Stronger Marriage

8 Needs of Every Young Man and Woman

Victor W. Harris, M.S.

Roger Coplen and James MacArthur have pinpointed at least eight needs that must be met if we are to feel happy, satisfied, and fulfilled. Here they are paraphrased in my own words:


  1. Develop a positive picture of ourselves (self-concept).
  2. Develop close real-love relationships.
  3. Feel like we belong.
  4. Receive the respect of others and ourselves.
  5. Feel worthwhile (that we're important) by developing a healthy self-esteem.
  6. Feel competent (that we are good or successful at some things).
  7. Experience growth.
  8. Feel safe and secure.

Adapted from Roger Coplen and James D. MacArthur, Developing a Healthy Self-Image
[Provo: Brigham Young University, 1982], p. 4).
Note: This article was originally written for a younger audience.

1. Developing a Positive Picture of Ourselves (or Self-Concept)
    I have heard social scientists describe our self-concept as a puzzle made up of many pieces. Each puzzle piece represents a belief that we have about ourselves, and these beliefs are based on our life experiences and how we interpret these experiences. All of these pieces placed together form a beautiful picture called YOU! We call this our self-concept.

    If we are not careful, certain destructive people will encourage us to fit negative belief-pieces into our puzzle. They tear us down in different situations or tell us how poorly we do something or how stupid we are. Of course, they also persuade us to believe that their negative observations are true when in reality, they are lies.

    For example, have any of your friends ever introduced a little brother or sister to you with this phrase: "Hey, you guys! I want you to meet my dumb little brother." Or maybe they'll say, "This is my weird little sister."

    If we label people who don't know any different long enough, they will eventually begin to shift their puzzle pieces, or beliefs about themselves, and negatively mold the negative label into their picture of themselves.  It is a tragedy when young people actually begin to believe that negative and demeaning words about themselves are true.

    So what about you? Do you have any untrue puzzle pieces floating around in your self-concept--pieces such as: "I'm ugly;" "I can't do it;" "I have no talents;" or, "I'm not a good person?"

    If you recognize any of these negative puzzle pieces, stop right now and begin to repeat the words: "I can do it, I have many talents, and I am a good person!" Talk like this is called positive self-talk, and it is a powerful and a necessary self-help skill to thwart negativity.

    Our inner conversations can have a powerful effect on our self-concept. Therefore, according to Harriet B. Braiker (1989), "becoming aware of exactly what you are saying to yourself about yourself can help you understand why you react the way you do to events and people in your life. It can also give you a handle on controlling your moods, repeating your successes and short-circuiting your shortcomings" ("The Power of Self-Talk," Psychology Today, December, 1989, pp. 23-27).

    We all have weaknesses and shortcomings that we are trying to overcome. However, focusing on these weaknesses in an obsessive way only makes us depressed and it can lead to a pile-up of negative beliefs about ourselves - beliefs that simply aren't true.

    To counteract this negative cycle of thinking, we must learn to practice positive self-talk. Try it. It will make a big difference if you are struggling with a negative picture of yourself. Simply pick a phrase or two that focuses on a few of your strengths such as: "I am a good friend; I am sensitive to others; I listen well; I can be trusted; I am honest; I'm giving; I'm loving; I'm understanding; I'm kind; I'm spiritual; I'm smart; I'm musically talented; I'm academically talented; I'm physically or socially talented."

    This reminds me of an experience my son Mckay and I shared several years ago. If I recall the experience correctly, Mckay came to me and stated, "Dad, Avenlea (his younger sister) is the cutest, most loveable, little girl in the whole wide existence of all existences, huh?"
    I looked at him, smiled, and agreed. "Yes, she is Mckay."
    I then waited to see what he was going to say because I knew he was fishing for me to say the exact same thing about him; he wanted me to validate his little puzzle-piece beliefs about himself.
    I wasn't disappointed. After a few moments, he replied, "And Dad, I'm the cutest, most lovable, little boy in the whole wide existence of all existences, huh?"
    I smiled, put my arms around him, and said "Yes, you are, Mckay." To which he replied, "But we don't tell that to other little boys and girls, do we, Dad? Cuz we don't want to make them feel bad."
    I smiled and replied softly, "You're right, Mckay."

