WAPLT? Pain and Pleasure

In this post, I discuss Millon’s model of the pleasure-pain polarity and its two strategies of attraction to pleasure and repulsion from pain, which indicate enhancement and destruction. The author explains that to achieve the aim of preserving and enhancing life, two intertwined strategies are required. The first strategy is to enhance life, while the second strategy is to preserve life. Both strategies require a balance between pleasure-seeking and pain-avoidance. The way Millon puts it may be a bit opaque:

“Existence reflects a to-be or not-to-be issue. In the inorganic world, ‘‘to be’’ is essentially a matter of possessing qualities that distinguish a phenomenon from its surrounding field; that is, not being in a state of entropy. Among organic beings, to be is a matter of possessing the properties of life as well as being located in ecosystems that facilitate the enhancement and preservation of that life. In the phenomenological or experiential world of sentient organisms, events that extend life and preserve it correspond. largely to metaphorical terms such as pleasure and pain, that is, recognizing and pursuing positive sensations and emotions, on the one hand, and recognizing and eschewing negative sensations and emotions, on the other.” (50) 

Millon describes normality as a synchronous and coordinated personal style balancing pain-avoidance and pleasure-seeking. However, personalities can deviate from this normality, leading to pathological consequences. For example, personalities we’ll label avoidant tend to have an excessive preoccupation with threats to their psychic security, while antisocial personalities tend to have a risk-taking attitude.

He also describes the importance of the pleasure-pain polarity in fostering and enriching life, asserting that existence/survival calls for more than just life preservation alone. However, personalities labeled as schizoid and avoidant tend to experience hedonic deficiency due to their inherent deficit in affective substrates, or their intense attentional sensitivity to psychic pain.

In summary, the pleasure-pain polarity plays a crucial role in enhancing and preserving life. A synchronous and coordinated personal style is required to balance pain-avoidance and pleasure-seeking, and failure to attend to this polarity can lead to pathological consequences.

Normal personalities balance between avoiding pain and seeking pleasure. While it may seem obvious to base a criterion on pain avoidance, the ongoing debate is whether mental health reflects the absence of mental disorders. Defining health solely as the absence of disorder is not sufficient, although it is an essential foundation on which other positively constructed criteria can be based. The lack of anxiety and depression, as well as an aversion to threats to safety and security, are significant features of behavior and experience that signify normality. However, a positive account of normality must go beyond the absence of abnormality. Normality, from a definitional point of view, does exclude non-normality. To illustrate variations on pain polarity, we can consider avoidant personalities, who exhibit an excessive preoccupation with threats to their psychic security and disengage from everyday relationships and pleasures due to their hyper-alertness to potential rejection. On the other hand, we can see a risk-taking attitude in antisocial personalities. They display little caution and prudence, which are typically expected in normal individuals who avoid danger and threat. Instead, we observe the opposite: a rash willingness to put one’s safety in jeopardy, throwing caution to the wind. (50-51)

Next we turn to pain’s co-polarity, pleasure: On this end of the spectrum of attitudes and behaviors is a focus on enhancing and enriching life by generating positive experiences such as joy, pleasure, and contentment. This polarity acknowledges that preserving life alone through pain avoidance is not enough, and that pleasure enhancement is also necessary for survival. Neglecting this polarity can lead to pathological consequences, which are evident in personality disorders such as schizoid and avoidant. Schizoid personalities often have a deficiency in experiencing pleasure due to an inherent affective deficit or a lack of exposure to stimulating experiences. Avoidant personalities, on the other hand, are hypersensitive to psychic pain due to either innate sensitivities or abusive life experiences, which makes it difficult for them to trust the authenticity or permanence of pleasurable experiences. As a result, these individuals tend to be withdrawn, joyless, and isolated, and they may not seek or share in the rewards of life. (50)

Due to their fundamental nature, it is conceivable to envision the polarity between pleasure and pain in any form of life. Moreover, it is possible to conceive of the diverse possibilities of the degree of pleasure or pain that an individual can experience and actually feel simultaneously. Typically, individuals experience a moderate level of susceptibility to pleasure and pain. However, some individuals are able to live with a minimum amount of pain, while unfortunately, others suffer from significant pain. Individuals may experience pain and pleasure in alternating waves, or experience one or the other, or neither. Certain aspects of the personality space can be defined solely by the degree of the pleasure-pain polarity setting. Feeling excessive or insufficient amounts of pain or pleasure can lead to significant issues in one’s life, as can experiencing pleasure or pain in response to inappropriate stimuli.

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9 responses to “WAPLT? Pain and Pleasure”

  1. […] and strong intensity in the other/nurturing polarity. The figure also highlights the emphasis on preservation over enhancement, suggesting that RCC compulsives prioritize protecting themselves against potential harm and […]


  2. […] thoughts, and feelings from one moment to the next. This process brings little joy, as fear and self-preservation dominate their experience. Regardless of which direction they take, there are always uncomfortable […]


  3. […] major pathological component is the reversal between the pain and pleasure segments of the first bipolarity. This means that the individual has learned to prefer pain over […]


  4. […] ADS sadistic, and AAM masochistic personalities. These personalities experience both ends of the pain-pleasure and the self-other polarities, which sets them apart from emotionally extreme and interpersonally […]


  5. […] The AAS spectrum is a classification that includes individuals with deficiencies in both pain and pleasure polarity objectives, meaning they lack the ability to experience events as painful or pleasurable. Two […]


  6. […] interesting possibility on the pleasure-pain spectra is the coexistence of a reduced ability to experience pleasure and an increased sensitivity […]


  7. […] going well. According to the Darwinian evolutionary model, these individuals are oriented to the pain polarity and tend to behave in a passive, giving-up manner. As with the others, the spectrum has […]


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