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5-Step Cycle in Every Need We Experience

| #028 | THEORY > indigentology > emotions | 779 words |

Indigentology is about parsing needs. It suggests each need we can ever experience is a cyclic process, starting in a relative state of rest and returning to some state of rest.

focal cycle.png

Think about the last time you felt thirsty. Normally, you went through a process of realizing your thirst, acting upon that realization, and then feeling that thirst quenched before the whole issue drops off your radar.

Basically, this is the same simple process for every need we each will ever experience. It may help to break it down, to shed light on how this simple cycle impacts our lives.

1. Non-focal

Prior to feeling that thirst your body didn’t require any intake of fluids. During this phase the need remains latent; your body needs to take in water but just not now. So your attention is free to focus on other matters. As far as this need, it remains non-focal (nonfocal).

2. Pre-focal

As soon as the body’s fluid level drops below its optimal level, it triggers a general awareness that it may soon need some attention. During this phase the need ranks relatively low; other needs are likely being attended to that are relatively more urgent. Your attention is simply being alerted to what may be next. As for your need for water, it remains pre-focal (prefocal).

3. Focal

At some point the body’s request for restoring fluids becomes a priority. During this phase your attention is normatively consumed on relieving this need. Your attention is demanded, front and center, taking attention away from less urgent matters. As for your thirst, it becomes your prime focus (focal).

4. De-focal

After drinking enough water your attention to thirst naturally tends to wane. During this phase your attention shifts away from the triggered need, gradually freed up for other matters. As for your attention to the body’s search for water, at least until feeling dehydrated again, the need becomes deprioritized. It becomes de-focal (defocal).

5. Non-focal again

Once fully quenched the body’s ongoing need for water naturally drops away from your scope of awareness. During this phase your attention typically moves elsewhere. For now, this need is once again nonfocal.

Incompletely nonfocal

What if your body didn’t quite get the water it actually needed? Consider the experience when out biking on a hot day, and taking rationed sips from your water bottle. The feeling of thirst may never quite subside.

Normatively prefocal

Now apply this experience to some other need now lacking in resources. Perhaps you need your father’s affection but he has been emotionally unavailable for years. In the absence of adequate substitutes, such a need tends to continually knock on the door to compete for your attention.


Ideally, needs are fully resolved, permitting full attention to each one as they become focal. In reality, we often endure a mounting discomfort of poorly addressed needs. Some of us may be loaded down with more unmet needs than others. Some of us may have resigned to this rising level of discomfort, acclimated as our new normal.

Painfully focal

Where internal and external resources for relieving needs are lacking, life can fill up with a competing pile of attention grabbing desires. Functioning understandably becomes increasingly difficult. Attention tends to shift away from hopelessly resolving elusive needs, replaced with whatever can be done to relieve the suffering.

Quality of life becomes understandably compromised. Aspirations may take a back seat to merely coping. Pleasurable experiences are likely pursued to distract from the mounting pain. Often enough, this results in more pain, more attention consuming matters, with a vicious cycle of normalized despair. At least until the other shoe drops.

Proactively defocal

Eventually, crisis sets in. Powerlessness becomes overwhelming. Suicide may seem an option. A lifeline may be made available. Counseling can become an increasingly attractive way out. Counselors can help moderate this storm of competing needs, such as helping one to courageously attend to one relievable need at a time.

Counseling traditionally focused on propping up internal resources, as if the client’s problems resulted from the personal fault of their own character flaws. This stigmatizing notion is passé. Counselors increasingly seek to help clients connect with external resources, recognizing how necessary access to such resources is often beyond their personal control.

Nonfocal again

Indigentology looks at the interchange between internal and external resources, in the search for wellness. When you can be confident to focus on one problem at a time and actually do something about each one (internal resources) while confident that socially available resources are available to you (external resources), it is easier to envision a life of greater tranquility.

Indigentology provides that tool for your wellness toolbox. And much more.

Steph is a self-described transspirit, which is a kind of sacred misfit. By transcending conventional limits—gender norms, religious identities, political polarities, and more—Steph experiences a unique connection in life. And suspects others do as well. This blog shares that spirituality, and affirms others of a similar state of being.

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