Needs Are at the Heart of NVC

All actions are people trying to meet needs: Basic survival – water, food, shelter. Other needs: to be heard and seen and understood, love, consideration, connection, community, trust, ease, peace, and fun etc. We all share these universal needs. We say universal because everyone has the same needs, so we can understand each other at the need level. If you have a need for consideration that is present, I can understand you because I know what it is like to want more consideration in my life. Understanding each other at the level of our needs helps us access compassion and creates connection. We focus on needs because they represent our shared humanity. 

When we understand that our behaviors are an attempt to meet our needs, we can become more skilled at choosing behaviors that will help us succeed at this. This is not from a place of manipulation, it is from a place of honoring your needs and holding them lightly.

Why Focus on Needs?

  • Taking responsibility for our feelings and reactions requires acknowledging our underlying needs, rather than the other person’s behavior as the cause of our feelings.
  • Being responsible for our feelings and connecting to our needs empowers us to move toward an action rather than projecting on others and wanting them to change.
  • Opening our hearts and minds and re-humanizing others helps us find commonality and understanding.
  • We experience our feelings when our needs are unmet and connect with them rather than insisting on getting them met. 
  • Perhaps we can learn to live more peacefully with unmet needs.

We Were Connected to Our Needs as Children

We come into the world knowing what we wanted as infants and connected to our needs, yet we are often met with “No, no no!” The repeated denial of our needs as young children is a traumatic experience which often translates into some version of core beliefs: “Something is wrong with me,” “I am not lovable,” “I am not worthy,” “I don’t matter.” These beliefs are often blanketed with self-blame and SHAME for wanting what we want. This thread of  “I am not okay,” “I don’t matter,” and “It’s not okay to have needs,” is woven through the fabric of our families, society and culture.

Many of us were raised in this model of domination rather than collaboration, and because we told ourselves that our needs don’t matter and therefore we don’t matter, we often end up not even knowing WE HAVE NEEDS. Most of these beliefs and behavioral patterns were set by the time we were seven years old.

If you are challenged in finding your needs, connect to the WHY?

  • Why is this important to you?
  • How would these needs contribute to your life, if they were met?
  • If those needs were met, what would this do for you?

Children long to be loved, accepted, seen and heard. This deep yearning often continues to drive us into an endless search of looking for love, acceptance and approval outside of self. This can be exhausting, overwhelming and dis-empowering. The good news is the human brains are changeable. Empathy rewires your brain with new neural pathways and resets your nervous system to receive more care, warmth and love. 

If we lack a grounding in the awareness of our needs, we are missing a key tool in addressing stress in our lives.

Taking responsibility for our feelings and reactions requires acknowledging our own underlying needs rather than believing another’s behavior causes our feelings. 


The following list of human needs is neither exhaustive nor definitive. It is meant as a starting place to support anyone who wishes to engage in a process of deepening self-discovery and to facilitate greater understanding and connection between people. We also have a list of human feelings. See the nav bar above or Click Here.


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