How did ego get such a bad wrap?
The ego is simply who we think we are.
So many people, so many walks of life, suggest that the ego is bad: the root of all evil. I disagree. Ego is important to your self-esteem. Too many people don’t take care of themselves, their soul, because they are trying to eliminate their ego. This is so terribly wrong it breaks my heart. You cannot eliminate your ego without hurting yourself and your self-image.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Too much ego is bad. The following is a list of signs from an article by Joe in Shake Off the Grind called Is Your Ego Running the Show? 5 Warning Signs and What to do About it
If you relate to any or all of them, you need to work to have a more mature and healthy ego.
You always have to have more
Do you always have to have the best, and be the best? The ego is never satisfied and is always craving more. The ego lives from fear that there won’t be enough or that things will run out.
When nothing is “good enough,” life with not be satisfying, and we will always be in search of something to fill this void. Find things that you can appreciate and be grateful for instead.
You have to be right
How many times have you seen someone’s need to be right cause serious damage in a relationship? When the ego is in charge and conflict ensues the situation just gets worse. Recognize when you’re guilty of dichotomous thinking, where something is either “right or wrong,” “good or bad,” and where no common ground can be found.
This type of thinking is narrow-minded and leads to judgment and criticism. When we have to be right it stifles creative potential and leaves many opportunities unseen.
You feel tense, uncomfortable, and overwhelmed with stress
Do you always have to be in control? The ego will always communicate the need for control and safety. If there is uncertainty the ego shouts “Danger!” and rings the alarm that impending doom is on the horizon.
The ego focuses on survival and becomes easily concerned when things aren’t going “right,” or as they “should.” Stress and emotional discomfort is a sign you’re out of alignment and being victimized by these false warnings and defensive thinking.
Things get too serious and nothing feels like fun
Do you have a hard time taking a joke? The ego may be at the root of this. The ego can easily steal your joy by filling you with worries, concerns, regrets, and embarrassment. The ego struggles with anything that threatens the self-concept and damages worldly notions of self-worth. It goes on guard to point out all the negatives. Be aware when the ego is clouding your joy.
You must always be winning and you hate losing
A healthy drive to succeed is different from ruthless competitiveness. Competitiveness has serious disadvantageous when it takes away from the potential for mutual benefit and expansion.
The ego thrives on outdoing and being the best. Achievement and accomplishment is an important piece of self-realization, though when this distracts us from the bigger picture of love, happiness, and peace of mind, competitiveness has become a perpetrator.
The above list are the aspects of your ego that you must rectify. These are unhealthy and are bad for you.
However, trying to fully eliminate your ego is actually a negative. If you are wanting to have only positive things in your life, getting rid of your ego isn’t going to make anything positive. It will be a life-long battle to rid yourself of ego and thus will remain a negative force within your life.
From Peter Russel’s Blog, Spirit of Now :
There’s No Such Thing as Ego
“What we call the ego is not another separate self so much as a mode of being that can dominate our thinking, decisions, speech, and actions, leading us to behave in ways that are uncaring, self-centered, or manipulative.
Our exploration of ego would be more fruitful if we stopped using the word as a noun, which immediately implies some “thing”, and instead thought of ego as a mental processes that can occupy our attention. For this a verb is a more appropriate part of speech. I am “ego-ing”.
“The difference is subtle, but very important. If I see the ego as a separate self, some thing, then it is easy to fall into the belief—common in many spiritual circles—that I must get rid of my ego, transcend it, or overcome it in some way. But seeing ego as a mental process, a system of thinking that I get caught in, suggests that I need to step out of that mode of thinking—to look at the world through a different lens, one less tainted by fear, insecurity and attachment.”
Removing your ego would be like removing your self. It’s not separate from you, it’s a part of you and it’s the basic instinct that protects you.
I like my ego when it’s under control. I will watch out for “ego-ing” to the detriment of others, but otherwise, I am proud of who I am, I will pat myself on my back when I achieve something, and I will continue to be a good person and keep my ego.
I find a great example of the negativity of eliminating one’s ego to be expressed by Sen in the blog Calm Down Mind called Understanding What Ego Really Is
Honestly, the entire blog is worth reading, but I’m going to pull out the final paragraphs to share here:
“Life is not here to condemn you for your desires, it’s here to embrace all of it and bring it to manifestation. You are totally loved by life just the way you are, it has no conditions for you, it’s is totally appreciative of the value you provide through your uniqueness – it’s important that you realize how valuable your presence here is.”
What I work for is to maintain my mature ego.
Below is a list of, what I’ve seen called, different levels of ego. The mature ego allows us to function in society without causing harm, suffering or discomfort to others. It also allows us to transcend other’s egos who may not be mature. With this list, you will understand why a mature and healthy ego is better than no ego at all. People with no ego spend their entire life fighting to have no ego and no one should live that way.
