Inquiring into our deficiency stories isn’t about navel-gazing, solipsism, or feeling better about ourselves. It has a real-world effect in our lives and on the people around us.
The belief that we’re deficient does violence to both ourselves and others. However that violence manifests – self-shaming or self-harming, addictions, belittling others, using knives or guns – it arises from the stories we have about ourselves and the world around us. Behind each and every act of violence, from the subtle to the outright horrific, lies an unexamined story of deficiency. I’m powerless or I’m threatened or I’m a victim or I’m superior/inferior; whatever the exact flavour of the story that’s running, it can only end badly, sometimes over and over again as we repeat the same patterns.
When our deficiency stories run unchecked or unnoticed, they colour our every interaction and every relationship. In fact, the deeper the story runs, the further its tentacles spread. The more separate and lacking the self feels, the more it projects itself into everything, and the more violent its actions become.
We see the end-point of this in states of mental illness – the paranoid schizophrenic who sees innocent passers-by as agents of the state, or the psychopath who is incapable of perceiving that others have a different set of opinions or emotions. I once knew a young woman who had been horrifically abused in childhood, and she not only dangerously and repeatedly self-harmed, but also believed that she was responsible for both world wars. The more painful the deficiency, the more skewed our boundaries become. Whilst most of us don’t fall into the extremes, we all experience the world through our own deficiency lenses.
It’s natural that our deficiency stories arise as they do in response to the circumstances of our early lives; we don’t have any control in their formation (we don’t need to feel deficient about having deficiency stories). The stories, painful in themselves, are paradoxically a way to attempt to avoid feeling our deepest pain, of keeping it safely encapsulated. In fact, the more painful the identity, the more self there seems to be; the denser and stickier the knot of thoughts and bodily feelings that seems to make up the self.
It’s as if the size of the self is in direct proportion to the pain contained therein. This mechanism of selfing to keep the pain at bay isn’t particularly efficient, and we find ourselves regularly triggered and acting out, harming ourselves or others in the process. Sometimes, the damage is minimal – some yelling perhaps, or a bout of overeating. At other times, the damage is much more substantial; we’re all aware of the many shades of violence that we humans collectively inflict on ourselves and the world around us.
So what happens when we inquire? Firstly, we get gut-level honest about what is actually happening. We stay with our immediate experience, and begin to notice what’s here – the various thoughts (words and mental images) and feelings (emotions, sensations and other bodily energies) that make up the particular deficiency story that we’re investigating.
We move from blaming others (outward pointing, as Scott calls it) to seeing that our perception is coloured by the belief that we’re unlovable, or unwanted, or worthless. This is not to say that we deny the pain that others have caused us, or that we blame ourselves in any way. Far from it. We meet the pain that’s bound up in the deficiency, and in doing so, the story begins to lose its sway. The more we connect with and integrate the pain, the less the deficiency story is required, so to speak. As we continue to look, we no longer identify as flawed, or damaged, or unsafe. Even more to the point, we’re freed of the burden of behaving as if we’re flawed, damaged, unsafe, or according to our particular brand of deficiency.
The changes that seeing through our deficiency stories brings about cannot be understated. Those acts of violence, large and small, to others and to ourselves, begin to wane. The endless self-criticism or self-shaming begins to quiet. The need for our loved ones (or anyone else, for that matter) to be different in some way lessens. When we no longer have a deficiency story to prove or deny, we can simply be ourselves, however we are in each moment. Without a deficiency story, the projections cease. The world – in all its manifestations – is free to be itself, and freed of the burden of meaning something to or about us.
Fiona Robertson is a Senior Facilitator/Trainer of the Living Inquiries, and the co-creator of the Anxiety Inquiry. She loves her work, and she also loves writing, music (she used to be a bass player) and dancing (in the kitchen, mostly). She intends to live in a house by the sea one day. You can find out more about the Living Inquiries here: www.beyondourbeliefs.org and you can read Fiona’s writings here: www.whilstwalkingjack.blogspot.com. Feel free to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org