In Dr. William Glasser’s Choice Theory® psychology, he proposes that all humans have five basic needs. While we all share these same five needs, we each have a specific need-strength profile that was genetically programmed at birth. This is one of the reasons why Choice Theory remains a theory. We have yet to discover the genetic material for these basic needs, but we believe it exists.
People sometimes confuse Choice Theory needs with Abraham Maslow’s needs. Maslow was talking about needs that began with survival and ascended to self-actualization. His needs were hierarchical, theorizing that a person couldn’t ascend to the next need without realizing the one below it.
Glasser, on the other hand, thought of his needs as linear and something people need to meet to feel content. You may be able to put off satisfying a certain need for a short time, but when you deny yourself or find yourself frustrated by a certain need, it won’t take long—your biology will push you to satisfy it. When this happens, you may not always employ a responsible way of meeting the need. If a need is frustrated enough, you’re likely to jump at the first opportunity to meet it, even if it isn’t characteristic of how you would have met it before.
I have written extensively about the needs defined by Choice Theory. You can hear me talk about them here: bit.ly/3LSm8aF. Dr. Glasser called the needs: Survival, Love & Belonging, Power, Freedom and Fun. I have renamed them to suit the work I am doing: Safety & Security, Connection, Significance, Freedom and Joy. I renamed Survival because most people in the world today studying Choice Theory are not literally struggling for their very survival but are more concerned about Safety & Security. (Naturally, if your life were in jeopardy, Safety & Security would also include Survival.) I changed Love & Belonging to Connection because, while Connection includes love and a sense of belonging, it can also mean connection to life and work (and it’s easier to discuss “connection” in work environments). I changed Power to Significance because Power has come to have a negative connotation that deters people from admitting it’s one of their stronger needs. (It’s much easier to admit you have a high need for Significance.) Finally, I changed Fun to Joy because many people think “fun” equates to play, and they might assume they have no need for it since they stopped playing a long time ago. But Joy—which can be accomplished through play, relaxation, adventure, wonder and discovery—is something everyone knows they need in their lives.
Today, I wanted to write about how these needs are neither good nor bad. We all experience each of them in varying intensities that motivate our behavior throughout our lives. Dr. Glasser defined “meeting needs responsibly” as meeting your needs in a way that doesn’t prevent other people from meeting theirs. When you are blocked from responsible methods, you are at a higher risk of developing harmful habits. On the flip side, I have discovered that each need has an awesome superpower. Let’s examine both sides of each.
Safety & Security
Superpower: The superpower of Safety & Security is two-fold: You are excellent at keeping yourself and others safe. You are typically well prepared and think of things others don’t when it comes to safety and you have excellent planning skills. Your planning tends to be geared toward keeping yourself and others safe, whether at home, at work or in the community.
Dark Side: The dark side of Safety & Security is that you may tend to be overprotective, stunting the growth of the people around you. You can miss out on the beauty of spontaneity because you worry about what might happen if you throw caution to the wind.
Superpower: Relationships are the superpower of people with a high Connection need. It is easy for them to talk to, understand and befriend people. They also tend to be excellent at reading people and solving conflicts between others.
Dark Side: The dark side of Connection is neediness and a tendency to expect more from others than they are willing to give.
Superpower: For those who experience Freedom as their strongest need, their superpower is the ability to speak truth to power and question the status quo.
Dark Side: The dark side of Freedom is selfishness. You may become so free that you do not consider how what you want affects other people in your life.
Superpower: The superpower of Significance is that you are excellent at setting goals and accomplishing them. You are the embodiment of the Hunter S. Thompson quote, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.”
Dark Side: When you don’t have opportunities to excel, you may tend toward bullying or misbehaving. You can also experience impatience when you see people meander toward their goals rather than crush them like you do. It’s your superpower, not everyone’s.
Superpower: You often tend to have a great sense of humor and a desire to put a smile on everyone’s face.
Dark Side: The dark side is that you can sometimes lack empathy—for example, trying to turn sober occasions into something fun. You can be offensive with your humor.
This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but it should be a great start to help you understand your behavior and perhaps the behavior of those close to you, as well. If you’d like to learn more, check out my book, Choosing Me Now, or register for basic training in Choice Theory here.