The way to figure people out is by figuring out their core psychological needs. Needs may be general or individual. For instance, the need for survival is a general human need but it tells you nothing of value about a person’s unique psychological make-up.
On the other hand, individual needs that are shaped by a person’s past experiences tell you a great deal about how that person thinks.
By figuring out the unique individual needs of a person, you are able to decode the way their mind operates and I don’t really think I need to tell you how valuable that can be.
Ego gratification is a fundamental human need. Even those who claim they’re free from ego are gratifying their ego by seeing themselves as ‘above those who gratify their ego’.
Mostly, when we talk about ourselves we tend to talk about the things that serve to boost our ego or raise our esteem.
Like it or not, we are approval seeking organisms. We want other human beings to like and admire us. Some people do it very directly. As soon as you meet them, they begin to boast about their achievements.
Almost everything a person says when they talk about themselves can be substituted by one succinct line…
“Look! How great I am!”
Don’t believe me? Check your Facebook news feed. Even though you see different text, images, and links, almost all of them somehow convey the same underlying message, “Look! How great I am!”
There’s nothing wrong with this type of behaviour, unless, of course, it interferes with your more important goals.
Now greatness can be a very subjective thing. What I think is great may be of absolutely no value to you and vice versa. But the important thing is- what you consider great points about your psychological needs and what I consider great points to mine.
Not everyone lays down their psychological make-up in front of others blatantly. There are some smart people who raise their esteem very covertly. They don’t directly mention their greatness but give subtle insinuations that point to their psychological needs.
All these direct and indirect messages can tell you a lot about a person. People are bombarded with these messages every day and most don’t stop to think about them because they’ve no clue how much these messages can reveal about the psyche of a person.
My uncle’s psychological need
Once, at a funeral, an uncle of mine remarked, “See… the final destination of everyone is the grave. No matter how high-status or revered a person, in the end, it all amounts to nothing.”
Now normal human beings usually feel awed and inspired by sentences like that and contemplate on the evanescence of life, but not me.
As soon as I heard that I began to wonder why my uncle targeted “high-status” people because when people usually say such a thing they mention “rich” people. Of course, high status is positively correlated with wealth but the usage of the word “revered” made me think.
I hypothesized that he cares a lot about respect, more than ordinary human beings.
He was very, very indirectly pointing to his psychological need to be a well-respected, high-status person.
A few months later, during a visit to his house, I received the shock of my life. “I have something special to show you”, he told me. Excited, I followed him into a room where he pulled out a diary from his closet.
We sat and he opened the diary. I figured there were photos posted on its pages. One by one, he flipped through the pages and told me “how great he was”.
“This is divisional commissioner of Kashmir and this is me.”
“This is the personal advisor to the chief minister and this is me.”
“This is the health minister and this is me.”
This went on for nearly half an hour. One by one, he showed me all the ‘important’ and ‘high-status’ people that he had ever been associated with.
I sat there with a fake smile of acknowledgement and in my head, I thought, “What the hell is going on? Does he even realize how obviously ostentatious he’s being?”
We all care about respect but not to the point of meticulously maintaining a diary of pictures displaying our association with high-status people. My hypothesis was confirmed and I knew from that time on that respect was really a big deal for him.
Be on the lookout for psychological needs
Every day people around you are directly or indirectly mentioning their psychological needs.
You may have a friend who chronically brags about his job, a cousin who frequently talks about cars, an acquaintance who’s obsessed with aliens and UFOs. Any type of repetitive and excessive behaviour always points to some underlying psychological need.
When people say, “He’s so lucky”, “I really admire her”, “He’s great”, they’re indirectly telling you, “If I was that person, I’d be great”. When you know what makes a person great, in their own mind, you know what their psychological needs are.
I know now if that uncle of mine is disrespected even in the slightest manner, he may get overly offended and if he’s revered even in a small way, he may be very pleased.
Hi, I’m Hanan Parvez (MBA, MA Psychology), founder and author of PsychMechanics. I’ve written 280+ articles and published one book about human behavior on this blog that has garnered over 3 million views. PsychMechanics has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, and Entrepreneur.