Tag Archives: needs

Emotional Realities

By Dr. Ken Larsen (Originally posted November 14, 2013)

One of the characteristics of mental health and happiness is getting our needs met in and through our relationships with caring other people.

Dr. Glasser describes these needs in a couple of ways.  One, from his first best selling book “Reality Therapy” he points out that we need to “Love and be loved, and to feel worthwhile to ourselves and to others.”

Later, when he wrote “Choice Theory” he listed our basic needs as “Survival, Love and belonging, Freedom, Power and Fun.”


One way I meet my fun needs is by learning.  Recently I was reading a book entitled “The Female Brain” by Louann Brizendine, MD.  One paragraph jumped out at me because it spoke to ways to grow closer to the ones we love.  Having a wife, three daughters, and five granddaughters, the more I can understand the female experience of life, the closer I can be in these very special relationships.

This is a quote from the book: “If she’s married or partnered with a male brain, each will inhabit two different emotional realities.  The more both know about the differences in the emotional realities of the male and female brain, the more hope we have of turning those partnerships into satisfying and supportive relationships and families.”

I highly recommend this book.

“But I got an emptiness deep inside and I’ve tried but it won’t let me go…”

Dr. Ken Larsen

I believe that happiness is not something we can seek for itself.  Dr. Glasser and Mike Rice (a friend who is a Choice Theory Addiction Counselor)  have told us that we can seek pleasure for itself, because pleasure can be a solitary pursuit.  Happiness is more of a byproduct of a life lived in caring relationships with others.  Within those relationships we are getting a large portion of our needs met for love and belonging, for fun, for freedom and for a sense of self efficacy or power.  For most of us, even if our lives are reasonably happy, there is still a level of the imperfect in our happiness.  There is often a small emptiness somewhere inside that is hungry for something that we may not even be able to name or identify.

questionThis hole in us may be a hunger for more intimacy in a relationship, a spiritual hunger, or that unexplained existential loneliness that haunts us, even when we are with those we love.

I think the Serenity Prayer offers an appropriate response to this hole inside us.  “…grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I have found that if I strive and strain to fill the hole, to find the answer to the question raised by that empty space, it becomes more elusive and slippery.  Struggling to meet an unmet need that is beyond our grasp simply drives it further away.  For example, if I am striving to earn the affection and approval from someone who has withheld it, this will just widen the gap, and increase the distance between us.

It is far better for mental health to “accept the things I cannot change” and move on to pursue the other good things in life.  Many have found that in the process of letting go, the frustration and anxiety that are associated with that unmet need subsides and may even go away.   The interesting and paradoxical experience of many is that sometimes letting it go is what allows what is wanted and needed to gently come in to fill the hole without any strident effort. 

I believe that a perfect state of mental health and happiness is beyond our grasp.  I also believe that we can all make progress in this pursuit, even though the price for perfection is prohibitive.



Life is Hard

By Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN

Life is difficult and awesome. Life is fulfilling and frustrating. Life is filled with one loss and sadness after another. Life is filled with surprises and delights. Life is a series of choices, satisfactions and disappointments. The journey of life includes the peaks and the valleys.

Isn’t it amazing that life is all of those things at once? How is it that each of us has the strength, perseverance and optimism to keep on keeping on? The will to live and keep on living, struggling, succeeding and failing, laughing, loving, crying and celebrating is an awesome force inside of all of us.

Living is hard. Whether a person was born into privilege or scraping by from month to month it is challenging, difficult and occasionally rewarding. What can you do to cultivate greater happiness and mental strength through it all? Intentionally meet your needs for safety, love, power, fun, and freedom every day in responsible and respectful ways. When we meet our basic psychological needs we are continually cultivating our Mental Health & Happiness during the hard times as well as the good. Meeting the basic needs gives us strength to keep going as we face struggles. Consistently meeting our basic needs brings even greater happiness during the good times.

Several years ago a woman learning Choice Theory psychology told me about her adult sister, Mary. Mary had suffered with mental illness since she was a teenager. She had been in and out of psychiatric hospitals since age 15, with a diagnosis of undifferentiated schizophrenia. Over the many years Mary had taken the entire range of psychotropic medications. Some were better than others, but even the best turned Mary into a zombie. Mary complained of feeling flat and “out of it.” She went through the motions of her life but felt empty of any joy and expression of  all feelings, good and bad. Mary did stop hallucinating so her need for hospitalizations were less frequent. After almost fifty years of treatment Mary was able to function and live in the world independently with supervision from Mental Health Counselors.

I just learned something, Mary told her sister. You, who are normal and happy, have to work hard too. I thought once I got well, cured and was normal life would be easy. I just found out that this isn’t true. I thought life was hard for me because I don’t know how to do it right. I just learned life is hard, whether you’re sick or well.

This woman, who is now in her mid-60s is just discovering that part of being human means that life is hard work with hard times for all of us. Now that she is learning to meet her needs for safety, love, power, fun, and freedom every day in respectful and responsible ways she is also discovering how to create more joyful times too. Mary is finally learning what she can do to be in charge of her own Mental Health & Happiness.

Is it “Being Overwhelmed” or “Choosing” to be Overwhelmed?

By Sue Tomaszewski

It’s become an ongoing joke over the last months with me saying that I’ve just been too overwhelmed to write this post on “Being Overwhelmed”.

