Our 5 Basic Needs

All behaviour is purposeful. All behaviour is attempting to meet our basic needs. Sometimes the attempt is healthy, sometimes futile, sometimes dangerous or hurtful. When we identify the need(s) we are trying to meet, we can sometimes help ourselves, or others, to do so in healthier ways.

According to Diane Gossen, of www.realrestitution.com, and based on Adlerian Psychology & Canadian First Nations’ Beliefs, among other ideas, there are 5 basic needs: survival, belonging, fun, freedom, and power.

Restitution Theory is a powerful tool and can take years to understand & master but some of what I find most helpful is:

  • We are all doing the best we can given the circumstances at this time.
  • It is okay to make a mistake. Once made, it is our responsibility to attempt to fix it if possible.
  • After there has been a breach in the relationship, it is our intention to restore the one (or two or three…) who has behaved inappropriately to the group as quickly as possible.
  • When approaching someone about their mistake, stabilize the identity first. Remind them that you know they could have done worse, and chose not to. Notice what they did well or right. Remember other instances of managing things successfully. Only when they are able to access their best self does the discussion of the mistake begin.
  • Discussions of mistakes, or inappropriate words or actions, refer always to the 5 basic needs.


Survival Needs:

food & water, shelter, warmth, clean air – the physical necessities.


We all need to feel that we are accepted somewhere. This is a powerful need and relates to the rampant peer orientation we see even in quite young children. Adults are anxious to have children well-socialized and part of a community, so much so that many of them allow the parent-child bond to loosen. But we all need strong bonds and if we don’t have them parent -to-child, we will secure them peer-to-peer. Or, in the most horrifying instances, predator-to-child.

When the family bond is strong, there will still be opportunity for belonging on teams, in classes, with friends, in faith communities, and so on. Without love and belonging we get sick and die. Literally. This is a basic need.


Ideally, we all have ha-ha fun every day. There are many reports on the therapeutic benefits of a belly laugh per day. But, a belly laugh is not a basic need. Fun, as understood to mean something that engages us, is a basic need. Our enthusiasm for knitting scarves and learning new patterns and buying different types of wool can keep us healthy, but it rarely leads to deep laughter.

Enjoying a comedy show can meet the need, too. Any hobby or labour that feels like fun to us, will work – just don’t assume that one’s certainty that shoe shopping is fun applies to everyone!  😉


There is freedom “from” and freedom “to”. Often we attempt to exercise our choice by seeking freedom from chores, freedom from stress, and so on. Ultimately, these are limited attempts; chores and stress don’t go away. Freedom to follow a dream, to pierce your navel, to speak out about unfair taxation, to retire, have kids, go to the zoo, or eat peanuts – these are freedoms that can be exercised. Freedom is about choice.


A tricky word, power. We have people wielding power over others. We have grown-up bullies having power tantrums. We see the power play in manipulation.

This power, however, is about feeling one has sufficient personal power. It is about competence and mastery. We all need to believe we are at least a little bit good at something.

This is such a quick dip into the 5 Basic Needs and Restitution Theory but there are some nuggets here so that as you go along, doing the best you can, the best you can just got a little better. Salut!


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