Sating the six hungers

It is a gospel truth that “man shall not live by bread alone.” Beyond our physical needs for food, shelter, safety, and so on, what are the other hungers we must satisfy in order to thrive and grow as human beings? Transactional Analysis theorist Eric Berne described six motivating hungers that shape our behaviour.

Stimulus hunger: we crave stimuli that provokes a reaction in us, whether this is from physical sensation like a massage or the sound of music, or emotional stimulation like watching a game of sports, TV or going to the theatre.

Structure hunger: we all need structure to give form and direction to our growth. Complex systems theory refers to the idea of enabling constraints: the guardrail that keeps us from flying over the edge; the trellis that the vine climbs; the pot that keeps the soil together for the roots. Structure gives form and direction to our imagination.

Recognition hunger: to some extent, it is the mirror of others’ perceptions of us that shows us who we are: “I exist because you see me.” This is not to say that we should be ruled by pleasing others, but that as humans we never exist in a vacuum; we are all part of a larger social fabric and we crave recognition for our contribution to the human condition.

Contact hunger: there is a level of intimacy and immediacy which comes from recognition through touch. A brush on the shoulder, a hug, shaking hands. Contact is a visceral sense of togetherness that gives us a deeper connection than more abstract forms of recognition.

Incident hunger: when I think about this one, the lyrics to the Jesus Christ, Superstar song “What’s the Buzz” come to mind: “What’s the buzz, tell me what’s happening…” In a way, incident hunger is the the darker side of stimulus hunger: we crave stimulation from our senses and our emotional and intellectual capabilities, and when we aren’t sufficiently satisfied we will seek it even in destructive or cruel formats by feeling compelled to be bystanders in others’ drama. Rubbernecking at a car crash could be an example, or indulging in juicy office or neighbourhood gossip.

Sexual hunger: this might perhaps be better named as passion hunger, as it refers not only to the physical act of sex but also romance, attraction, adventure, and excitement.

We all have different levels of each of these hungers. During the stay-at-home orders that at their peak affected up to 50% of the worlds population, some people may have found their contact hunger highly noticeable, while others may have less of a craving for physical touch, for example. Our hungers aren’t fixed: like physical hunger, these come and go according to our circumstances. And exactly like physical hunger, we can satisfy these hungers in productive ways that meet our long-term aims, or in less productive ways that give instant gratification but which backfire in the long run.

Learning about the hungers is an opportunity to increase our choicefulness. Maybe today is the right day for using a short-term coping mechanism, like giving in to the craving for sweets or skipping the exercise routine (or conversely, throwing oneself into overwork in order to have a sense of control in a chaotic environment) but maybe it isn’t. Maybe you’ve even identified some positive changes in your behaviour, or in your thought processes and beliefs, to satisfy those hungers as a result of the enforced changes in our lives because of the ongoing pandemic.

At this time of upheaval to all our lives, what changes in behaviour, or in mood, thought processes or beliefs, have you noticed in yourself? Can you identify which hunger that change relates to? How is your change meeting the need for that hunger? Is there anything you would like to do differently? Is there anything you would like to positively acknowledge yourself for?

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