Freud had placed envy at the centre of malign feelings, for envy destroys all that is good, including goodness itself. We are never quick to admit to being envious of others, because that would entail also admitting that we are, in some way or another, their inferiors, be that in talent, intellect, ability, skill, kindness and so on. Yet there is another feeling which is as painful and can be as destructive: that of inadequacy.
There is a tendency and desire in people both to conform and to stand out. A feeling of inadequacy implies a failure in both.
I considered leaving it at that. After all, the experience of inadequacy must be near universal. We have all believed ourselves to have come short of expectations – whether our own or others’ – at some point in our lives. Nonetheless, there is a particularity attached to each individual’s experience: sameness in difference and vice versa.
Going to the root of the problem appears a near impossible feat. I journeyed through a plethora of theories, each concluding in the terrifying image: an internal battlefield where the discrepancy between reality and an idealised version of the self are set to clash. It is a vicious cycle, whereby anger is directed inwards and creates a self-perpetuating conflict that – when left unaddressed – will result in the onset and persistence of depression.
The problem goes deep. Reaching an objective viewpoint seldom helps. Whereas with most other malign feelings, understanding and acceptance make it possible to overcome their hold, that is not the case with inadequacy. This feelings is unsupported by reason. Even when we know that there is no basis in reality for how we feel, that does not automatically allow for its power to be broken. Since reason fails us, the solution will necessitate a creative approach.
Having been reminded of Nelson Mandela’s reversal of the coin, I would like to conclude on a more optimistic note: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” If we are inadequate, the great pretenders of this world, what we are reflects the chasms and vicissitudes on an imperfect world. And since we are able to dream up perfect versions of ourselves and of the world we inhabit, then ours too is the power to let go of these imagined Utopias.
Mild envy, if doesn’t dissolve into resentment but instead pushes us to excel, is not necessarily a bad thing. I like your line “Since reason fails us, the solution will necessitate a creative approach.”
I rather think that “mild envy” would appear in this case to be synonymous with admiration. Certainly some people may find their drive through competition, but envy in my experience tends to inhibit. Thank you for your comment, Trent.
This is by the way basically the Theory of life stadiums Soeren Kierkegaard. After entering the ethical life stadium from the aesthetical by repenting how you are and have become. You build up an ideal self, which you try to be but you will never reach. The two-sided despair resulting from the being you are and the being you want to be, can only be solved by being ironic to yourself and by that concluding your incomplete self into your ideal.
Ah yes… Søren Kierkegaard, the outsider in the history of philosophy, he would know a thing or two about the feeling of inadequacy. I came across many a “great” who admitted to feeling unworthy of their assumed place. A very interesting parallel, Chojin, and one I had not considered until now. Thank you.
First Among Equals.
The climb up the Cursus Honorum is long and difficult.
It is a long journey certainly and fraught with difficulties.
I just finished teaching The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. It’s a “kid’s book” but one theme in the book is how envy destroys the Kingdom of Goodness and Truth. I agree with what you’ve said here; it’s less scary being inadequate than it might be to be extraordinary.
We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise
And then if we are true to form
Our statures reach the skies.
The heroism we recite
Would be a daily thing
Did not ourselves the cubits warp
For fear to be a king.
At times I wonder whether we fear of coming short once again if we try. Thank you, Martha, and for the wonderful poem too.
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I read this just after having read your skydiving one on breaking through fear. It strikes there is a strong correlation between these two. Perhaps fear inhibits to the point where we feeel inadequate compared to the daring of others who challenge life full on. Even if ventures are not apparently successful we have tried. The regrets about life lived are invariably, so it is said, those things we did not try. Standing out from the crowd or not following the norm is a risk that many fear to take and how many must feeel frustrated at opportunities lost. A life less well lived. I include myself here.
Thanks for linking your posts in your monthly review in the way you did. I don’t always get into older posts if I’ve missed them. It’s a fine way to catch up.
I’ll leave Benedict alone. I don’t really ‘get’ him! More of a Hugh girl myself. But I’ve never stalked. He’s just too far away. 😉 x
I love the connection you made between the two posts. In many ways they are two sides of the same coin. And even when we do our best to live life to its fullest, every choice we make will have many a reverse counterpart. We can’t do it all, no matter how much we may want to or try, and fear of success, of excelling can at times be as much of an inhibitor as its opposite.
Thank you for taking the time to catch up with these posts and for your thoughtful comments. You’ve made me consider the bigger picture as well as the detail. Sometimes the connections are not as explicit for the writer as they are for the reader.
As for Hugh, I certainly see the appeal. Feel free to substitute him for Benedict when you come across stories featuring him. I’m sure it’s an easy leap to make 😉 x
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