The Human Givens Model: Can Mental Illness Be Impossible?

Filed under: Personal Growth

Are you ready to start living an AWESOME life?  I sure hope so!  

Maybe you are traveling a path of personal growth while supporting others in that same journey?  

“Human Givens” is the name of a model that describes the needs we all have as humans. It also incorporates innate resources each of us can access. We can thank both Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell for consolidating knowledge from past to present day and providing the name for this highly successful model. 

This post will take a look at the Human Givens model of innate needs that, when met, can make mental illness impossible!  

Let’s now dive into each one to discuss it in a little more detail.

Safety and Security

In Episode 181 of the BrainSoftware Podcast, Chris tells a great story about the day he woke up with a magic marker beard drawn all over his face at summer camp. Do you think that made him feel safe and secure? Of course not!  

Have you ever been afraid you didn’t turn your stove off or found yourself lying in bed wondering if you locked your door? It can be very difficult/near impossible to fall asleep if your mind is preoccupied with safety concerns. 

It works the same way in day-to-day life. When fear is present, it tends to occupy the majority of your conscious thoughts making it much more difficult to engage in what is happening in front of you. Have you ever been going through the motions of a task when your brain is a million miles away thinking about something that seems more important? 

This is something new parents know all too well as sleepless nights accumulate as they are on high alert making sure their babies are still alive and breathing. Everything tends to take a back seat when safety is a concern, in other words, we need to know we are safe to rest and rejuvenate properly.

Autonomy and Control

We all have the need to be in the driver seat of our own life. Have you ever been a passenger in a car and scared that you might not walk away from that ride alive?  Or maybe you have been in a position where you felt like your body was letting you down, or that something you desperately needed wasn’t even an option?  

If you can relate to any of these experiences, you may also be familiar with the resulting anxiety that often surfaces. This anxiety is a direct product of a lack of control you are experiencing (See The Anxiety Solution).

Did you know that some of the best authors will listen to the same song on repeat because it isn’t as distracting as a dynamic playlist. There is control and safety in predictability. 

When a person becomes obsessed with this control it can lead to the classic “control freak” personality. Another way to think of that person would be as a “control addict.”  Isn’t it interesting how these two connotations of “control” can shift our perceptions and judgements?

We all need to experience autonomy while also learning how to create a nourishing balance of control. 

Many of us know how to parent our children but do we know how to parent ourselves?  That can be an interesting question to ponder and, if you do know how to do this, do you have the resources and willpower to make the “right” decision?  Which might lead you to ask, is there a “right” decision? 

Being Needed by Others

Imagine you could rewind time back to when humans did not have homes and structures to provide protection from predators. In this lifestyle, the only way to survive would have been to band together. In fact, if you were ostracized, this was ultimately a death sentence.

Humans were most commonly hunted and killed by jaguars and other large felines. When you study human evolution, it is common to find the distinctive puncture wounds from the jaguar teeth in the human skull of a long passed ancestor. 

Ivan Tyrrell often tells a story of the child that is being left out on the playground. Parents will often notice this and pull their children aside advising that they include this child. Why are we driven to do this?  Is it because we are afraid the child will be eaten by a jaguar? No, of course not. However, it does actually trigger that biological response mechanism of survival. 

When we are deprived of social connection we automatically start running the “I might get eaten by a predator program.”  So, if you were ever that child alone on the playground, now you know why it feels so horrible to be left excluded and how this basic human need evolved. 

Having Intimate Connections (and Wider Social Connections)

Everyone needs a close friend or partner that knows the unfiltered version of you AND accepts you that way. That would be a (non-sexual) example of intimacy, but you can also use your imagination to picture examples of human sexual intimacy.

Wider social connections are found in many communities. One of our most enriching examples would be MMHA Engage community. People from around the world come together with inspired curiosity, a wealth of resources, and a sense of honor in supporting each other through the adventures of life.

Covid restrictions have made it a bit more challenging to meet this need. But don’t forget - online communities are a great option. Even if you have never done it before, you could give it a go. 

If you think this human need isn’t being met for you, just go to a facebook group and start reading posts with the goal of commenting on at least seven posts. Pretend these people are your very best and dearest friends.

Trust me, they won’t find it strange, and they will appreciate you for making a connection. You, and the recipient of your comment, will both benefit. That creates at least two smiles and helps achieve mental wellness. 


We need to know that we have a purpose. We need our purpose to be valued and respected by others. A great example of status would be a school where the cleaner is a full member of the community. The students would say “hi” to them in the hallway and the administration would seek out their opinion in creating new policies that influence school cleanliness. 

The opposite would be a school where students walk right past the custodian, leaving trash everywhere without a thought. The administrators may not even know  (or be able to pronounce) the custodian’s name.  Ouch!  That doesn’t feel good for the custodian.

Which one of these examples seems more familiar and common?  Next time you are in a community and see this behavior in practice, will you act to change it?  Will you realize the power you now have grounded in the knowledge that there is an overlooked human need that could be met if you spoke up?  Do you take responsibility in building a healthier society?  Will you be more tempted to speak up knowing that Ivan Tyrrell says, “You can treat anxiety and depression with status"?

Giving and Receiving Attention

We all need to feel there is a reason to get up in the morning. Most people meet this need by raising a family, teaching, doing social work, caring for a pet, or through a business/organization that serves the community. 

Have you ever helped someone learn how to use their mind well?  Have you ever been the voice that is speaking up to enforce a community of decency and trust?  Have you ever been on the receiving end of a situation where you thought all was lost and a stranger stepped in to solve all of your problems? 

Have you ever listened with the sole purpose of understanding?  Have you ever given away a valuable resource without anticipating anything in return?  Have you ever spent all day cooking as a volunteer serving strangers meals in your community?  Have you ever been complimented in front of an audience?  All of these examples can be incredibly empowering.

We need (and enjoy) feeling connected to something larger than ourselves 

The Human Givens model provides a systematic assessment for determining which Human Givens innate need a person may be missing. 

This post only scratched the surface of the value that can be gained from understanding the practical application of this highly successful therapy. If you want to learn more, check out this book Mike recommends:  Human Givens : A New Approach to Emotional Health and Clear Thinking

And if you are looking to find a community where you will be valued and have plenty of opportunities to add value, get to know us on YouTube or by listening to our BrainSoftware Podcast. We can’t wait to get to know you!