A Portrait of The Abject

“When we come into contact with the other person, our thoughts and actions should express our mind of compassion, even if that person says and does things that are not easy to accept. We practice in this way until we see clearly that our love is not contingent upon the other person being loveable.” Thich Nhat Hanh


The concept of the ‘abject’ is a fascinating theory well known in academia within the domain of the social sciences. It belongs to a highly thought provoking series of discourses on the mechanisms of ‘othering’. The concept of the ‘other’ suggests that such an individual or group of people are different from us in some fundamental way. We are all the ‘other’ to someone and we can never fully know the ‘other’, even if we try as the ‘other’ is constantly evolving and changing. The act of ‘othering’ is a direct manifestation of power relations between our social notion of ‘we’ and ‘they’, often portraying the axes of discrimination and power differentiation that exist ubiquitously within our current cultural paradigm.  

Over the many years since I first came across this particular theoretical concept, it has been something I have witnessed within myself and within society as a standard behavioral normalcy. The concept of the ‘abject’ takes ‘othering’ to the next level, as the ‘abject’ becomes that which we too embody, yet its something that we are not willing to accept within ourselves. The relevance of observing this type of projection is so wide spread within Western society, that almost everyone does this in some form or another. Moreover, If we lack the awareness and inner strength to confront ourselves at a fundamental and honest level; what we do instead is assign blame to something or someone in the external world. Thus, we create a scapegoat, known as the ‘abject’ to project our negative tendencies onto, instead of realizing that they actually originate within our own mind.

As a social and global collective throughout the world, we have very little desire to take the necessary responsibility for our actions or negativity, instead we reassign them to the external world around us, through the medium of people and situations. Hence, the ‘abject’ is a reflected component of ourselves through our own sense of discrimination, hatred and latent negative tendencies. All of our interactions act as a refraction of what lies within ourselves, revealing similar tendencies and the reflection of the ‘abject’ when we have a very strong negative feeling towards someone.

On most, if not all spiritual paths its clear that the only persons reaction that should be understood is our own. Thus if someone’s behavior makes us very mad or is upsetting we must first look at ourselves and why we are reacting so strongly, even if we did nothing seemingly wrong. To truly find any peace or happiness in life we must stop ‘othering’ people, reacting to the ignorance of others actions, and to take full accountability and responsibility for our own reactions and action. Of course we will slip and fall back into the conditioned and learned patterns of social behavior and find ourselves pointing out something about another person who has done or said something that we find disturbing. In this case, we are reminded that we still have a lot of work to do and that we must keep trying to maintain focus on our shortcomings and negative tendencies, rather than on making someone else the target.

I am sure in my life I have done this many times, yet I realized a long time ago that by finding blame in others, my own inner suffering did not lessen. Only by looking within at my own negative tendencies can I eradicate them through using proper discrimination in my actions and behavior towards others. In such situations even if I have fallen prey to pointing the finger at another person’s behavior I have later come to realize that it does not make the situation any better and that by reacting, I am the only one losing anything. As long as we are caught in this pattern of fault finding, we will never have inner mental and emotional peace, yet by lessening this association there will be much less desire to perceive the ‘abject’ in others and through greater self awareness we will gain much more inner peace and a sense of inner unity.

Copyright © All Rights Reserved 2013


2 responses

  1. Rita, I am glad you enjoyed the material. Its a topic that has always fascinated me and you are right, the abject is such a strong component of how our ego oriented selves deal with life. Therefore, to increase our self awareness of the this habitual practice, we must have a lot of patience and keep practising self reflection, verses blaming others.

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