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The 4S Needs Net


Explanations > Needs > The 4S Needs Net

Survival | Self | Social | Spiritual |  So what?


There are many models you can use as lenses to peer at the basic human driver of 'need'. This model offers four types of need to help understand other lists of need (of which there are many).

Is this a hierarchy or a network? The answer is both. Survival, Self, Social and Spiritual needs form a hierarchy similar to that proposed by Maslow, with increasing satisfaction as higher levels are reached. Yet it can be hard placing individual needs, such as for status, within a single category and it can be helpful to also view the 4S model as a set of dimensions along which needs can be measured. Status, for example, can be understood through the self, social and even spiritual lenses.


Evolution has given us our most basic purpose, to reproduce. To achieve this, the most basic need is to survive, both in the short and long term. In the moment, we will leap away from a falling branch, fight fiercely against an attacker, or dive for shelter as it starts raining. We also think about the future and will build shelters, store food and save money. And on our deathbeds, we struggle for each last breath, clinging to the final moments of life.

Our survival needs also drive a curious approach to risk. We constantly scan for risks and seek to reduce loss, yet we also know the flip-side of risk is opportunity and must take risks in order to survive. This dichotomy has a big impact on decision-making and can confuse our choices.

Beyond individual survival, we also are driven to help survival of our genes and also the species. All other needs can be seen as supporting this purpose, including needs for status, nurturing, friendship and so on.

Individual needs that have a high contribution to survival needs include:


Beyond basic survival, many needs can be found that support our sense of identity and individuality. We want to feel important, capable and to know who we really are.

For many, the self is a fragile thing. Our confidence is easily knocked and we may be uncertain about who we really are, so we wear 'masks' that hide our true selves. We need to protect this inner self while projecting an outer image of the person we want to be.

Many philosophies and psychological theories pay close attention to the self. The existential view of the world puts the self firmly in the middle. Psychoanalysis digs into the formation of self. Constructionism sees the world as an illusion the person creates. All of these highlight the importance of self in our lives.

All needs can be viewed as subservient to the self. Survival is of the self, the extinction in death of which we fear most. Social and friendly actions can be seen as really self-serving. Even spirituality may be regarded just as a means of expanding the self further.

Individual needs that have a high contribution to self needs include:


One of the things that evolution has taught us is that survival is more likely if we cooperate with others for the common good. Together we can build shelters, catch food and protect our young.

While this can pull against selfish needs, the benefits of social living are so great we have acquired an instinctive drive to be with other people. While kinship bonds are higher, we also need friends and even contact with complete strangers. Living in groups also benefits out self needs as our sense of identity is expanded as we feel connected with other group members.

To be accepted in society means following its rules, which means giving up some individual freedoms. Yet social needs are so powerful, we willingly give up on individual needs as we trade up to a more satisfying level.

With a social-centric view of needs, we can argue this as the most powerful way of ensuring survival of the species. It is also known that greater happiness comes from helping others than from helping oneself. Working together is practical and efficient, giving a platform for spirituality while sustaining the body.

Self and social needs are highly entwined. Needs that help us achieve individual needs in a social setting include:


Beyond selfish and even social needs, we reach out to things beyond us, seeking something else that helps us grow and gives us meaning. This need not mean 'spiritual' in the religious sense (although of course it can do). Rather, it is extra-personal, reaching out beyond immediate desires.

Spiritual needs are strongly related to learning and growth. They seek understanding you do not have now. These relate to other types of need when they help you survive, feel more individual and create your place in society.

Spiritual needs become more purely spiritual as they leave all that behind. At the highest level, we seek to transcend ourselves, even to the point of leaving the self behind as we become one with the universe, God or some other great thing beyond us.

Looking at spiritual needs as the dominant need, we see this as the greater purpose in life, to reach towards our place in heaven, to achieve nirvana, to become what we are capable of becoming.

Individual needs that mostly serve spiritual needs include:

So what?

When you identify a need, consider to what levels within this net the need belongs and what other needs are related. This can help you build a balanced approach to changing minds through attending to needs, which can be a very powerful method.

See also

Maslow's Hierarchy, ERG Theory, Evolution


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