Thought Mine #14: Confusing needs with wants

Each Thought Mine is followed by a definition and a list of examples. Please note that the following examples are representative statements. The same sentence may represent numerous Thought Mines. I list examples mainly to give you a starting point. Often individuals blend two or three “favorite” Thought Mines together into their own type of social misreading.


Thought Mine #14: Confusing needs with wants


Believing that you need someone or something when it is actually just a want.

Negative self-talk example:

“If I don’t get a car, I will never get a date.”

Couple example:

“If you loved me, you’d get me that necklace.” (Proof of love is a want.)

“If we have a baby, we’ll start acting like a family.”

Teen example:

“If I had more friends, I’d be happy.”

Work/school example:

“I have to see that show tonight! Everyone will be talking about it in school tomorrow.”


Often, we distract ourselves by escalating a want to a need. People need things like: water, food, clothing, housing, and safety. People also want lots of stuff like: particular cars, particular clothing, particular friends, particular jobs, and more money.

Needs tend to meet one’s health and safety requirements. Wants are everything else. If we confuse the two, we are constantly in a state of emotional turmoil trying to get our wants met. Often wants are situational in nature.

Tiffy was an overly indulged teen of 17. She did not like the word “no” almost as much as her parents didn’t want to say “no” to her. Tiffy’s father told me that he didn’t have much growing up, and he wanted better for his princes. Tiffy’s mom told me, “Tiffy was a miracle baby, it took me six years to get pregnant. We almost lost her the first month. She was very frail and so small. She was a miracle baby, you know.”

When I asked the parents about Tiffy, Mom said, “She is a very needy child. She doesn’t like being alone. She, I suppose, is somewhat indulged. But, she hardly causes any trouble. She is a good kid.”

Her father said, “Tiffy has us wrapped around her little finger. Her mother spoils her rotten. She feels guilty that we both work too much. But we do it for her. She’s a good kid, but only if she gets what she wants.”

I gave you this background so I could tell you about a discussion I had with Tiffy during a family therapy session.


Dr. Phil: Tiffy, you keep saying that your parents don’t understand you. Can you give an example?

Tiffy: Sure can, just last night Mom got all upset with me that I didn’t like a sweater she bought me. It was hideous.  Green!

Dr. Phil: The green hideous sweeter was a problem because?

Tiffy: I told Mom that I need a green sweater.

Dr. Phil: You needed it for?

Tiffy: Saturday’s party. I would die if I had to wear that sweater. I don’t understand why she would buy that sweater for me! It was the wrong green!

Dr. Phil: You would ‘Die’?

Tiffy: Well not really, but you know. I couldn’t be seen dead in that sweater.


Tiffy was this dramatic about most things in her life. By making almost everything a need she was constantly in crisis mode. This family revolved around this crisis mode to Tiffy’s detriment.

You may need a sweater to stay warm, but you do not need any particular color or style to survive. Style is a want. In Tiff’s case, when we got down to brass tacks, she didn’t like the store where mom bought the sweater.

More: Understanding Thought Mines

Thought Mines are social misreadings that get in the way of communicating clearly. They are thought stumbling blocks that allow us to misread, and often misjudge, the intention of others. By misreading others intentions, we can often get sidetracked from getting our needs met.


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