We are all aware of the physical needs of our body: Food, clothing, shelter, water, etc. Most every parent knows these are necessary for their child, and they provide these as best they can.
But children also have emotional needs. These are rarely discussed or taught, but below is a list of things that someone (a parent, relative, neighbor teacher, coach, counselor, etc.) needed to age-appropriately teach and model or provide to you at least once, but perhaps tens, if not thousands of times throughout your childhood. Numerous research studies have shown these are necessary in order to prevent not just social and emotional problems, but also medical diseases, in adult life:
To be emotionally attuned to you: understand you, respond appropriately to your signals, meet your needs, be emotionally there for you. This is most important the first year of your life and creates a secure attachment.
-- So you go through life with a basic belief that someone will usually be there for you when needed, and if not you will be okay, and that your needs will usually be met.
-- Or you may go through life anxiously believing your needs will inconsistently or never be met, so there is either no point trying to meet them and you give up and learn to do without, or you believe you must use manipulative, coercive, or aggressive ways to get them met.
-- Or you have great difficulty in relationships, believing others will never or inconsistently be there for you, or blindly trusting they will always be there for you.
Someone needed to teach and model how to ask for help, and then provide that help, and help you manage your disappointment or frustration when others do not help.
-- So you are able to both ask for and receive help.
-- Or you may not know how to ask or struggle to accept help. You may learn to manipulate others to get what you need. You may never ask and just do everything yourself. You may consistently reject help when offered. You may hint that you need help and get upset when it is not offered. You may expect others to read your mind and know when you need help.
Someone needed to teach and model how to regulate your feelings by both modeling appropriate managing of their own feelings, and by allowing and encouraging you to express all of the feelings you are having and helping you learn to express them in a healthy manner.
-- So you can identify, feel, respond from, and effectively and appropriate manage your all your feelings.
-- Or you may rarely or never know what you are feeling. You may “stuff” your feelings and they come out poorly once they have built to an unmanageable point so in shame of how you expressed them you stuff them down again. Your friends and partners may get frustrated with you when you do not share your feelings. You may continue to be hurt or misunderstood by others because you are out of touch with your own pain. You may act out your pain with fighting or escape them with substances. You may feel numb all the time.
Someone needed to teach and model how to set, how to enforce, how to maintain, and how to honor others’ boundaries.
-- So you can have clear boundaries. You can set, enforce and maintain them in most situations and you honor others’ boundaries in most situations.
-- Or you may not even know what boundaries are. You may have little or no boundaries, so others may intrude on them, or go so far as to walk all over yours, or you unknowingly intrude on or walk all over others’. You may set them, but do not know how to enforce them when necessary.
Someone needed to teach and model how to live your live for yourself and not for or through others.
-- So you can live your life ensuring your needs, wants, and desires are met without intruding on others’.
-- Or you may live for or through others, meaning you will give up your needs, wants, and desires to please others, or may acquire others desires to stay connected with them.
Someone needed to teach and model how to discuss your viewpoint in a way that increases understanding for both you and others.
-- So you can self-activate and support and defend your position when others disagree.
-- Or you may back down from confrontations. You may avoid “rocking the boat” so you may often give in even when you’d rather not. You may argue only with the goal of winning without a desire for any understanding of the others’ viewpoint(s).
Someone needed to teach and model how you to think for yourself, to agree to disagree, and be independent and autonomous.
-- So you can function on your own. You have your own beliefs, thoughts, goals, ideas, and dreams and can keep them separate from others’. You think independently and can choose whether or not to join the mentality of the group you are with.
-- Or you may live your life enmeshed or fused with others, afraid to be alone, and giving up much of what you are to please or stay connected to others.
Someone needed to teach and model how to to set and pursue a goal despite obstacles.
-- So you can commit to a goal and will persevere regardless of obstacles and/or your own ambivalence.
-- Or you may never set goals, or give up easily, or start a lot of things but never finish, or not believe in your ability to accomplish anything.
Someone needed to provide one-on-one moments with you where you felt heard, understood, and truly “seen.”
-- So that you came to understand you existed separate from others. So you can begin and continue to know and understand yourself and your story. You know your history chronologically, it makes sense, and you can reflect on it.
-- Or you may not remember much of your childhood. You may not be able to tell stories about your past that include a start, a middle, and an end. You may not be able to talk about your past. You may not be sure about a lot of things from your past. You may doubt your memories.
Someone needed to teach and model how to effectively manage relationships – both with friends and partners.
-- So you can commit to a relationship and effectively communicate with your partner/friend, and navigate the obstacles that come your way. With partners you have the capacity to share emotional, sexual, and physical intimacy, to allow your partner to be whoever they are, and engage in a mutually respectful way.
-- Or you may have many failed relationships. Your relationships may be based on dominance, enmeshment, or fear. You may avoid relationships altogether.
Someone needed to accept you unconditionally as you are.
Also help you discover and talk to you about your strengths and good qualities, to help you have a good understanding of yourself. They needed to provide accurate statements like “You are clever in how you solved that problem.” or “Your catching skills are improving.” or “You are strong/smart/quick/efficient/insightful/etc.” Also statements like “Math can be hard for some people, but you have so many other good qualities.”
-- So you can have a solid self esteem that endures through all situations. Your belief in what you deserve is appropriate, including believing you deserve mastery, pleasure, and fun. You have a good understanding of your strengths, and a healthy acceptance of your weaknesses.
-- Or you may think negatively of yourself. You may always compare yourself to others and fall short. You may believe you deserve only negative things. You may think something is wrong with you. You may think you are only okay when you perform satisfactorily. You may find yourself a “human doing” rather than a “human being.”
Someone needed to teach and model how to be truthful, even when it is hard.
