Your feelings linger, but why for so long? Here’s why.
Your needs resolve instantly or they linger. Emotions convey this duration.
Besides direction, focus and intensity level, emotions convey the duration of your needs. The more promptly your needs resolve, the quicker the feeling goes away. The longer it takes for your needs to fully resolve, the more they linger.
Your need duration cycle
It’s basically a dance between what you do about your need, and then getting the consequence of your actions. Nature-based anakelogy offers a cyclic way to understand this need-duration dynamic.
report – involuntary stimuli, sensation triggering need
react – volitional action prioritizing personal self-continuance
respond – volitional action prioritizing prosocial responsibilities
result – involuntary stimuli, consequential cues shaping perceptions
Something seems amiss. It’s just outside your attention. It’s still “prefocal.” Your body reports some action might soon be necessary.
You vaguely realize feeling thirsty. You subconsciously consider if something to drink is in reach. Maybe the feeling will pass. Perhaps it’s just a false alarm. You continue what you were doing.
You sense some trouble when trying to buy something to drink. Your debit card won’t process as quickly as usual. Is it you, or them? You’re aware this calls for your attention, but not yet for what specifically. Or for how long.
Meanwhile, you feel some preliminary irritation. This annoyance reports the presence of something unacceptable, before any certainty on what should be removed. Or how.
At this point, it all seems so ambiguous. It may simply go away. It could resolve on its own, without your full attention or doing anything about it. Or, more likely, this could take a while.
Once convinced your need is real, your body automatically switches on its readiness to do something about it. Even before you’re fully aware of it. Your survival might depend upon an instant reaction.
Some object hurdling at your face requires no reflection on what to do about it. Duck! As soon as your hand brushes up against your hot stove, your hand practically jerks back without conscious decision.
Emotions typically come packed with something ready to do about the triggered need. The more alarming or urgent the sensed need, the less time afforded to consider options. So you act now, ask questions later.
When danger overwhelms, your body routinely overrules caution. Your body automatically knows it’s better to risk overreacting to danger than to risk underreacting to life-ending threats.
Of course, such reactions can spill into unfriendly behaviors. We like to think of ourselves as appropriately social, censoring our socially inappropriate reactions. Survival has other priorities.
If for not this automatic reaction mechanism, you wouldn’t have a self for long to interact with others. Dead people don’t have social lives. Your body defends this truism: survival trumps careful responding.
When your survival isn’t threatened, you get more time to consider options. The duration of your emotion stretches long enough to find an optimal response to the situation.
You stomach growls, but you know you won’t starve anytime soon. You pause to reflect. You say “no” to that tempting junk food. You drink a full glass of water to fill your stomach till meal time.
Novel situations particularly demand reflection. You could easily make a costly mistake. So you think twice before doing what you habitually do in such circumstances. Your give a measured response.
Far from home, you hear others saying something you find offensive. You realize you’re from a different cultural background, and you’re likely misinterpreting their intent. You avoid conflict.
The more space allowed to focus on a response, the more prone to apply whatever conventional rules seem best to apply. Or what you routinely apply, especially where reinforced by others you care most about.
Good social relations help you focus more on better options. They can do what you can’t do for yourself. You can count on them to respond to triggered needs to improve desired results.
Your behavior creates consequences. For you and typically for others as well. Whether you reacted sharply or responded carefully to your latest triggered need, you naturally seek to know the results of your actions.
Your capacity to function occurs in an open system, with feedback loops. Did your actions help resolve the need? Or merely put it on hold? Or worse, increased your pain?
Did quenching your thirst with coffee take that need completely off your mind? Or are you now sipping at that mug all day? Does all that coffee have anything to do with that headache you’re starting to feel?
If your needs fully “defocal” to a “nonfocal” state, your pain turns to relief. Your desire turns to pleasure. Too often, the results are less stellar.
Much of your modern life abounds with merely adequate results. Don’t they? Or worse, adequate results slip into disappointing results.
