Whether you bristle at wearing a mask, miss seeing your family in person, or long to resume Friday night dinners at your favorite restaurant, chances are some of the coronavirus-related restrictions make you a little cuckoo.
Aside from scientific and legal implications, these mandates affect us on a deeper level. Research suggests we’re each born with three universal needs. And chances are, due to the new rules, at least one of those needs is unmet.
Not to worry—you can change that!
But first, what are the three needs God created in each of us?
The 3 Things You Need to Feel Human
We may joke about wanting to be in control, but we have a biological need for autonomy—to determine and control our own behavior according to our own interests and values.
[Word Nerd alert: The word autonomy comes from the Greek for self (auto) and law (nomos), and means “having its own laws” or governing itself, and it applies to governments as well as control over our own selves.]
If you’ve ever tried to hurry a toddler into his coat and out the door, you know this is true. Your efforts are met with the impatient refrain, “I do it myself!” We want to be in charge of our own person.
Beyond that, we want to feel like we make our own choices. My teenaged son once shared that he’d been on the verge of cleaning his room—he knew it was messy and he wanted to clean it—but as soon as I suggested he tidy up, he no longer wanted to.
We don’t like to be bossed around. We like to know we’re in control of what we do and don’t do.
Even if we think it’s the right thing to do, when someone tells us:
- you must wear a mask
- you can’t congregate with friends
- you have to change how you run your business (or close it altogether),
our inner teenager kicks in—and rightfully so!
God created in us the desire to take care of ourselves, to make our own choices, and to be in charge of our own bodies.
This need is so ingrained that, if it’s suppressed in one area, we may inadvertently express it in another way. We exercise our autonomy when we’re extra demanding with our kids, spouse, or coworkers. Or when we lash out at the grocery store clerk.
(Seriously—if there’s anyone who has very little control in this pandemic, it’s the grocery store clerk; let’s give them a break!)
In addition to our need for autonomy or control, humans the world over have a need for competence; that is, the need to learn and experience mastery over challenging tasks. God gave us this drive.
Again, think of a young child. As soon as he learns to crawl, he works at pulling himself up to stand—and then walk. Before you know it, his heavy-diapered bottom can escape down the hallway, peals of laughter in his wake.
Like that toddler, we’re not content to stay in one place.
Our human nature longs to improve our abilities, but also to demonstrate competence in a variety of areas based on your personality. For some, that’s in school or in sports; for others it’s under the hood of a car, or in the kitchen.
But the desire for competence—for being able to learn new skills and master old ones—is universal. You long to feel competent to feed your family, to make your own decisions, to do your job.
But with so many new skills to learn in this work-from-home world—Zoom, anyone?!—and so many new roles to master as you navigate between your day job, your household chores, and homeschooling your children, it’s easy to feel incompetent.
And when we don’t feel competent, we either work our tails off trying to prove ourselves, or we check out and stop trying.
In addition to our needs for control and competence, God created us to live in community. We have a deep biological need to interact with other people, to be connected, and to care for others. (The researchers call this relatedness.)
Spending time with friends, giving & receiving hugs, seeing others’ facial expressions—God created these very real needs in us.
When we crave connection, but don’t have the opportunity (or the energy) to connect, we attempt to meet the need by scrolling Facebook, arguing with people we barely know, or watching hours of TV with our families in the name of “quality time.”
How You Can Meet Your Needs
So how can you meet your God-given needs for control, competence, and community in this crazy time?
1. Know your needs
As with most issues, to meet your needs you must first know (and honestly assess) what those needs are.
2. Assess the Situation
Ask yourself: how am I attempting to meet my needs for control, competence, and community? And are those attempts effective?
Pro Tip: If you find yourself behaving in ways you don’t like—such as feeling or acting more angry, grouchy, frustrated, sad, or discouraged than usual—that’s a clue one of your needs isn’t being met. Take a step back and ask yourself:
Am I feeling out of control, incompetent, or unconnected?
3. Pursue a Plan
After you determine how you’re currently meeting these universal needs, purposefully plan how to meet them better in the future. Ask yourself:
What’s a quick way I can meet this need today?
Then brainstorm ways to meet each of those needs each day or week—and add those activities to your calendar.
To get started, ask yourself the following questions:
- In what ways do I already have control?
- What can I do to show my brain that I’m an individual?
- Examples may include:
- Go for a walk (or a drive) alone.
- Do something just for you (paint, write, read a book).
- In what areas am I already exhibiting competence? Recognize areas where you’re rockin’ this quarantine life.
- How can I showcase the skills I already have?
- What one area can I purposefully gain competence (not mastery) in? Bonus points if it’s something that lights you up!
- Who is my community during this time, and what does that look like?
- How can I be more intentional about who I include in (and exclude from) my community?
- How can I trade mindless interaction for purposeful community?
4. Recognize Reality
In this topsy-turvy world where lockdowns and curfews reduce our autonomy, social distancing determines what our friendships look like, and work-at-home means we’re expected to be technological and math-teaching geniuses, everything can feel out of our control.
But it’s not true that we have no control over the situation; we just don’t have control over all aspects of the situation.
Next week I’m going to dive deeper into autonomy—our desire to have control over our own selves—to show how we get it wrong, and what we can do to gain more control and more peace in unsettled times.
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