Human Givens

The new approach to emotional health and clear thinking

By Joe Griffin & Ivan Tyrell

A new edition of the life-changing book Human Givens which contains a wealth of new material that will enhance its already considerable reputation. The authors describe one of the most important psychological insights of our age: how we are all born with a rich natural inheritance – a partially formed mind containing a genetic treasure-house of innate knowledge patterns: ‘the human givens’. We all experience these givens as physical and emotional needs, powerful forces that must be satisfactorily met in our environment if our minds are to unfold and develop to their fullest potential.

Includes a new chapter on the biological basis of content blindness – caetextia – that blights the lives of millions. Ultimately this book is uplifting and practical because it brings hope in these troubled times by clearly spelling out what each child and adult needs in order to develop well, how to help those who aren’t and who are suffering severe mental distress, including depression and post-traumatic stress.

Our Vital Emotional Needs

The human givens model identifies the following specific emotional needs as core drivers of our behaviour:

SECURITY – a safe territory and environment that allows us to live without undue fear, develop fully and have space to grow. When we don’t feel safe in our environment our emotional brain can take over, dominating – our thinking and behaviour, in effect making us less able to use our rational human brain, and more likely to be fearful and aggressive or become anxious and stressed. This can be clearly seen on a grand scale in countries torn apart by war, but occurs wherever security and safety are compromised, within families, at work, at school and within our communities.

AUTONOMY – a sense of control over what happens to us and around us, the freedom to make our own decisions and choices, which helps us to feel in charge of ourselves rather than overwhelmed by life.

ATTENTION – giving and receiving it are both vital forms of nutrition that fuel our development. If we didn’t immediately seek attention as newborn babies, we might
starve. Paying attention to each other forms part of our group bond as a gregarious species and helps us maintain a shared sense of reality.

INTIMACY – emotional connection to others through friendships and loving relationships. We all need at least one person who accepts us for who we are, ‘warts and all’, who is biased in our favour and will support and defend us. This need not be the more obvious parents, siblings, partners or spouses, but may be a grandparent, a teacher, a good friend, a neighbour or a colleague.

COMMUNITY – connection to people outside our immediate family, through work, hobbies, sport, geographical and cultural communities. We have evolved as group animals because our survival in harsh conditions depended on being part of a collaborative team – traditionally our tribe. This harks right back to our hunter-gatherer era, and even before that our ancestors would have owed their existence to being part of a primate group. Those who got separated or ostracized were very likely to be eaten by predators or die of starvation. Even in today’s world, where we are unlikely to be eaten by hyenas, we still feel the mortal fear of likely death if we are outcasts. We therefore have a very ingrained need to belong to a group of some sort. Do today’s ‘virtual’ communities, gathered together and joined through the technology of social media, give us the same sense of safety?

STATUS – within our communities. A sense that we are accepted, valued and have status within the groups to which we belong (work, family, town, sporting etc); being respected for who we are and what we can do (how we can be useful within the group) by at least some people. We need to feel that we are respected and valued by the groups, or communities, to which we belong so that we don’t feel in danger of being thrown out or left behind.

ACHIEVEMENT & COMPETENCE – a sense of our own competence and abilities, knowledge and skills, without which we may feel inadequate, lack confidence and develop ‘low self-esteem’, and may even withdraw ourselves from our own communities if we don’t feel useful enough. Genuine confidence, built through  competence, gives us resilience to cope with life’s difficulties.

PRIVACY – enough time and space to reflect on, learn from, and consolidate our experiences. In our frantic, attention-grabbing world such privacy is an increasingly scarce commodity and must sometimes be deliberately sought so that our minds don’t become overloaded with a chaos of information.

MEANING & PURPOSE – which comes from being stretched, mentally or physically, and having purpose in what we do, being helpful within our communities, or being connected to ideas or beliefs greater than ourselves (being interested in the bigger picture).

Our Inbuilt Human Resources

In order to get our needs met, we have an inbuilt set of human resources with which we can understand and interact with our environment. The human givens approach identifies our key resources as:

  • Emotions and Instincts: which help us to understand what’s happening around us and respond accordingly. Our emotions drive us to act, quite literally to move (hence the word), for instance the emotion of fear will prompt us to retreat from the cause. Our emotions all have a vital purpose in our drive to survive
  • Empathy: the ability to build rapport, empathize and connect with others, so we can care for each other and share as a group
  • Memory: the ability to develop complex, long-term memory, which enables us to add to our innate knowledge, remember experiences and learn
  • Imagination: with which to focus away from emotions and problem solve creatively by trying out ideas in our mind
  • Pattern-matching: the ability to ‘know’, to perceive and understand the world unconsciously through a subtle metaphorical pattern-matching process; a fundamental way in which our brains work
  • Reason: a conscious, rational mind that can check out emotions, analyse, plan, fine tune, question
  • Enhanced Awareness: the potential to develop an ‘Observing Self’, that part of us which can step back, be more objective and recognize itself as a unique centre of awareness separate from intellect, emotion and conditioning
  • Dreaming: our brain’s way of both preserving our instincts and defusing uncompleted, unresolved or unfulfilled emotional arousals (including worries and ruminations) to create spare mental capacity for the next day These inbuilt resources are our tools: designed, developed and honed to match and meet our needs.

A Practical Framework for Achieving Emotional Health & Clear Thinking

The human givens model, therefore, clearly defines what it means to be a human being: what we need in order to be healthy (innate needs) and what nature has given us by design to get those needs met (innate resources). These are the ‘human givens’.

With the basic elements of our needs and our resources described like this, a framework for wellbeing becomes clear.

Just as a lack of one of our physical needs (water for instance) can make us ill and threaten our life, so a missing element of our emotional needs can cause us emotional difficulties that can lead to mental and physical ill health. Conversely, with all of our needs met in balance we will thrive and flourish.

The implications of these essential principles of human nature are what you will learn about in this short ebook.


With these core ‘givens’ of human nature (our needs and resources) clearly understood, we can define the fundamental principles of human survival:

  • If our needs are being met well and in balance, we will be thriving and in good emotional health: we cannot be mentally unhealthy.
  • When our needs are not well met, we struggle with emotional difficulties and can suffer mental and physical illness.
  • The way we use our innate resources to meet our needs determines our physical and emotional health: individually and also within our family, work, cultural
    and global contexts.
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