• Unstuck Psychological Blog



Say Yes…To Having Needs

October 8, 2019


The word need is sometimes spoken about as though it is a bad thing, even worse the word dependency. How dare we have needs and how much worse is it for us to be dependent on someone, after all, this would make us “needy and dependent”.  This, however, is far from the truth as we are created with the capacity to need, and the desire to have those needs met.  Levine and Heller (2010) put it nicely by saying that “an individual is only as needy as their unmet needs”.


As babies, we come into the world completely dependent on adults for our survival. Adults who have the skills and characteristics to care for us and to provide us with the attention we need. Even of greater importance than the relationship is the quality of those relationships; and the extent to which the relationships support us in the development of a solid sense of trust in self and trust in others. The quality of the relationship is dependent upon the extent to which the infant’s needs are adequately met by the caregivers and the extent to which the caregivers are emotionally available.


Furthermore, our attachment needs do not disappear as we become adults. The truth is we make a transition from looking to our caregivers to meet our emotional needs to looking to our partners and our significant others to meet our emotional needs. The truth is, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  Depending on someone and desiring to have our emotional needs met by another is not a matter of choice or preference but rather it is a biological fact.

Holding Hands

I want to tell you about this amazing research that was conducted by Dr. James Coan and his team, there will be a bit of scientific stuff but please stay with me.  They conducted an experiment that demonstrated the importance of attachment and having our needs as a human being met. Dr. Coan and his team used an MRI machine to scan the brain of married women while simulating a stressful situation; the women were told that they will receive a mild electric shock.

You see, there is a part of the brain called the hypothalamus that becomes activated under a situation.  Knowing this, Dr. Coan and his team wanted to learn if this part of the brain can become less activated when individuals are placed in a stressful situation while being supported by others. This was what they found:

1.           When the women were alone while awaiting their electric shock, the Hypothalamus lit up and was very activated.

2.           When the women were awaiting their electric shock while holding the hands of a stranger the MRI scan showed a reduction in the activation of the hypothalamus.

3.           When the women were awaiting their electric shock, while holding the hands of their husbands, the MRI scan showed that there was a significant reduction in the activation of the hypothalamus to the point where their stress level was almost undetected.

How amazing is this! Someone the women had no deep emotional connection to could provide feelings of safety and security, which in turn reduced the activation of the hypothalamus, creating a lowered stress response. The difference that was noticed between when the stranger was holding the women’s hands, and when the husband was holding the women’s hands, highlights the importance of the quality of a relationship and the powerful function that it has.


Not everyone finds that expressing their needs comes naturally to them. For some, it is a major challenge. This occurs for several reasons; we will explore two of these reasons below:

1.           Fear of Disapproval and Rejection: It is possible that difficulty in expressing your need may have been developed as a protective mechanism. What this means is that you may have learned at an early age, that whenever you express your needs they are not met, so, therefore, it was safer and less painful for you not to express them, because the feeling of rejection that follows was hurtful.

2.           Being a “Peacekeeper”:  You may believe that your needs and desires are too much and that they may be seen by others as burdensome and heavy. With this thought in mind, you may fear that the person may get angry at you for having a need and in an attempt to make others happy and to maintain a “peaceful” outer environment you repress your needs. You may find yourself saying phrases like these “I don’t want them to see me as too much”, “they may get mad at me for pressuring and bothering them because I have too many needs”.


Therapy is an amazing way to address concerns that you may have about not being able to express your needs. Therapy provides a safe place which is the foundation for the feeling of security that you require to gain confidence in expressing your needs. What do you think a scan of your hypothalamus would look like if you attempt to handle this challenge on your own versus being supported having someone hold your hands?  If you struggle with expressing your needs and/or being confident in owning your needs, we at Unstuck can help. Book your risk-free consultation today and find out how.

Candace Hamilton, Provisional Psychologist


Bornstein, M. H., Suwalsky, J. T. D., & Breakstone, D. A. (2012). Emotional relationships between mothers and infants: Knowns, unknowns, and unknown unknowns. Development and Psychopathology, 24(1), 113–123. doi: 10.1017/s0954579411000708

Levine, A., & Heller, R. (2011). Attached: the new science of adult attachment and how it can help you find – and keep – love. London: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin.