The Basics #1: Your Needs and Wants

What every eight-year-old should know and most adults have never been taught about the emotions that run our lives.
by Tony Schirtzinger, LCSW,


This topic explains what your feelings are, how to use them to help yourself, and how to overcome the ones that get in your way. This information applies to every second of your life and every decision you will ever make. Learning to apply the concepts in these few short pages can go a long way toward improving your life! If you are in therapy, read these pages regularly, perhaps before or after each meeting with your therapist. Apply these concepts to what you learn in therapy. If you are working on your changes alone, keep these pages close at hand and use them regularly. I'd like very much to hear your thoughts and experiences as you apply the information provided here.

Your Energy And Your Feelings

We get our physical energy from taking care of our bodies well - not perfectly, and not obsessively. We only need to eat, sleep, and exercise well enough in order for our feelings to give us all of the information we require about our needs and wants, and all the energy we'll need to address them. Feelings are actually energy surges which tell us, very specifically, what we want or need. When our feelings are strong enough to grab our attention, we can be certain that we'll have sufficient energy to handle things.

Your Needs

Needs are about survival. We would die if we didn't get what we need. An adult needs the same things an infant needs. We need: food, air, space, exercise, temperature control (avoiding being too hot or too cold), and to eliminate waste efficiently. We also need attention or "strokes" from each other. We don't need anything else!

Your Need For Attention Or "Strokes"

A "stroke" is a unit of recognition. When we receive a stroke we are being noticed by someone. Infants need strokes to survive. Adults want strokes so much that getting attention (just being recognized) is the strongest want we will ever experience in our lives.

Four Kinds Of Strokes

Type Of Strokes:The Attention Comes From:Example:
Conditional PositivePeople who like something you did."I like how you did that."
Conditional NegativePeople who do not like something you did."I don't like that about you."
Unconditional Positive People who like the whole you."I love you!"
Unconditional NegativePeople who do not like the whole you."You are worthless!"

Get good at getting and deeply absorbing the first three. And be sure to powerfully turn down and throw away all the "Unconditional Negative Strokes" you ever receive!

The First Sign Of Discomfort

Some people ignore their needs. They live in pain and may die from it. Most of us don't ignore our needs. We notice our need but then we wait while the discomfort turns to pain. Don't wait! Get good at noticing the very first feeling of discomfort! Avoid emotional problems by taking care of your physical needs at the first sign of discomfort!

Triggers For Feelings

Feelings are triggered by reality or fantasy. (It's always one or the other, never both.) REALITY comes to us through our senses. If we can see it, hear it, taste it, smell it, or feel it on our skin, then it is real. FANTASY is all mental activity - including thoughts, memories, dreams, ideas, etc. Fantasy doesn't come TO us, it comes FROM us - from our own brains. If we only think it, it might be true or it might be false - but it is not real!

Feelings We Create

Feelings that start in our brains rather than in our senses are unnecessary and optional, because they are not real. If we create painful feelings we will need to change how we think in order to feel better. If we create pleasurable feelings, that's great - as long as we remember we are only imagining. Sometimes we create feelings which are so strong that they hide our real feelings from our senses. When we do this we are out of touch with reality, and in real danger of making serious mistakes.

Other articles by Tony Schirtzinger, LCSW:

Tony Schirtzinger LCSW Basics 1: Your Needs And Wants
Basics 2: Your Natural Feelings
Basics 3: Your Unnatural Feelings

Problem Solving 1: Roadblocks
Problem Solving 2: Defining The Problem
Problem Solving 3: Six Aspects Of A Problem

Tony Schirtzinger, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and a trainer of therapists and counselors. He has over 35 years experience working with depression, anxiety, adults who suffered abuse in childhood, delinquency and criminality, parenting, teenagers, and dissociation. He offers email advice and telephone counseling, as well as in-person appointments in Milwaukee, WI. More of his articles can be found at