What are the 'human givens'?
We are all born with innate knowledge programmed into us from our genes. Throughout life we experience this knowledge as feelings of physical and emotional need. These feelings evolved over millions of years and, whatever our cultural background, are our common biological inheritance. They are the driving force that motivates us to become fully human and succeed in whatever environment we find ourselves in. It is because they are incorporated into our biology at conception that we call them 'human givens'.
Our given physical needs
As animals we are born into a material world where we need air to breathe, water, nutritious food and sufficient sleep. These are the paramount physical needs. Without them, we quickly die. In addition we also need the freedom to stimulate our senses and exercise our muscles. We instinctively seek sufficient and secure shelter where we can grow and reproduce ourselves and bring up our young. These physical needs are intimately bound up with our emotional needs — the main focus of human givens psychology.
Our given emotional needs
Emotions create distinctive psycho-biological states in us and drive us to take action. The emotional needs nature has programmed us with are there to connect us to the external world, particularly to other people, and survive in it. They seek their fulfilment through the way we interact with the environment. Consequently, when these needs are not met in the world, nature ensures we suffer considerable distress — anxiety, anger, depression etc. — and our expression of distress, in whatever form it takes, impacts on those around us.
People whose emotional needs are met in a balanced way do not suffer mental health problems. When psychotherapists and teachers pay attention to this they are at their most effective.
In short, it is by meeting our physical and emotional needs that we survive and develop as individuals and a species. There is widespread agreement as to the nature of our emotional needs. The main ones are listed below.
Emotional needs include:
Security — safe territory and an environment which allows us to develop fully
Attention (to give and receive it) — a form of nutrition
Sense of autonomy and control — having volition to make responsible choices
Emotional intimacy — to know that at least one other person accepts us totally for who we are, “warts 'n' all”
Feeling part of a wider community
Privacy — opportunity to reflect and consolidate experience
Sense of status within social groupings
Sense of competence and achievement
Meaning and purpose — which come from being stretched in what we do and think.