The Human Givens

We are all born with fundamental emotional needs and the innate resources to get our needs met.

The human givens approach is an holistic model of human well-being and brief, solution-focussed psychotherapy based on evidence from evolution, anthropology, biology, psychology and sociology.
The human givens approach provides an integrative, bio-psycho-social model of therapy. Within the framework of needs and resources it uses some interventions from known effective therapeutic methods. It was first introduced in 1998 and offers a description of the nature of human beings, the ‘givens’ of human genetic heritage and therefore what humans need in order to be happy and healthy.

Human givens theory proposes the following:
Evolution has endowed all humans, regardless of race or culture, with a common set of innate physical and emotional needs along with a set of innate physical, emotional and psychological resources. Like all organisms, humans deploy their ‘given’ resources in order to meet their ‘given’ needs in the environment in the course of their daily lives. When all the innate needs are met in a balanced way people will flourish but when this does not happens distress and illness results. The focus of human givens therapy is, therefore, the discovery and removal of any impediments to these needs being met in an individual’s life.

The human givens movement believes that human lives can be made happier, and our future (together with that of the other species with whom we share this planet) can be made more sustainable if societies, organisations, communities, professions, families and individuals are more aware of and sensitive to our innate needs, resources and tendencies.

The human givens approach is not considered by its proponents to be just another model of psychotherapy but rather the beginnings of a unified science of human well-being with ramifications well beyond mental illness. (Just as architects and engineers need to understand the laws of physical nature (such as gravity) in order to design and build successful structures, so anyone working in the human sphere needs to work in harmony with the laws of human nature if they want these efforts to succeed in the fullest sense.)

Innate needs

Human givens thinking suggests that human beings come into the world with a given set of innate needs, together with innate resources to support them to get those needs met. Physical needs for nutritious food, clean water, air and sleep are obvious, and well understood, because when they are not met people die. However, the emotional needs, which the human givens approach seeks to bring to wider attention, are less obvious, and less well understood, but just as important to human health and even, in some cases, survival. Decades of social and health psychology research now support this.

The human givens approach defines nine emotional needs:

  1. Security: A sense of safety and security; safe territory; an environment in which people can live without experiencing excessive fear so that they can develop healthily.

  2. Autonomy and control: A sense of autonomy and control over what happens around and to us.

  3. Status: A sense of status – being accepted and valued in the various social groups we belong to.

  4. Privacy: Time and space enough to reflect on and consolidate our experiences.

  5. Attention: Receiving attention from others, but also giving it; a form of essential nutrition that fuels the development of each individual, family and culture.

  6. Connection to the wider community: We have evolved as a group animal and need to feel part of something larger than ourselves.

  7. Intimacy: Emotional connection to other people – friendship, love, intimacy, fun.

  8. Competence and achievement: A sense of our own competence and achievements, that we have what it takes to meet life’s demands – which ensures we don’t feel we are rubbish (don’t develop ‘low self-esteem’).

  9. Meaning and purpose: A sense of meaning and purpose which comes from being stretched in what we do and how we think – it is through ‘stretching’ ourselves mentally or physically by service to others, learning new skills or being connected to ideas or philosophies bigger than ourselves that our lives become purposeful and full of meaning. Meaning makes suffering tolerable.

What matters is a broad understanding of the scope and nature of human emotional needs and why they are so important to our physical and mental health. Humans are a physically vulnerable species that has enjoyed amazing evolutionary success due in large part to its ability to form relationships and communities. Getting the right social and emotional input from others was, in our evolutionary past, literally a matter of life or death. Thus, human givens theory states, people are genetically programmed only to be happy and healthy when these needs are met.

There is evidence that these needs are consistent across cultures, and therefore represent innate human requirements.

Innate resources

The human givens model also consists of a set of ‘resources’ (abilities and capabilities) that all human beings are born with, which are used to get the innate needs met. These constitute what is termed an ‘inner guidance system’. Learning how to use these resources well is seen as being key to achieving, and sustaining, robust bio-psycho-social health as individuals and as groups (families, communities, societies, cultures etc.).

The given resources include:

  • Memory: The ability to develop complex long-term memory, which enables people to add to their innate (instinctive) knowledge and learn;

  • Rapport: The ability to build rapport, empathise and connect with other others;

  • Imagination: Which enables people to focus attention away from the emotions and problem solve more creatively and objectively (a ‘reality simulator’);

  • Instincts and emotions: A set of basic responses and ‘propulsion’ for behaviours;

  • A rational mind: A conscious, rational mind that can check out emotions, question, analyse and plan;

  • A metaphorical mind: The ability to ‘know’, to understand the world unconsciously through metaphorical pattern matching (‘this thing is like that thing’);

  • An observing self: That part of us which can step back, be more objective and recognise itself as a unique centre of awareness apart from intellect, emotion and conditioning;

  • A dreaming brain: According to the expectation fulfilment theory of dreaming, this preserves the integrity of our genetic inheritance every night by metaphorically defusing emotionally arousing expectations not acted out during the previous day.

Three reasons for mental illness

A further organising idea proffered by the human givens approach is to suggest that there are three main reasons why an individual may not be getting their needs met and thus why they may become mentally ill:

  1. The environment is sick – it is toxic, preventing us from getting, or simply lacking, the things we need;

  2. Damage to our internal guidance system – damage to our ‘hardware’ (the brain/body) or ‘software’ (missing or incomplete instincts and/or unhelpful conditioning);

  3. Lack of coping skills – we were not taught, or failed to learn, the skills necessary for getting our needs met (for example, to use the imagination for problem solving rather than worrying or how to make and sustain friendships).

When dealing with mental illness or distress this framework provides a checklist that guides both understanding and treatment.

Working with a qualified human givens therapist like Annie will enable you to identify which of your needs are not being met, and/or which of your resources are not working efficiently to enable you to get your needs met.

Joe Griffin, one of the Founders of Human Givens, explain the principles, watch Video

If our needs

are not met

or our 

resources

mis-fire,

we become 

emotionally

unbalanced.

Alternatively,

if we are

anxious,

depressed or

addicted it is

likely that our

needs are not

being met.