They say a ship without a rudder is lost at sea, and for a good majority of my life, that was the case.
I remember a time when I kept myself small, my voice quiet, and my truth hidden.
I remember how it was before I became aware of boundaries, self-care, personal space, and what it means to live an empowered life.
And I definitely I remember a time when I would allow myself to be moved and influenced in any direction and by anyone.
It wasn’t until I became truthful about my Needs that I found myself owning and honoring more of myself.
It wasn’t until I became aware of my Wants that I found myself able to ask for what I wanted from myself and others, which in turn allows me to be an active participant in my life and experiences with others.
And it wasn’t until I became in tune with my Desires and emotions that I was able to bring in more connection, beauty, and peace into my life.
So what are the differences between these three concepts?
Let’s look at Needs first.
As humans, it’s essential to acknowledge that we are intrinsically needy.
There are simply things we need in order to survive and function in a reasonable manner, mainly food, water, shelter, and safety.
It’s important to note that what’s not being addressed here is the quality of our food or shelter. Instead, it’s merely a question of whether these needs exist and if they are available and accessible in a quantity that allows us to continue living.
Where more of our preference comes into play, is in our Wants.
A want is something that tends to be more about the physical and logistical how’s and what’s.
For example, in what way is the food I need being presented? What kind of food is it? What kind of shelter do I have? What does my version of safety look like?
We can see how we are stepping away from the base quality of Needs and are now stepping into a more engaged inquiry of what’s available for us.
Last is the idea of Emotions, or Desires.
Emotions, as ancient and modern teachings tell us, are fleeting. They come, they go, and the better we are at not holding on to them, the more at peace we tend to be.
As we inspect our relationship to desires, we can see how they are usually connected to our unconscious patterns, the imaginations of our inner child, and circumstances.
Ultimately, emotions and desires are about satisfaction as opposed to survival.
Why is it important to know the difference between a Need, Want, and Emotion?
All too often, when we are not clear as to whether something is a need, want, or emotion, we tend to act from a place that is unclear, and the consequence of that lack of clarity is that it’s actually harder for others to help and support us in getting what need, want, or desire!
If what I’m asking for is really a Need, but I treat it like a Desire, I’ll always be at a deficit.
If what I’m asking for is really a Desire, but I treat it like a Want, then it’s all too easy to overstretch myself, and I lose my focus about what is actually important.
To give a simple example, if we relate this to bread, our Needs would be that we need bread to survive. Our Wants would be what kind of bread we would like (rye, sourdough, etc..). Last, our Desires would be how I wanted the bread to show up (toasted, buttered, jam, etc).
We can see how in this example how confusing it would be for others if all we did was demand others to give us jam for our bread, and how if we haven’t been clear about what kind of bread or even that we wanted bread in the first place it would be quite difficult for another person to give us what we wanted.
Where all this comes into practice and play is when it comes to creating and maintaining healthy boundaries.
For most people, myself included at times, the reason why boundaries are so hard is that they do require us to draw lines in the sand.
Let’s say I see Trust as being a Need, not just a Want or Desire, for my relationships.
This means that if Trust were to be broken in some way, I have a choice to make.
Do I allow the person I am relating with to continue past my line of Trust (which tends to lead to becoming a victim) or do I assert my space, and my self-love, and not allow someone that has overstepped my Needs further access to my time, space, and attention.
This takes time, experience, and at times a fierce dedication to ourselves.
I have found what makes it easier is being clear if something is a Need, Want, or Desire.
The reason life becomes easier with more clarity is because we live in a world where compromise may not be a necessity, it certainly is the norm.
This means, as we engage and co-create with others, there will always be some give and take. It’s simply how life works.
But when we give too much, we lose ourselves.
It’s important to note that what may be a Need for me may only be a Desire for someone else.
This means it is vital and our responsibility to communicate to others where something falls on the spectrum for us.
One of the easiest ways to gain more clarity is to simply make a list of everything that may be a Need, Want, or Desire.
Everything from, “walks in nature,” “pizza on Friday’s,” “a partner who listens to me,” and everything in between. I usually recommend at least 30 items.
Once we have our list, we can go through and mark each as either a (N)eed, (W)ant, or (E)motion.
It may surprise us to see how something we thought was a Need is really just a Want, or how something we felt was a Desire is really Need..
This awareness gives us more flexibility and options while also providing an opportunity to engage with others, knowing our personal foundation is in place.
Ultimately, the most significant gift this insight provides is knowing what our non-negotiable Needs are.
This helps us in being more discerning and assertive in what we allow into our lives, as well as helping us more efficiently point our sail in the direction that aligns with our deepest Wants and Desires.