The more I’ve considered how many times I’ve heard other people reject taking on one more thing due to being too overwhelmed while others do manage to accept the challenge, the more I wonder about Quality World Pictures, Perceived World Information, and Total Behaviors.

I’ve now come to terms with the “choices ” I’ve made. No matter how overwhelmed I perceived myself to be I did choose to devote time to those things that either seemed more “urgent” or perhaps more “need satisfying”:

  • work assignments that had time deadlines with consequences I wasn’t willing to face if not completed.
  • a friend who was very ill and who has since died, whom I wanted to spend time with and support her husband, as well.
  • even being sure I kept up with my “Words with Friends”, Facebook, and email communications.
  • And, hate to admit it, but also making sure I did watch ALL the “Breaking Bad” and “Downton Abby” episodes.


Yes, my choices to “balance” perceptions of “overwhelmedness” were behaviors that helped me maintain my QW picture of a competent, responsible person who is a devoted friend who enjoys fun and communication with others. Supposing also that even my TV choices reflect more intense story lines, as I am committed to follow-through!

But, please note, my choices were also actions that were already part of my organized behavior system. During this time, I now realize, even when “Words with Friends” was “too challenging”, I would communicate with my “friends” that I was just too busy to play.

My new reflection is that I DID CHOOSE to be overwhelmed and did opt for actions that were, to some extent challenging, but still part of a repertoire of behaviors that I already possessed. I did DID choose NOT to engage in behaviors that I perceived as more demanding, more new, needing more effort.

I am pleased to say , that WRITING, might NOW also be a behavior that has been added as a new organized behavior still developing as I work to continue being simply “whelmed”.

I’ve Said It A Million Times!

by Rebecca Gray

Icrazyn my work as a school social worker, I’m always telling people that we are all doing the best that we can, because if we knew how to do better, we would obviously chose that option over the agony of failure.

This seems a pretty solid philosophy when you are dealing with a child who is in a situation that they’ve never been in before, and they don’t have the skills or knowledge to handle it.  But here’s the tricky part… What about the kid who has made the same mistake over and over again and you’ve told them a million times what to do, and they still don’t do it?

Or think about yourself… don’t you know that you should exercise more, or eat better, or quit smoking?  And yet, you don’t do it.  So, how can it be true that if we knew a better way, we would chose that?

This is where we tend to start labeling behavior.  It’s because that kid is oppositional.  It’s because I’m just lazy.

But every behavior exists for a purpose.  It’s easy to simply label someone as bad, and say they are making poor choices.   It’s harder to dig for the real purpose behind seemingly bad choices, and find the need that is being met by that choice.

That kid who skips school may be at home caring for their preschool sister because mom never came home last night.

The child who talks back to the teacher may be trying to gain status with his peers because he feels he is not as smart as the rest of the kids.

I may not stick to my diet because it’s Christmas time and it’s more important to me to share food and drink with the people I love than worry about the number on the scale.

The answer is not in labeling people as bad, it’s in helping them find a way to meet all their competing needs.  Is there a way for the kid to know their preschool sister is safe and attend school at the same time?  Is there a way for the child to feel “cool” with their peers and still be a respectful person?  Is there a way I can maintain a healthy weight without feeling left out of the party?

A favorite quote of mine is “To know and not do is to really not know.”  You may be able to tell me what to do to meet one of my needs, but if I don’t do it, it’s because there is another need that is interfering.   When people know how to meet all their needs effectively, they do.

Meeting a frustrated need for freedom with creativity

Getting our needs met is part of mental health and happiness.

By Dr. Ken Larsen

Dr. Glasser explains that when we are not getting what we want in a situation, we look for a behavior to make an adjustment.  This usually occurs when one of our basic needs is being frustrated.  He encourages us that if we don’t have a learned behavior to deal with the problem, our  brain’s creativity will often provide what we need.  Recently I discovered how true this can be.

I was at one of our local warehouse retailers.  I had run in to pick up a couple of items, leaving my wife outside in the car.  I wanted to get in and out of the store quickly.  I found what I wanted and was headed to the checkout counter when this bubbly young lady jumped in front of me and held out some sort of cleaning device.  I was protesting verbally and non-verbally that I wasn’t interested.  She continued to thrust the item into my hand proclaiming that it wouldn’t bite me.  When I could not not takesale what she was pushing into my hands, she got a little satisfied look, evidently thinking she had overcome my sales resistance by getting me to accept what she offered.  She then began to get into her sales pitch.  The item was evidently some sort of floor cleaning device.  “What kind of floors do you have?” She asked with her charming smile and bubbly manner.  I didn’t want to be rude, but I did want to escape, so without a second thought I blurted in reply.  “Wall to wall.”  She was expecting me to say hardwood or carpet.  She didn’t know what to do with “wall to wall floors.”  Taking advantage of her dismay I handed the item back to her, smiled, recovered my freedom, finished my business and left the store to rejoin my wife.

I later told this story to a friend, marveling at how that simple unrehearsed response “wall to wall” enabled me to meet my need for freedom in that situation without unduly distressing the young sales girl.  Dr. Glasser had been right.  The creativity of my brain had provided what I needed in that circumstance.  Getting our needs met without depriving others of getting their needs met is part of mental health and happiness.