstein, 1993, 1998b.) From the perspective of CEST, the four proposed basic needs all meet the following criteria for a basic need: the need is universal, the need can dominate the other basic needs, a failure to fulfill the need can destabilize the overall conceptual system.

These four basic needs may be satisfied to various degrees during critical developmental periods and lead to four basic types of beliefs. Even a scale has been created to measure these basic beliefs:

The Basic Beliefs Inventory (BBI). The BBI  (Catlin & Epstein, 1992) is a 102-item measure of beliefs associated with the satisfaction of four basic needs that motivate behavior according to CEST (see Epstein, 1991). The four basic beliefs are (1) the belief that the world is benign versus malevolent; (2) the belief that the world is meaningful (i.e., predictable, controllable, and just) versus chaotic (i.e., unpredictable, uncontrollable, and unjust); (3) the belief that relations with others are supportive versus threatening; and (4) the belief that the self is worthy (i.e., competent, good, and lovable) versus unworthy (i.e., incompetent, bad, and unlovable).

To me this aligns very well with the fundamental four model. To recap , as per the fundamental four model there are four polarities of basic motivations or drives: pleasure/ pain; active/passive; self/other and broad/narrow.

I would like to take this opportunity to expand the CEST and merge it with the fundamental four framework.

As per CEST, we all have beliefs or schema or models about self, others, the inanimate world and these are significantly involved in psychopathology.

I would propose that we have four basic models with 2 sub-models each. The four basic models are related to Life (where self and others or environment is not typically distinguished from each other), a Self model, an Other model and a World model.

Life model:

Life-past-and-present:  How do we view life that has already happened? If the experiences were mostly good, we see life as beautiful or benign; if the experiences were mostly bad, we view life as sucking or malevolent.

Life-yet-to-come: How do expect the future to be like? if we expect life to be full of adventure and hope we feel life is promising;  if we expect life to be mostly downhill, we feel that life is bleak.

Self model:

Self’s-impact-on-Env: How much control do we feel we have over our environment? Are we in control, can we chose our niches and are our efforts rewarded and effective? If yes we have feelings of positive self – esteem, otherwise we feel incompetent.

Env-Impact-on-self: Does our environment allow us any autonomy in regulating our behavior? Does it act for our benefit or to our advantage? If the environment provides unconditional positive regard, we develop positive self-worth and feel competent dealing with life’s curve-balls ; else we end up feeling worthless.

Other model:

Others-same-as-me: Am I part of the In-group? If we are accepted as part of the ingroup, our needs of belonging are satisfied; else we feel lonely.

Others-different-than-me: Can I trust them? Will they trust me? After all they are an outgroup. If we are able to rise above our fears and distrust, our needs for connection are satisfied, else we remain isolated.

World model:

Physical-World:Is the physical universe lawful? is it determined and non-miraculous? If our precepts lead us to believe that we live in a lawful universe, we have a stable overarching schema; whenever we witness something not inline with the laws of nature, that schema goes for a toss.

Social-World: Is the social world predictable? do actions of people make sense or is there too much randomness? If the social world seems predictable and lawful in its own sense, then we can maintain a coherent worldview; else if we encounter too many behaviors or events of which we cannot make sense we risk becoming incoherent.

It is my contention that dysfunctional beliefs at each of these eight sub-models lead to different types of psychopathology. For eg. the Life model that say that life is malevolent/ bleak may lead to anxiety ; a Self model claiming that the self is worthless/ incompetent may lead to depression; while a World model were events/percepts don’t make sense and is incoherent/unstable may lead to psychosis.

And of course this may be mediated by early life experiences/ genetic propensities that give rise to differences in brain neurotransmitter systems. But a detailed model about that should be the subject of a new post.

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