Need to be needed

Who am I in my family, and who am I without them? Who really needs whom?

Being part of a group larger than oneself creates a sense of significance and meaning. Thus the need to be needed is one of our most basic drives.

The psychologist Abraham Maslow described this phenomenon eighty years ago in his paper ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’, setting out his ideas on humans’ natural needs and the motivation that drives them to satisfy those needs. Maslow devised a pyramid of needs – a hierarchical model with five levels.

The lowest level, serving as the base of the pyramid, consists of the most basic needs: food, sleep, sex and air. The next level up includes the need for safety and protection from external dangers. The third level includes the need for love and belonging. Maslow calls these three fundamental levels ‘deficiency needs’. They constitute the basic necessities that must be fulfilled if a person is to thrive and develop their motivation. Maslow calls the model’s top two levels ‘growth needs’. They concern self-esteem and self-actualisation. The five levels of needs are arranged in a hierarchical system, but they are not really a clear ranking. The needs often exist simultaneously, but we generally prioritise one of them over the others.

I have developed a particular interest in the third level of the pyramid of needs: the need to be needed.

When the most basic requirements for survival have been satisfied, the need to be needed is one of our most basic drives. We want to feel meaningful in others’ eyes, even when only one other person is involved. We want to feel that we have an important role to fulfil, whether that may be in an organisation, a family or another person’s life. The need to be needed is anchored in a desire to contribute to something greater than ourselves. When that feeling of contributing or involvement disappears, we lose our purpose and direction in life.

In my images, I investigate the family as a constellation with the inherent power to unite people in their efforts to satisfy their need to be needed. Adults usually choose their family, while children are born into theirs. It is easy to see children’s immediate need for care, but could adults have an equally significant need to be needed? What demands does the family place on us? What happens to individuals’ privacy and autonomy? Why do people belong to a family constellation, what propels them towards the family, and what needs are people looking to satisfy?

Anna Clarén