Worse still, poor results tend to distort your perceptions when these needs get triggered again. Your thirst reports a different routine. Sensing financial troubles reports a likely more painful scenario.
In short, your needs endure for longer and longer durations. Do your actions resolve those needs, and result in greater functioning? Or merely relieve your discomfort, diminishing your full potential?
Your need duration array
Each result shapes your interpretations for sensations that follow. Results “report” the status of the need. You perceive recurring needs through this filter of resulting experience.
Did your hunger fully resolve? Or only partially resolve? Not at all? Despite stuffing down some chocolate treats, do you find yourself obsessing about food all day?
Some of this is quite modest, easily overlooked. Others delve into debilitating trauma. Let’s look at an array of consequential results.
A) Pain relieves (kept aware)
Reactions restoring you to optimal balance create good habits. So keep reacting to your thirst with a mindless gulp of water.
Reactions formed from not accessing due resources undercuts your full functionality. Trying to quench your thirst all day with hard alcohol does not bring you back to your full potential.
Substitutes relieve your pain. But since the need persists, your pain persists—albeit at a more tolerable level. You can focus more on other things, but your full potential gets taxed.
Your unmet need’s duration only goes down in intensity. It may linger indefinitely, or eventually resolve. Only by fully resolving needs can you fully remove the pain.
B) Pain builds (aware to alert)
You constantly feel hungry. You habitually react by soothing it with more junk food. The hunger returns, long before your next meal time. You likely don’t even think about it much, as you see others stuck in this same trap.
Perhaps you find relief with similar others. Generalizing with them offers you shared relief. “It’s us against the world.” It’s cut and dried for you. Very black and white. Relief depends on it.
You can’t afford to focus on disconfirming specifics. Not while generalizing in such pain. You find it almost impossible to respect other’s needs. You’re too busy chasing your own.
Your painfully unmet need’s duration goes on indefinitely. What if it remains intense, albeit at a manageable level? What if your pain never goes away?
C) Pain distorts (alert to alarm)
What if you’re still in pain when a need recurs? You’re already anxious about your job when receiving word its funding will be being cut. Your rent payment bounces, and then you’re told your monthly rent is going up another hundred dollars.
No one can function optimally if still in pain. Dysfunction sets in. You gradually adjust to being able to do less and less. You react more. You have fewer resources to reflective respond to each need.
You try offsetting your suffering by indulging in leaps of pleasure. That takes your mind off your troubles for a minute. Trouble quickly returns, since needs don’t resolve when shooting their messengers.
Unfortunately, you slide into a vicious cycle of worsening trouble. Your focus pulls more and more toward relief. You slip into normalizing this pathology, this pattern of enduring unresolved needs.
D) Restoring wellness (removing pain)
Resolving your needs removes your pain. That’s not always a simple matter, easily within your grasp. Many of your painful needs involves others.
Eating and drinking what your body requires removes that grinding hunger. Engaging others to hear what they specifically need, so they can specifically hear yours, removes the pain of alienation.
Resolved needs don’t report pain. You don’t normally feel hungry after eating a full meal. Only unresolved needs persist with pain. Resolved needs restore wellness.
What you can do for yourself, yes, do it. But your responsibility to yourself depends to some extend on other’s responsibilities to you. Whether reacting or responding resolves such needs.
Psychosociotherapy unpacks the many interpersonal needs fueling psychotherapy-resistant pathology. Power differentials impact the bulk of your needs. Wellness is psychosocial, not merely psychological.
The more needs you can identify, express and freely address with others, the less pain you must suffer. You’re most likely to move from severe pain to moderate pain as you find better ways to face and deal with these painful needs.
The quicker you can shift from a reactionary adversarial approach (geared more for relief) to a need-responsive conciliatory approach, the more pain you can feel removed. And the better you can fully function, to reach your full potential.
Steph Turner is the founder of anakelogy, the study of need. Also the founder of Value Relating to apply anakelogy to your painful needs, offering a viable alternative to stigmatizing psychotherapy, by inviting you to speak your truth to power.