Core needs are a Nonviolent Communication (NVC) term.
It’s sometimes used to refer to the innermost need that is or isn’t being met in the moment. For example, by taking some time to reflect on the core need that isn’t being met by people in conflict, you can get to the root of the conflict and find resolution much faster. If you are arguing about doing the dishes, behind the argument may be one persons core need for autonomy clashing with your core need of order. They may want to be in charge of their time and when they do the dishes. You may want to be in an environment that is clean and tidy. Once you understand that, it’s easy to connect and then it’s easier to find a solution where everyone’s core needs are considered.
Another use of core needs is to come to an understanding of your own, likely unchanging or rarely changing deepest need or value. It’s usually a single word value statement, like “integrity” or “gentleness”. I look at this kind of core need as an easily accessible reminder of who you want to be, and how you want to show up in the moment. It can be used like a mantra to check in with yourself when you are going into a difficult discussion.
My core need
To really understand core needs of this type, I’ll share mine and two ways I use them.
In 1994 the movie, The Santa Clause, was released. In one scene, a crack team of elves, the Effective Liberating Flight Squad or E.L.F.S., are sent out to rescue Santa, who has been arrested. On the way, they pick up Santa’s son, Charlie, and the elves have this beautiful benevolent look and way of speaking, while also being playful. Every time I see it, it gets to me, connecting with deep core needs related to the kind of safe, kind, and fun friendships I craved as a child.
I’ve been evoking my memory of those elves to embody their energy in my bliss/peace generating meditations since that movie came out, 27 years ago. Now that I’ve more intentionally connected it my core need, I also try to remember to use the same visualization to generate that energy when going into situations where there could be conflict or when I recognize that conflict is happening.
It’s my deliberate reminder to myself: This is who I strive to be. This is how I want to show up. This is how I want to treat people all the time. This is who I need to be, especially in difficult situations. It’s instantly accessible because of the practice of visualizing it frequently in meditation. Just writing about it brings that energy to me.
My understanding is that NVC is not just a way of speaking, it’s a way of being. I think reflecting on core needs is one of the keys to embodying NVC.
What is your core need? What word or words encapsulates who you really want to be? How can you visualize that when you’re in stress? How can you practice that visualization so it is quickly accessible in those stressful moments?