-- So you are able to be truthful. And you also learn how to know when others are truthful and trustworthy.
-- Or you may not know how to be truthful. You may lie even when it is easier not to. You may think every one is being truthful to you, or you may think everyone is lying to you.
Someone needed to teach and model how to admit fault and take responsibility for your own behavior, including how to apologize and how to accept an apology.
-- So you can admit fault and apologize effectively. You can take responsibility for your own behavior and not take responsibility for others’. You can accept others’ apologies in a way that builds relationships.
-- Or you may often avoid taking blame, do not apologize, or always blame others. You may not know how to repair relationships or may always be the one to compromise so there is never any disagreement in the relationship. You may forgive others when they do not apologize or intend to change, and thus you keep getting hurt.
Someone needed to teach and model empathy -- the ability to understand and share another person's feelings.
-- So you can better understand both yourself and others. You can empathize with others. You can hold both person’s points of view in your mind simultaneously. You can know ahead of time when your behaviors may hurt others.
-- Or you may have little or no understanding of others’ points of view or feelings. You may act in ways that disregard others. You may only understand others when they are going through something you have already experienced.
Someone needed to teach and model to provide a holding environment for you when in pain.
-- So you can learn to manage your own pain in a healthy way. So even when in pain you are aware of and can stay present in reality, both inner and outer.
-- Or you may try to avoid pain, or situations that provoke pain. You may use substances or self-harm or other means to escape from your pain. You may go out of your way to prevent others from feeling pain, even when it is unavoidable to them, and/or when it is detrimental to you.
Someone needed to teach and model how to appropriately and assertively stand up for yourself.
-- So you are able to defend yourself in a healthy, appropriate manner.
-- Or you may consistently back down from confrontations and always give in. You may be overly aggressive in demanding things always be your way. You may expect others to always give in to you, and end relationships when others don’t. You may always give in, and drive others crazy when they want you to make a decision.
Someone needed to teach and model compassion for your mistakes.
-- So you are at peace with and have compassion towards your self.
-- Or you may be always at war with self with many inner critical voices.
Someone needed to protect you from harm, and both physical and emotional pain when possible.
-- So you learn to protect yourself as much as possible.
-- Or you may not know how to keep yourself safe, or you may think you deserve bad things to happen to you. You may allow loved ones to keep hurting you if you have always experienced this.
Someone needed to be a consistent presence in your life – always the same person, with consistent and predictable moods, structures, schedules.
-- So you too can be consistent. The essence of who you are does not change over time, in different situations including public and private, or during differing emotional states.
-- Or you may feel you have to be a different person depending on who you are with. You may not know who you are at your core, but you may wear “masks” to suit the people around you. Your moods may drastically change and you may not even know when or why that might happen.
Someone needed to hold you to appropriate standards for your age and ability. To teach and model doing things “good enough” rather than “perfect.”
-- So you can feel okay about your abilities and the work you do. You can be happy when you are good enough, and enjoy when you improve your own abilities without comparing to others.
-- Or you may become a perfectionist, and never happy with what you produce. You may always be looking for what can be better so are never be able to see the good in your or others’ work.
Someone needed to provide age-appropriate and wanted loving touch, cuddles, and comfort, and to allow you to decline them from anyone at anytime.
-- So you are comfortable in your body and know your body boundaries.
-- Or you may not know how to ask for or say no to physical affection. Or you may long for physical affection and accept it from anyone. You may give up other needs, like respect or safety, to get this need for affection met. You may feel like others have the right to your body and you have no right or ability to say no.
Someone needed to talk to you about your problems with things or people. They needed to listen to you, understand your point of view, validate your feelings, and teach you how to solve the problem.
-- So you can develop problem solving skills.
-- Or you may not know how to solve problems. You may ignore or avoid problems altogether, causing them to worsen, further solidifying your belief you do not know how to solve them.
EXPLORE THE WORLD
Someone needed to spend time reading to, or with, you and non judgmentally discussing the story, or discussing stories from life to help you learn about the world and others in a positive, open manner, and learn to discuss things like plans, dreams, goals, hopes, interests.
-- So you can learn to be curious and accepting of the world and all the people in it. You are able to dream and imagine. You are in touch with your own creativity and can express it. You learn empathy for others.
-- Or you may be fearful of travel, fearful of people, or prejudice of those different from you. You may not know how to discuss deep things in life. You are out of touch with your own plans, dreams and desires.
These are some examples of things children need, and possible results of these needs being met, or not met. If you feel you missed out on these, see below.
When enough of these emotional needs are met you will go through life feeling like you are on a solid base. You are okay both alone and with others. You feel good and positive about life overall. Consider them a developmentally necessary gift from your parents.
When not enough of these are met you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed by life, or swallowed up in a “black hole.” You may find yourself always longing for something you cannot name or understand. You may give up on managing life and relationships and just avoid people as much as possible. You may believe you are “not normal” or flawed in some way. You may want to leave. You may feel you do not know who you are.
If you are struggling with any of the above listed issues, counseling can help. I have 25 years experience providing trauma-informed mental health counseling and have helped hundreds of people who are struggling with these issues to heal from the wounds left by the lack of these, and to develop healthy skills instead, so they can function well in adult life.
Thanks to Dr. Warwick Middleton, ISSTD member from Australia, for researching and collecting many of the items of healthy adult behaviors that I adapted for use in the “So…” portion of this list.
2) The “Or…” of this list was created from my many years of experience plus logic and common sense. The effects listed are real and I see in people struggling with unmet needs, and often they have linked these to missing out on these things in childhood.
3) Some of the "Or" effects can also be from Trauma or other Adverse Childhood Experiences.