Personal failure is difficult, so we usually don’t want to get involved with an activity where that is likely to occur. We especially want to avoid the feeling that we associate with an inadequate process or result; for example, speaking in front of a group of fellow professionals, parenting teenagers, or confronting a colleague or friend about something really upsetting. Nevertheless, working with the feeling of inadequacy and not necessarily the story behind it is a solid and proven way to resolve its power over us. To carry this out, we need to understand: (1) how to describe the feeling; (2) how we react to this sensation; (3) the harmful results of our reactions to it; (4) the method to effectively resolve the feeling; and (5) the benefits of its resolution.
Describing The Feeling of Inadequacy
Since we live in the world of conception, we label the feeling fear; in particular, fear of failure, not being good enough, inadequacy, or whatever else we can think of to name it. Also, instead of centering on the sensation, people generally jump straight to labels of fear: “I was so damned scared”. “I was petrified.” They really don’t take the time to examine the feeling and say, for instance: “I had such a strong sensation of something icy cold running through my veins that I couldn’t move. It stopped me in my tracks.”
So the truth is this: what we call fear is a feeling of sensation or sensations in our body. According to S.N. Goenka, whose work is well documented in a book called “The Art Of Living”, sensations arise anytime there is contact with an object through any one of the six doorways of consciousness: sight, hearing, taste, smell, feeling, and mind. They come to us in the form of heat, cold, heaviness, lightness, itching, throbbing, contraction, expansion, pressure, pain, tingling, pulsation, vibration, and more. These sensations are what we can use to develop experiential wisdom. They are essential for exploring truth to the depths, and in this case we’re speaking of the feeling of inadequacy.
To understand this kind of wisdom, we have to examine the sensation we personally experience with not being good enough, carefully and meticulously, before we can describe them. We do so by finding a quiet place, relaxing, remembering a small event in which we failed, focusing on the sensation that arises, staying with it, and observing it through all of its transitions and multiplicities. Those of us who have done this valuable work know there will be all kinds of sensations, and no matter what, maintaining our equanimity (emotional balance) is strategic; otherwise, it’s all too easy to be carried away by thoughts or emotions and wind up in a land of fantasy. Equanimity is the factor that keeps us balanced and aware. When we stop our observation of the sensations of inadequacy, we can describe them in detail as well as the places where they took us, e.g., originating events, story lines, unrealistic expectations. We begin to understand what is happening to us here and now.
How We React To The Feeling Of Inadequacy
Generally, as we observe the sensations we associate with being incapable, we notice that we may react fearfully at first; that is, with aversion, the desire to flee, not to want to look directly at what’s happening. Also, emotions such as anger, disappointment, or sadness arise so quickly that they cloud over the initial emotion of fear. Consequently, we may just conclude that we’re angry instead of scared.
We also see how numerous thoughts spring up out of the emotions and the way they can be transformed into false beliefs. These convictions can spawn and perpetuate the idea that we’re socially inept, personally unappealing, inferior to others, and never good enough for anybody.
The Results Of Our Reactions To The Feeling Of Inadequacy
If we do not begin to work on eradicating this sense of failure, our lives can be terribly unsatisfying on several levels.
For example, our relationship with self can be very disappointing. To avoid being viewed as inadequate, we may socially isolate ourselves. Being in such an untenable position is often filled with self-loathing, run away thinking, feeling sorry for oneself, or a constant search for “fix me” solutions. At worst, addiction and depression can arise and suicide may result. Secondly, when we’re with others but inside ourselves, we may react with sensitivity to negative evaluation, constantly compare our efforts to those of others, find it difficult to accept praise, work like a perfectionist, and be highly self-critical. Feeling powerless is also prominent.
Our personal relationships can also suffer. We may not be willing to involve ourselves with others unless we’re certain of being liked. If we’re with a group of people, we might be inclined to conform or succumb to peer pressure instead of stating our opinion. Relationships with our significant others often end in arguments, separation, and divorce. Parenting is particularly difficult, especially when children become teenagers.
At work our relationship with coworkers, professional colleagues, subordinates, superiors, and clients can also be affected by our feeling of inadequacy. Since we not only communicate verbally but also nonverbally, people soon become aware of our suffering. This creates difficulty because it erodes confidence. Consequently, we may experience the loss of clients, less than satisfying annual job evaluations, and perhaps even the cost of losing a promotion or job.
Of course, because students are constantly being evaluated not only by the school systems but also their peers, the feeling of inadequacy is always a factor. Nowadays, it’s been especially apparent because of face-to-face and online bullying. The results are so harmful that various students have committed suicide, suffered physical harm at the hands of bullies, or have carried the effects of this abuse into their adult lives where the name changes to workplace harassment.
