For many years, it seemed self-evident that there was something wrong with me. That basic sense – that I was too much or too little, off-centre or not quite right in both definable and indefinable ways – permeated most of my experience. What else could explain the conflict, pain, and discomfort that inevitably arose in my relationships?
After yet another scene – tears, shouting, bewilderment – with my then-boyfriend, I described the pattern:
“When the anger comes at me from someone, from somewhere else, at first I’m there, holding, defending, blocking. Then I crumble, and it starts: I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry. It’s all my fault. It would’ve all been alright if I hadn’t done, or said, or been. Very soon, I’m not in myself at all. I’m somewhere else, a small, small girl, trying so, so hard to be good and not be a problem. I apologise for myself and deny myself and lie about myself and betray myself. If you’re right (which you always are, or at least you say you are) then I can be nothing but wrong. And so, some small-ish human mistake, a frailty, some misconceived, insensitive, unthinking act of no particular consequence becomes an enormous wrongdoing, a hideous, heinous crime; suddenly, the whole situation has taken on entirely delusionary proportions because I’m apologising for my existence whilst simultaneously knowing that what’s happened between us is, actually, just a part of being alive.”
Despite the sense that there was something illusionary playing out, such occasions seemed to provide all the evidence required that there was, indeed, something wrong with me. Like many of us, I tried hard to make myself better – therapy, remedies, meditation. New ideas and approaches brought new dawns, followed by the inevitable disappointment that, despite my efforts, I seemed to remain stubbornly...me.
Our stories of deficiency appear to be absolutely real. Thoughts, emotions, and sensations create compelling experiences, the validity of which seems certain. We believe that there is something wrong with us, because our thoughts and emotions tell us so. And we are always able to back up our claims of inadequacy: Of course I’m a failure. That’s why I didn’t get the job. If I was really okay, I’d be in a long-term relationship by now. We view the situations and people we encounter through the lens of our own story of deficiency, comparing, contrasting, coming up short.
Of course, there may also be times when we believe that we’re better than others. The inner story of deficiency may be so painful that we develop a compensatory persona, projecting the unwanted qualities outwards. I’m the strong one – it’s him that’s weak. If only other people lived like we do, the world would be a better place. It takes effort to keep up the pretence, and we find ourselves easily defensive, shoring up our identities against attack.
Eventually, exhausted, we may find ourselves incapable of continuing to hold the line. We begin to investigate the truth of what we’ve believed for so long, and start to question the basic assumptions that have underpinned our stories of deficiency. That there is a solid, separate me. That there is something wrong with me. That steps need to be taken to improve me. That there is a destination I need to reach, in order for me to be okay.
Through the process of inquiring into what we’ve believed ourselves to be, we discover that we are not who we thought we were. True inquiry allows us to see through the identities and beliefs that we’ve clung to for so long. We realise that what previously seemed solid and fixed is, in fact, a mere chimera. And as we see that the story of deficiency is just that – a story – our hearts inevitably begin to break open.
Out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing, there’s a field
I will meet you there.