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Natural vs Necessary Needs


Explanations > Needs > The Care-Behavior Matrix

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Needs can be viewed through two distinct lenses, and so produce four different types of needs. The lenses are whether the needs are natural or necessary.

Natural needs are those which are programmed into us by nature. They have evolved over untold years as mechanisms to help us survive and thrive. So far, these have been pretty successful in helping us to become the dominant species and spread to almost all corners of the world. Unnatural needs are those drives which still impact and force our choices, but which are less directly connected to evolutionary forces.

Necessary needs are those which have essential factors. They are those which we could deny and still survive. They become necessary when the mental pressure means we are unable to deny them, even though this would not harm us. Unnecessary needs are less essential and are those over which we have more choice.


Natural vs Necessary Needs

Necessary need Unnecessary need


Natural need
Unnatural need
Basic needs Extended needs
Compulsion needs Desire needs


Basic needs

Basic needs are those which are both natural and necessary. Without these will die. They include air, food and water. Safety is also such a need, at least being safe from predators and those who want to harm us. They also include a reasonable degree of clothing and shelter, at least to prevent us dying from hypothermia, heat exhaustion and general exposure. We can also consider having the ability to satisfy these needs also as a basic need, as without skills needed to get food and water, as well as the skills to clothe and protect ourselves, we may also die.

As the most fundamental of needs, when these are not met, they displace all other needs. This can be seen in examples of people who are suffering from extreme lack of food and who report being able to think about little else. There are also many tales of people who overcame remarkable hardship in order to survive.

Extended needs

Extended needs are those which are natural but unnecessary, at least in terms of our short-term survival. These include all social needs, such as the needs for belonging and esteem. They also include partnership and sexual needs. While these are important for propagation of the species (which is why they are natural) and can help us survive in the longer term, we can live without them. Indeed, there are many examples of people who head off into the wilderness and thrive for many years alone.

Having an evolutionary basis, we still seek there extended needs with great enthusiasm. However, when basic needs are threatened, we will usually step back to serve these first. Sometimes we put extended needs first, for example when we risk our own lives in order to save our families or friends, though not everyone has the fortitude to be so heroic.

Compulsion needs

Compulsion needs are not natural, and hence may be seen as being not 'real' needs. Nevertheless, we feel a strong drive to seek them and may be unable to stop ourselves from seeking them, even when we know they are not a good idea. A classic example is addiction, where substances act on the brain and force us to act in self-destructive ways. Compulsion can also appear in all kinds of others ways and can be found at the root of disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and the various other personality disorders. We can also be affected by other illegal and socially undesirable compulsions, such as the compulsive stealing of those called kleptomaniacs, the attachment of stalkers and so on.

The urgency of compulsion needs means we often are unable to resist this pressure and may well follow these before extended needs. We may even prioritize them over basic needs, for example where we act illegally in order to satisfy the compulsion needs, even when doing so may threaten our lives.

Desire needs

Desire needs are neither natural nor necessary. They are simple things we want, such as a beer or a new computer. They still act on us as pressures to act, often because they can be affected by advertising and other people who want us to do things for them. Indeed, much deliberate changing minds activity seeks to change desires. If I can make you want something (or not want it), I can ultimately influence the things you actually do.

Desire needs are the most variable and are most likely to be left unmet as we tend to other needs. Yet they can still nag at us, for example when we make an expensive and unwise purchase simply because we want something. When other needs are largely satisfied, we still need to regulate desire needs, particularly when they could undermine our basic safety and security.

So what?

When you want to change what people think or do, consider whether and how this affects natural needs. As with advertisers, you may be able to work on making people want more. In doing this, understand how this affects natural and unnatural needs and craft your message accordingly.

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