Finally, relationships on the world stage can be affected by the perception of inadequacy; for example, what President Obama is experiencing at the hands of the opposite political party at this time. It is also perceived by many that the Russian president is taking advantage of U.S. unwillingness to “draw the line in the sand.” Because of the feeling of inadequacy, people all over the world are having a less than satisfactory life, i.e., crises, wars, social ostracism and much more.
Resolving The Feeling Of Inadequacy
While the typical treatment for the fear of inadequacy is social skills training, cognitive therapy, exposure treatment to gradually increase social contacts, group therapy for practicing social skills, and sometimes drug therapy, the mindfulness work many of us have done is quite different. It centers on concentration, awareness, equanimity, compassion and the development of experiential wisdom. It’s not radical in that it’s a gradual process combining concentrated effort in a quiet environment and, subsequently, bringing that ability with us to normal every day activities. It helps us to express and embrace who we already are rather than construct some identity for ourselves that may not be authentic.
General (working from the easy to the difficult)
The idea of this practice is to get a view of as many incidents in our lives as possible where we’ve had the experience of feeling inadequate for whatever we were confronting or trying to do. It might even be appropriate to make a list of them. Then we begin with what we would call small events, the ones that do not hold emotional charges so powerful, i.e., emotional child abuse, that we would lose our focus.
Here is the procedure:
a. Dedicate an area where you won’t be interrupted. If at all possible, it should be a place that won’t be used for anything else. Of course, your home is preferable, but other place can be used.
b. Put a straight back chair in that space at practice time.
c. Make sure the area is comfortable, and wear loose clothing.
d. Sit down and place your hands on your lap with your feet flat on the floor.
e. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Follow your breath as you inhale and exhale. If thoughts come up, just let them go as you continue to focus on your breath—this is the first step in developing equanimity (balance), awareness and concentration.
f. Continue to focus on your breathing until you feel relaxation beginning to set in. (No sleeping, stay aware.)
g. As you continue to breath, place your focus on the center of your right or left hand.
h. As you maintain your focus there, notice that you begin to feel a sensation in the center of your hand.
i. When you feel the sensation, which is usually a neutral feeling because there is no liking or disliking, just keep your focus on that experience for about a minute.
j. Then return your focus to your breathing for about 15 seconds.
k. Next, return your focus to the center of the hand you were using. You should feel the sensation again and know that you’re not producing the feeling, for you simply notice a sensation where you place your attention.
l. Now return your focus to your breathing for about 15 seconds.
m. As you continue to breath, recall an event in your life where you felt inadequate for what you were trying to accomplish.
n. Keep your focus on your breath as the memory of this event may arise in your mind in the form of an emotion, a thought, an image, a sound, whatever it is.
o. Locate the sensation in your body that accompanies this memory. It may be a feeling of heaviness, lightness, tingling, vibration, hardness, coldness, whatever it may be.
p. As the sensation arises, let it become your focus. Observe the feeling(s) with a mind of curiosity; for example, “Let’s see how long you last!” Do not purposefully label (name) what you’re experiencing. And do not react with aversion, just maintain your equanimity (balance).
q. If the event should become major, do not brace yourself and try to hang in there—simply go to another event that is not as emotionally charged. This work is like building a muscle.
r. Stay with the sensation until it dissolves into neutrality. If you should lose focus during this practice, simply recall the event and return your concentration to the sensation.
s. Recall the event again, and observe the sensation until it dissolves. When there is only neutrality in the sensation as you recall the event, then you are ready to move on.
t. Now you can either recall another event, stop your practice session, or do affirmations as given in the example below before stopping this work for the day or evening.
u. It is important to do short sessions; for example, work with an event or two, go back to focusing on the breath to relax for a few minutes, then return to the events.
v. Make this a daily practice if at all possible.
There are times when we’ll come to a practice session, and an event will already be in mind. This happens because our purpose is already in our consciousness. So here’s what you do: simply sit down, focus on your breathing until you relax, and go directly into the event following the procedure given above.
If you practice diligently and regularly, there will come a time when you will have very few small events left that you can find with which to work. Now it’s time to begin working on the major events in your life, the ones where you literally failed because you didn’t live up to your expectations or those of someone significant in your life; for example, job loss, divorce, or much more. Even these events, however, should be taken in the order of their level of difficulty, the least difficult being the first one and so on.
Practice using the procedure given above, and remember that it’s a gradual process. You may have issues that will take several sessions to bring to the level of neutral sensations, so be patient.
