Are you more oriented to remove pain or relieve pain?
Everyone deals with their painful needs in a particularly oriented way. How are you oriented?
Anakelogy (the study of need) offers insight into how problems easily creep into our lives. We each develop our own style of experiencing needs. One such style is how we orient ourselves to the discomfort which naturally comes along with unresolved needs.
According to anakelogy’s easement orientation, we either face life’s discomfort to resolve our needs or we avoid discomfort, letting the need persist. This falls into four overlapping modes.
relieve-over-resolve – relief from pain prioritized over resolving the underlying needs
relieve-as-resolve – relief from pain pursued as the underlying needs get resolved
resolve-over-relieve – resolving needs prioritized over relieving their reporting pain
resolve-as-relieve – resolving needs at pace with their subsiding reporting pain
Resolving painful needs require access to resources not always available. To ease the pain, we often seek a substitute. Something satisfying enough to take our minds off of our trouble. Throwing down some candy bars can take our mind off our hunger.
Where resources remain scarce, we adjust. We get used to getting by on substitutes. Maybe a pointless job is all you can find. We get used to holding down some dull pain in the background—those unresolved needs thrown on the backburners, insisting on some attention.
Unfortunately, many of us get stuck here. Stuck with a meaningless job. Stuck at odds with others who aren’t really so opposed to us. The underlying needs persist unresolved. Our overall functioning suffers. Unless somehow what’s necessary to resolve our needs eventually comes our way.
When the necessary resource sits almost within reach, a substitute may alleviate pressure with its provisional relief. You gulp down your coffee now, but within the hour you make time for a full healthy breakfast.
Sometimes the pain gets partially relieved from an insufficient amount of an essential resource. You force yourself to get along with your obnoxious neighbor of another ethnicity, for example, then slowly realize you’ve misperceived their behavior as you get to know their culture better.
Taking sides on some issue almost always points to this relieve-as-resolve orientation. If opposed to capitalism, you seek relief from economic unfairness you link back to problems with capitalism. If opposed to socialism, you seek relief from economic unfairness you link back to problems with socialism.
Such sweeping generalizations typically provide relief. Whether they lead to resolving needs or not depends on using such generalizations as a stepping stone toward engaging specifics on all sides, or letting generalizations becomes stumbling blocks—relieve-over-resolve.
The exact opposite orientation seeks to fully resolve a painful need while enduring its discomfort. You pass on junk food as you patiently wait, with your growling tummy, for a healthy meal. You listen intently to another give you an earful, to be sure their needs get resolved on par with your own.
Instead of shrinking away from pain, you tend to embrace sharp pain. You let such pain inform you of trouble to be solved. You promptly resolve those needs, to get back to optimal functioning. You don’t wait till you feel overwhelmed by anxiety, you start handling what you can to maintain your wellbeing.
You frequently avoid stimulation of needs you have insufficient access to resources for resolving. You avoid spending beyond your means, literally and figuratively. You keep your life focused on moving toward your goals, allowing little to no time wasted on nonessentials.
Promptly resolving needs vastly improved individual and shared functionality. You can do much more when not continually distracted by the dull grind of unmet needs, continually yanking at your overloaded mind.
Indigenous cultures reinforced the value of endured discomfort to promptly resolve needs. Earning the tribe’s trust depended on it. My Oneida ancestors captured by enemy tribes, and slowly tortured to death, were expected to never cry out—lest they give the impression the remaining tribe members were easy pickings. Always oriented to embrace pain as nature’s messenger of trouble meant the whole tribe kept themselves more optimally functional.
Promptly resolving a need doesn’t always promptly remove the pain. If discomfort climbs to intolerable levels, you may slow down resolving a need as you wait for that pain to subside.
You understandably find it difficult to focus if overwhelmed by anxiety when starting a new job in a new environment away from your social supports. At least you don’t shy away from discomfort. You keep aim. You eventually resolve those needs, to eventually remove all pain, to get back to full functioning.
You likely endure many needs that have not yet fully resolved, perhaps from lack of accessible resources. You find yourself relying on some substitutes, but at least you realize these are only there for provisional relief. You have no intention of getting stuck with them.
The key difference with this orientation and the previous one is the importance to find relief. You stay true to resolving needs. But can’t prioritize resolving needs if their discomfort keeps you from focusing on much else. So you make sure your effort to relieve your pain aligns as much as possible with ultimately resolving those painful needs, to ultimately remove that pain.
Your "easement orientation"
Your easement orientation could be quite fluid, or not.
You may weave in and out of these modes like a fish through water.
Or find yourself settling into one of these more than the other.
Or one becomes so dominate that you essentially orient yourself firmly to all discomfort, and to all your needs, from that mode’s perspective.
Modern life has a way of pulling us all away from fully resolving our needs, and toward merely easing its pain. Substitutes abound. Provisional relief loses its “temporary” status when access to need-resolving resources gets repeatedly denied.
The entrepreneur leans on their ability to negotiate onerous regulations to maintain incentive to create marketable solutions. These regulations serve some interest, rarely with any feedback in place to ensure needs on all sides get duly resolved.
The systemically underemployed leans on social supports for basic resources denied because of barriers to meaningful employment. These social supports often get characterized as temporary relief, rarely with accountability for resolving the needs of the underemployed.
Own it, or get owned
We develop much of our sociocultural norms around this substitutional approach. We expect others to get by with whatever proves available. Relieve-over-resolve fit right in. Resolve-over-relieve seem weird.
We pay a high price for our conveniences. The low rates of fully resolving needs likely correlates with high rates of anxiety, depression, mental health deficits, addictions of all kinds, suicide ideation, and deaths of despair.
How are you oriented? What are your options now? To mostly relieve the pain of your anxiety and depression, and take life as it hits you? Or are you geared to hit life back, to turn such sorrows into joy?
The less supported by others, the easier you get owned by life. The more supported by others, the easier you own your life. May we all find the latter, and live up to our full potential. One pain-embracing need-resolving life-loving step at a time.
Steph Turner is the founder of Value Relating, offering a viable alternative to stigmatizing psychotherapy, by inviting clients to speak their truth to power.