    The point is, he was asking for my help to help him secure this little puzzle-piece belief about himself and I was more than willing to oblige him. However, what kind of impact do you think a negative response would have had on his picture of himself? We must be so careful what we say to others and to ourselves!

2. Close Real-Love Relationships/Feeling Worthwhile/Feeling Like We Belong
    We all need to have close real-love relationships in order to feel worthwhile and to feel like we belong. How we address and attempt to fulfill each of these needs will make a major difference in our present and future happiness.

    Because of the intense desire we have to feel worthwhile and to feel like we belong in relationships, we can be deceived if we are not careful. Often, we settle for counterfeit forms of fulfillment for each of these needs.

    For example, if in order to feel worthwhile we feel we have to exclude someone or put them down, we have settled for a counterfeit form of belonging or feeling worthwhile. This ultimately drains us and those around us of real love. When this happens, our core self begins to starve and unhappiness results.

    Real love and real relationships build both us and others; they never destroy. Real love is kind, giving, unselfish, and unconditional. Counterfeit love is manipulative, selfish, and conditional upon our performance instead of our worth as members of the human family.

    A lack of self-esteem (feeling worthwhile) as well as a negative self-concept (picture of ourselves) are the major contributors that lead us to attempt to belong in counterfeit or destructive ways. If we know who we are and value ourselves as individuals, then we seek to belong in ways that will build both us and others. This will, as a result, fill us with greater joy and happiness, because the emotion we feel when we act according to our values and beliefs is love. True self-esteem (feeling worthwhile) then, comes from within our core selves, not from without.

3. Get Rid of the Conditions
One of the great ways we can avoid the devastating effects of having a counterfeit or destructive relationship with ourselves is by getting rid of all the conditions we place upon ourselves, such as: I won't feel like I belong unless I'm popular, or make the football team, or become a cheerleader, or have a steady boyfriend or girlfriend. Maybe we will refuse to feel worthwhile unless we get an A on a test, or get a raise at work, or wear the nicest clothes, or have the prettiest hair (in my case it is having any hair at all that concerns me). Maybe we want the nicest car or the greatest job before we will allow ourselves to feel worthwhile.

    These are all mind traps and we must stop them by consciously not allowing ourselves to think in this way (see 10 Mental Mistakes to Avoid). Again, we must get rid of all the counterfeit conditions we place upon ourselves or we can never have a close real-love relationship with ourselves.

    On one occasion, I was speaking at a conference when one of my former students came running up to me. As I talked with her, I noticed how frail and skinny she looked. Concerned, I later called her father. He told me his daughter was anorexic. Apparently, according to her father, her faulty thinking had led her to conclude that because she wasn't dating very much, she must be overweight. She had placed a counterfeit condition on her feelings of worthiness. Therefore, in an attempt to feel worthwhile, she began starving herself. She would then reward herself with the counterfeit notion that not eating and becoming ultra-skinny would mean more dates (feeling worthwhile), more attention from the guys (feeling like she belonged), and a closer relationship with herself. Again, can you see the devastating mind trap in which she became entangled? We must get rid of all the conditions we place upon our feeling worthwhile or we too will become entangled in such traps.

4. Do You Love Me?
    When you are alone with YOU, have you ever asked yourself the question, "Do you love me?"

    In our home, we sing a song called "Do You Love Me?" We'll sing those words, followed by the name of someone in our family. This family member sings in reply, "Yes, I do!" and then sings the question again, naming someone else in the family.

    I remember one day, several years ago, listening to one of my sons sing this song all by himself in his room, mimicking all our family member's voices as he named each member of the family. He even included the cats, meowing what he knew would be their positive reply!

    After he had mimicked all of the family members and family pets voices, he ended his song with one last stanza: "Do you love me?" as he repeated his own name. As a parent, the question he asked himself was a monumental one; I will never forget how I felt when I heard that little voice from his room sing, "Yes, I do."