When you come up against sensations that are very difficult, remember to remove the labels (names you’ve given the emotions) so that you’re dealing with raw energy. As an experienced practitioner, taking the conceptuality away from the emotion makes it easier to stay focused and experience progress. Just as it says in the procedure above, work in short sessions, taking a break when the going gets too difficult. You can’t melt an iceberg all at once.
It’s also important to recognize and accept what you cannot change. Just the acceptation of this fact will take the charge out of the sensation, and it’s usually accompanied by an automatic change in your expectations. If you’re trying to live up to the expectations of someone else, realizing they’re not realistic and letting them go brings great resolution.
Additionally, it’s essential to recognize when you need help and go for it. Sometimes just having a significant other, fellow practitioner, or close friend you can hang on to while you do this work is all you need to get the sensation down to a tolerable level. From that point on, you can work alone.
Also, a professional who agrees with your process can help you: uncover and clarify what you’re experiencing and learning; develop realistic expectations; discover activities, relationships, and experiences that build a sense of competence; and respond with kindness and understanding toward yourself. For example, Psychologist Christopher Germer, PhD says, “the foundation of emotional healing begins by being aware in the present moment when we’re struggling with feelings of inadequacy, despair, confusion, and other forms of stress – and responding with kindness and understanding toward ourselves.”
As you progress in your practice, you’ll find what we call generalized effects. This means that even though you didn’t work on a particular event having to do with an issue that normally elicits a feeling of inadequacy, in daily life you notice the situation is no longer a problem because you feel quite capable. Noticing such changes in your life is a cause to celebrate your work—you’re truly progressing.
At the end of session
At the end of a practice session, it’s a good idea to treat yourself with affirmations of kindness and gratitude; for example:
I offer my gratitude for what I’m learning.
I offer my gratitude for each step I take.
I offer my gratitude for the positive changes in life.
May my heart be filled with kindness and compassion.
May I be safe from inner and outer harm.
May I be well in mind and body.
May I be at ease and happy.
Softly and slowly repeating the above sentences to yourself about five times at the end of a session is helpful. When I first started doing them, I didn’t notice anything for a couple of weeks, but after that I did. I left the sessions feeling better, happier, and more peaceful. They’re very worthwhile for regular practitioners.
The Benefits Of Resolving The Feeling Of Inadequacy
There are quite a number of benefits that come from resolving the feeling of inadequacy in our lives. It doesn’t matter if we have only a few issues or a whole lot to deal with, for as long as we live and practice, they’ll keep on coming. Perhaps that’s why we’re on this planet.
Here are few of the positive outcomes with which we can measure our progress:
a. We give up trying to be perfect. Realizing we’re human, we let go and relax while still being all we can be at whatever activity we’re doing.
b. We stop beating ourselves up. We experience the fact that negative criticism is bad for our health. Constructive evaluations are far better.
c. Our parenting skills improve. Cooperation is far better on both sides.
d. We’re better at handling bullying because we’re no longer such a target, and we don’t find ourselves reacting so fearfully. Also, we simply choose not to use web sites or an address where cyber bullying is frequent.
e. Our ability to be with peers, even those who don’t like us, is balanced. However, we usually choose to be with others who give positive reinforcement and constructive rather than negative criticism.
f. We find that we are becoming increasingly confident in our ability to handle life. Our expectations of ourselves are reasonable. We’re now much more open to life and whatever it brings to us.
g. Life is much happier and more peaceful. We look forward to our days, recognizing the challenges we used to face as opportunities for learning.
h. We experience the inspiration to try new things and accept the results as they are.
i. We find we have an increased willingness to develop new relationships without first making certain that we’ll be liked.
j. Our ability to work well with others at all levels and take on new jobs is vastly improved. These things no longer arouse difficult sensations. We feel remarkably whole at work, and we know when to walk away from tasks that are not within our set of skills and interests.
k. Our physical and mental health is remarkably improved. We can get out of bed.
l. Loving kindness, compassion, and unconditional love have become more of a reality, for we find we are not only reaching out more to ourselves but also to others of all ages, especially the young, the infirm, and the old.
Discussing the feeling of inadequacy, especially the five aspects that surround it, is not only necessary but very helpful to those of us who work with this scary issue. Being able to describe our sensations of inadequacy, understand the reactions to these feelings and their harmful effects, follow the procedures for their resolution, and experience the benefits of the solution leads us to a much happier life. We truly learn to let go, be present, and go for help when it’s necessary. May more of the citizens of this world, especially our leaders, involve themselves with this practice in mindfulness.