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The Need to Possess


Explanations > Needs > Possess

Need | Example | Related to | Discussion |  So what?




We have a need to possess, to own, to have exclusive control of things. This can be seen in the use of possessive language, typically with the use of 'my' before a named possession.

Possessing things

We are driven to possess material things, to fill lives and houses (which are also possessions) with more and newer clothes, technology, furniture, and so on.

Possessing people

We also seek to possess people, keeping them close to us, having their attention, admiration and being able to control them.

Possessing experience

We can also possess abstract, non-physical things such as experiences. For example a person may talk about 'my holiday'.

Possessing oneself

We can even be in possession of our selves, having self-control and knowing who we are. We can also give parts of ourselves away so other may possess us.


A person always wants to have the latest and best phone. They take delight in showing it to others and just in the knowledge they are ahead of the pack.


Related to


Part of Includes Related to
Identity, Control   Status,



When we possess something, it becomes a part of our identity, of who we are. As an extension of ourselves, it acts a a resource, offering possibility in how it may be used, hence also boosting our sense of control. A key dimension of power is the possession of resources and the ability to deny or allocate these.

The system of capitalism and its key component of consumerism are based on the need to possess. Marketing and sales fill our lives with things we never thought we needed and maybe never thought possible.

A critical part of consumer culture is the use of objects to gain and indicate status. When we have better or newer things than others, then we feel superior. This boosts our sense of identity, especially when others admire our possessions.

Possessing people is seen in relationships, from traditional mothers who seek to 'tie their children to their apron strings' to those in romantic relationships who jealously guard access to their partners.

Possession can be illusory when we hold something and feel that we fully possess it. This effect happens when we pick up a product in a store and feel like we already own it. Sales people will encourage this, of course, for example when they talk about 'your' product.

The flip side of possession is loss. When we own things, then we fear loss. When we lose things, the identification effect makes it feel like we are losing a part of ourselves, making this an uncomfortable experience. So we hold tight, worry about security and, in our jealous possession, push others away who seem envious. Possession can also lead to confusion as we constantly have to check that all we have is still all we have.

So what?

Think about what you want to possess and what is simply clutter or overload. Streamline your life so you have what you need more than what you are driven to possess.

Use possession in persuasion by either creating desire to own or fear of loss, depending on your purpose. To increase desire, show the product, let them hold it and gain a sense of latent possession. You can also either promise exclusivity or say everyone else has one.

See also

Desire, Fear, Sales, The Need for a Sense of Identity, Power


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