At a Glance: Interpersonal Needs

I once believed that self-esteem interacts with three important interpersonal needs to affect our communication with others: control, inclusion, and affection.
Need for Control Our need to maintain some degree of control in a relationship
Need for Inclusion Our need to belong to a social group and have positive contact with others
Need for Affection Our need to feel loved and appreciated by others
I believed that all three of these needs were fundamental, meaning that everyone has them to some degree. The greater these needs are, he argued, the more motivated we are to seek and form relationships with people who can help us meet these needs.
People with high self-esteem don’t necessarily have stronger needs for inclusion, affection, and control than others do, but they appear to be more successful at meeting these needs through their communication with other people.
Self-esteem doesn’t just reflect our feelings about ourselves; it can also influence how we communicate with other people. Social psychologist Will Schutz proposed that self-esteem interacts with three important interpersonal needs to affect our communication with others: the need for control, the need for inclusion, and the need for affection.
As we’ll see, each of these needs motivates us to interact with others in particular ways.
Need for Control.
We all have a need for control, which is our motivation to maintain some degree of influence in our relationships. As infants, we relied almost completely on our caregivers to make decisions for us. As we grew up, however, we needed to play a more decisive role in determining the course of our relationships.
In many relationships, people share control, so that each person has some say in what happens. We’re often less satisfied in relationships when we feel we have no control. Research shows that the higher a person’s self-esteem, the more she or he feels in control of the events in her or his life.
By the same token, many of us also have a need to relinquish control from time to time. Just as we’re dissatisfied with having too little control, we can also feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of having too much control. Allowing others to exert influence over us is an important part of the interdependent nature of personal relationships. We’re often most satisfied, therefore, with a moderate amount of control.
Need for Inclusion.
Our need for inclusion is our need to belong, to be included in the activities of others, and to have positive human contact. Some of us have a stronger need for inclusion than others, but even people you’d describe as loners need some interaction with others.
Studies have shown that people can experience mental and physical distress when their need for inclusion is not met. For people with a high need for inclusion, then, the opportunities to form and maintain interpersonal relationships probably contribute to their self-esteem. From a different perspective, people with higher self-esteem tend to be more outgoing and extraverted than people with lower self-esteem.
For that reason they might be more motivated to seek out relationships that will meet their need for inclusion. For example, they may be more likely to join social groups, religious organizations, or sports teams to meet others. Nevertheless, even people with a high need for inclusion can also enjoy periods of solitude from time to time.
Need for Affection.
Finally, each of us also has a need for affection. We need to have people in our lives who love and appreciate us and who communicate their affection to us. We also need to give love and intimacy to others. Some researchers believe that people are born with the capacity for affection, and studies have shown that the more affection people give and receive, the healthier and happier they are.
People with higher self-esteem also tend to be more expressive of their affectionate feelings than people with lower self-esteem. The “At a Glance” box provides a summary of three interpersonal needs.
Affection is one of our most fundamental human needs.