5. Earning the Respect of Others and Ourselves
    Each of us has a real need to be honored and to be held in high regard, both by ourselves and by others. I learned much about this principle from a great advisor and mentor named Larry Choate. I recall how occasionally, Mr. Choate would wear a bright orange shirt when he would instruct us and we would all tease him by calling him the Great Pumpkin. We all deeply loved and respected Mr. Choate, in spite of his occasional fashion statement. I remember many things he taught me, through both word and example. "The only way to find true happiness," he'd say, is to be true to who you are and what you know." In my life, I've seen young people realize this true principle many times.

    I can also remember how Mr. Choate would talk about the challenges and struggles associated with being popular. At the time, it was a challenge I was willing to struggle with! Paraphrasing, he explained that too many times when people become popular, they begin to look down upon others. "Sometimes," Mr. Choate would say, "you can have both popularity and self-respect. But if you find that you can't, and that you must make a choice between the two--always choose self-respect." It can literally be a living hell to be liked by others, but not to like or to respect ourselves because of our own actions. In psychology, we call this "experiencing cognitive dissonance." When we behave in opposition to what we value and believe, we cannot help but feel a disconnection and a dissonance with who we really are.

6. To Experience Growth and to Feel Competent
    "I'm bored!" I heard my son's friend declare one day. My son, who had made the same statement on more than one occasion, piped up with his mother's standard, but true, reply: "Bored? You're only bored if you choose to be bored!"

    How profound, even though my son was just parroting what he had heard his mother say on many occasions.

    So, what if you're bored? I challenge you to stretch, to learn, to climb out of your comfort zone and try something new. For example, "This world is filled with nearly limitless opportunities for personal development. Consider -"

  • Animals: Raise, train, and groom cats, dogs, horses, rabbits, the list could go on for pages."
  • Arts: Write poetry or fiction; compose music; paint; dance; get involved in a drama production."
  • Collections: Collect model trains or airplanes, butterflies, stamps, wild flowers, or nativity scenes."
  • Cultural: Learn a language; travel."
  • Home: Get some training in interior design; collect antiques; remodel a room; refinish some furniture; do some creative cooking or sewing; spend time with your children or grandchildren."
  • Mental: Read; go back to school; study astronomy, geology, or other sciences."
  • Restoration: Fix up and restore cars, furniture, or homes."
  • Scouting: Help with activities and camp outs; become a merit badge counselor."
  • Skills: Try your hand at photography; learn to operate a computer; get involved in family history research."
  • Sports: Try fishing, swimming, gymnastics, baseball, football, tennis, golf, ice skating, bicycling, hiking, rock climbing, aerobics, or jogging."
  • Volunteer Service: Offer to serve at hospitals, schools, or with political or art organizations."
  • Working with your hands: Get involved in a craft; try woodworking; do repairs around the house."
  • Yard: Plant a garden, an orchard, a flower bed; create a bonsai tree"

("Alternatives for TV Addicts," August 1990).

7. To Feel Safe and Secure
    I've always had a difficult time with roller coasters; I just don't feel safe or secure riding in a little car that hurtles around corners and flings me upside down. Instinctively, I just feel and know that people who ride roller coasters are eventually going to say something like this: "Look no hands! Look no feet! Look no body! Look I fell out! Look no life! Look I'm dead!"

    We all need to feel some degree of safety and security--some of us more than others. But even thrill-seekers and roller coaster lovers need a sense of security. All of these real needs that we've been talking about can be met in a healthy home and family. Tragically, not all homes and families in our society offer these basic needs.

    Often, many of our needs can be met by members of our community family and others we might meet along our journey throughout life. Each individual we come in contact with possesses unique knowledge, expertise, and skills. If we are open-minded, many people in our society and culture can influence our lives in beneficial and positive ways.

    What a marvelous quest we are on as we seek to understand our own needs and to develop strong and healthy relationships with our families, our relatives, our friends, and ourselves. It is the love that we learn to give and to receive from each of these relationships that can bring immeasurable joy and happiness to our lives.

Adapted from Victor W. Harris, Teen's and 20's SURVIVOR Tips & Traps.

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