If You Don’t Meet These Needs, You Will Never End the Drama

Years ago, my friend and colleague Erica Ariel Fox, gave a talk to a group of highly experienced mediators on the six needs of victims. This was a concept she had developed with Daniel Bowling, the former president of CPR and the current chief mediator for the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California. I have used this idea over and over again, developing it and expanding it in my mediation and peacemaking practice and in my trainings.

The first thing to remember is that whenever there is drama or conflict, every side feels victimized. Even in victim-offender mediations between criminal offenders and victims, both sides feel victimized. In divorces, both sides feel victimized by the other. In employment disputes, the employer feels just as victimized and outraged as the employee. This seems to be a universal phenomenon in conflict.

The second thing to remember is that if the needs of the victim (either side) are not met, there is no hope for resolution. Both sides have to have every need satisfied before the drama can end.

Thus, the great secret to ending drama is learning how to satisfy victim needs.

Here are the six needs with a brief explanation of each.


Vengeance is an anticipatory emotion related to the dopamine receptors in the brain. We get enormous pleasure imagining how good it will feel to hurt the other side. What is really going on is a huge dopamine release as we imagine retribution. We are motivated to take action to protect ourselves, which is a strong evolutionary advantage.

The problem is, our brains let us down in the end. There is no dopamine release when we are able to exact revenge on the evil-doer. Sure, victims will say a lot of platitudes. But if they are observed closely, they will reveal that they are depressed and feel betrayed because retribution did not give them the pleasure they imagined. This is because dopamine is not released during retribution.

As a side note, this quirky aspect of the human brain is, I believe, one of the foundational reasons for the mass incarceration movement of the 1980s and 1990s. Lawmakers, pushed by a society seeking vengeance against criminals (e.g. Three Strikes), steadily criminalized and punished. When there was no feeling of elation from imposing stricter punishments, the legislatures upped the punishment, make the lives of ex-felons who had served their time almost impossible to restart, and thumped themselves on their chests for being “tough on crime.” No one really felt better; they were just assuming that they didn’t punish hard enough. Punish harder and feel better. This policy has nearly bankrupted many states.


Vindication is the need to be right. Essentially, to be fulfilled, a victim must feel “I’m right and you are wrong.” By itself, it is a zero-sum condition. Unfortunately, there are very few disputes or arguments where one side has the clear moral standing to be declared right. As a result, both sides rationalize and justify their conduct (and the continuation of the drama) with the goal of seeking a feeling of vindication.


Validation is the need to be honored and respected as a human being. Victims suffer injustice, betrayal, loss of connection, loss of love, and loss of emotional attachment. Victims have a need to be loved, honored, and respected as good decent people. Victims often feel like they must have done something wrong, pissed off God, or are undeserving of being hugged. The need for validation is deep-seated.


Victims need to be heard. They need to tell their story and share their emotional experiences so that they have been deeply understood. Victims will continue to tell their stories, ad nauseam, until they finally have been heard. This need is the secret key to all of the other needs. If a victim can feel heard, all of the other needs will go away. I will reveal the secret to this in a few moments.


Our brains have systems call cognitive operators. These cognitive operators operate on the information received through our senses to organize it into meaningful stuff. For example, the binary operator is really good at sorting information as good-bad, up-down, hot-cold, left-right. As far as the binary operator is concerned, all data is divided into polarities. Another cognitive operator is the causal operator. This function is designed to create meaning so that our experience is not a jumble of unrelated thoughts. The causal operator attributes cause and effect on the flimsiest of evidence, which is how urban myths become so powerfully attractive. If it sounds plausible, it must be true. Victims have an over-active causal operator that is struggling to make sense of the drama or conflict. There must be a higher causal meaning to all of this. The need to create meaning is therefore an attempt to achieve a sense of transcendence over the drama, which soothes anxiety and restores order to the universe.


Safety is obvious. However, the need is as great for emotional safety as for physical safety. Plenty of drama arises in perfectly safe physical space, but is emotionally radioactive. Victims need emotional safety.

Here is the Golden Rule: You Can Only End The Drama If You Satisfy All Six Needs

I have not seen any exceptions to the rule. Of the thousands of mediations I have conducted, I have never seen resolution unless these needs are somehow met. Sometimes, victims have to rationalize that the needs have been met. Often, the stories are reconstructed to satisfy the needs. However, no conflict can end unless the six needs are met.

Great. So now what? That’s a lot to deal with.

Glad you asked. The secret weapon is deep, empathic listening. If you can learn to listen in this way, the need for vengeance magically disappears and the other five needs are met in spades.

Deep empathic listening requires that you ignore the words being spoken. You must listen for the core message of what is really being expressed. You must reflect the core message and the direct, immediate emotional experience back to the victim. This means no “I” statements (“What I hear you saying is x”) and no questions (“Are you angry?”). All that active listening stuff will not work to satisfy the six needs of victims.

Here’s an example out the training manual I am using to teach middle and high school teachers how to de-escalate an angry student in 90 seconds or less:


 “He kicked me out of his class because he doesn’t like me!

 You, as the listener:

 Reflect the Core Message:

 “You feel like you kicked out of class because Mr. Jones does not like you.”

 Reflect the Feelings:

 “You are angry, and you feel betrayed and disrespected. What you say and feel doesn’t matter to anyone.”

 This is so powerful, I created the It’s Pure Magic  online course to teach anyone interested how to listen.

Click here to learn more

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