If you’re my client, you definitely know that I am a huge fan of Tara Brach and have most likely urged you to read her books, listen to her podcast and practise the life-changing RAIN meditation.
In this article, I want to introduce you to a concept she calls “the Trance of Unworthiness” which I believe nearly all of my clients struggle with (as do I). Most of us walk around never measuring up to the ideals we believe we should attain. For example, we’re not smart, thin, funny, successful, spiritual …ENOUGH (fill in the blank if I missed yours).
In short, we are never ‘enough’ to pass our own self-critic’s harsh inspection. In fact, for many of us this is our #1 core belief about ourselves:
I am not enough.
From my vantage point, I know in my bones that what the person opposite believes to be true about themselves is a flat-out lie. Try as I might, telling them that this couldn’t be further from the truth rarely, if ever, helps them change their mind.
What does work is to become intensely curious about why they would have formed this belief in the first place, list all of the reasons it clearly isn’t true, and help them to be more compassionate towards themselves in future.
I borrow a lot of the self-compassion techniques from Buddhism. In this vein, I’d like to share with you some excerpts from a wonderful article written by Tara Brach called Waking Up from the Trance of Unworthiness:
Our most fundamental sense of well-being is derived from the conscious experience of belonging. Relatedness is essential to survival. When we feel part of the whole, connected to our bodies, each other, and the living Earth, there is a sense of inherent rightness, of being wakeful and in love. The experience of universal belonging is at the heart of all mystical traditions. In realizing non-separation, we come home to our primordial and true nature.
The Buddha taught that suffering arises out of feeling separate. To the degree that we identify as a separate self, we have the feeling that something is wrong, something is missing. We want life to be different from the way it is. An acute sense of separation—living inside of a contracted and isolated self—amplifies feelings of vulnerability and fear, grasping and aversion. Feeling separate is an existential trance in which we have forgotten the wholeness of our being.
For a child to feel belonging, he or she needs to feel understood and loved. We each feel a fundamental sense of connectedness when we are seen and when what is seen is held in love. We habitually relate to our inner life in the same way that others attended to us. When our parents (and the larger culture) don’t respond to our fears, are too preoccupied to really listen to our needs or send messages that we are falling short, we then adopt similar ways of relating to our own being. We disconnect and banish parts of our inner life.
Fear of being “not good enough”
Both our upbringing and our culture provide the immediate breeding ground for this contemporary epidemic of feeling deficient and unworthy. Many of us have grown up with parents who gave us messages about where we fell short and how we should be different from the way we are. We were told to be special, to look a certain way, to act a certain way, to work harder, to win, to succeed, to make a difference, and not to be too demanding, shy or loud.
Feeling “not good enough” is that often unseen engine that drives our daily behavior and life choices. Fear of failure and rejection feeds addictive behavior. We become trapped in workaholism—an endless striving to accomplish—and we overconsume to numb the persistent presence of fear.
In the most fundamental way, the fear of deficiency prevents us from being intimate or at ease anywhere. Failure could be around any corner, so it is hard to lay down our hypervigilance and relax. Whether we fear being exposed as defective either to ourselves or to others, we carry the sense that if they knew . . . , they wouldn’t love us.
If I pause in the midst of feeling even mildly anxious or depressed and ask, “What am I believing?” I usually discover an assumption that I am falling short or about to fail in some way. The emotions around this belief become more conscious as I further inquire, “What wants attention or acceptance in this moment?”
Frequently I find contractions of fear under the story of insufficiency. I find that the trance is sustained only when I reject or resist experience. As I recognize the mental story and open directly to the bodily sense of fear, the trance of unworthiness begins to dissolve.
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