Vaiillant’s categorization of defense mechanisms from Wikipedia
Level 1: Pathological (psychotic denial, delusional projection)
The mechanisms on this level, when predominating, almost always are severely pathalogical. These six defenses, in conjunction, permit one to effectively rearrange external experiences to eliminate the need to cope with reality. The pathological users of these mechanisms frequently appear irrational or insane to others. These are the “psychotic” defenses, common in overt psychosis. However, they are found in dreams and throughout childhood as well. They include:
- Delusional Projection: Delusions about external reality, usually of a persecutory nature.
- Conversion: The expression of an intrapsychic conflict as a physical symptom; some examples include blindness, deafness, paralysis, or numbness. This phenomena is sometimes called hysteria.
- Denial: Refusal to accept external reality because it is too threatening; arguing against an anxiety-provoking stimulus by stating it doesn’t exist; resolution of emotional conflict and reduction of anxiety by refusing to perceive or consciously acknowledge the more unpleasant aspects of external reality.
- Distortion: A gross reshaping of external reality to meet internal needs.
- Splitting: A primitive defence. Negative and positive impulses are split off and unintegrated, frequently projected onto someone else. The defended individual segregates experiences into all-good and all-bad categories, with no room for ambiguity and ambivalence. When “splitting” is combined with “projecting”, the negative qualities that you unconsciously perceive yourself as possessing, you consciously attribute to another.
- Extreme projection: The blatant denial of a moral or psychological deficiency, which is perceived as a deficiency in another individual or group.
- Superiority complex: A psychological defense mechanism in which a person’s feelings of superiority counter or conceal his or her feelings of inferiority.
- Inferiority complex: A behavior that is displayed through a lack of self-worth, an increase of doubt and uncertainty, and feeling of not measuring up to society’s standards.
Level 2: Immature (fantasy, projection, passive aggression, acting out)
These mechanisms are often present in adults. These mechanisms lessen distress and anxiety produced by threatening people or by an uncomfortable reality. Excessive use of such defences is seen as socially undesirable, in that they are immature, difficult to deal with and seriously out of touch with reality. These are the so-called “immature” defences and overuse almost always leads to serious problems in a person’s ability to cope effectively. These defences are often seen in major depression and personality disorders. They include:
- Acting out: Direct expression of an unconscious wish or impulse in action, without conscious awareness of the emotion that drives that expressive behaviour.
- Fantasy: Tendency to retreat into fantasy in order to resolve inner and outer conflicts.
- Wishful thinking: Making decisions according to what might be pleasing to imagine instead of by appealing to evidence, rationality, or reality
- Idealization: Unconsciously choosing to perceive another individual as having more positive qualities than he or she may actually have.
- Passive aggression: Aggression towards others expressed indirectly or passively, often through procrastination.
- Projection: A primitive form of paranoia. Projection reduces anxiety by allowing the expression of the undesirable impulses or desires without becoming consciously aware of them; attributing one’s own unacknowledged unacceptable or unwanted thoughts and emotions to another; includes severe prejudice and jealousy, hypervigilance to external danger, and “injustice collecting”, all with the aim of shifting one’s unacceptable thoughts, feelings and impulses onto someone else, such that those same thoughts, feelings, beliefs and motivations are perceived as being possessed by the other.
- Projective identification: The object of projection invokes in that person precisely the thoughts, feelings or behaviours projected.
- Somatization: The transformation of negative feelings towards others into negative feelings toward oneself, pain, illness, and anxiety.
Level 3: Neurotic (intellectualization, reaction formation, dissociation, displacement, repression)
These mechanisms are considered neurotic, but fairly common in adults. Such defences have short-term advantages in coping, but can often cause long-term problems in relationships, work and in enjoying life when used as one’s primary style of coping with the world. They include:
- Displacement: Defence mechanism that shifts sexual or aggressive impulses to a more acceptable or less threatening target; redirecting emotion to a safer outlet; separation of emotion from its real object and redirection of the intense emotion toward someone or something that is less offensive or threatening in order to avoid dealing directly with what is frightening or threatening. For example, a mother may yell at her child because she is angry with her husband.
- Dissociation: Temporary drastic modification of one’s personal identity or character to avoid emotional distress; separation or postponement of a feeling that normally would accompany a situation or thought.
- Hypochondriasis: An excessive preoccupation or worry about having a serious illness.
- Intellectualization: A form of isolation; concentrating on the intellectual components of a situation so as to distance oneself from the associated anxiety-provoking emotions; separation of emotion from ideas; thinking about wishes in formal, affectively bland terms and not acting on them; avoiding unacceptable emotions by focusing on the intellectual aspects (isolation, rationalization, ritual, undoing, compensation, and magical thinking).
- Isolation: Separation of feelings from ideas and events, for example, describing a murder with graphic details with no emotional response.
- Rationalization (making excuses): Convincing oneself that no wrong has been done and that all is or was all right through faulty and false reasoning. An indicator of this defence mechanism can be seen socially as the formulation of convenient excuses.
- Reaction formation: Converting unconscious wishes or impulses that are perceived to be dangerous or unacceptable into their opposites; behaviour that is completely the opposite of what one really wants or feels; taking the opposite belief because the true belief causes anxiety.
- Regression: Temporary reversion of the ego to an earlier stage of development rather than handling unacceptable impulses in a more adult way, for example, using whining as a method of communicating despite already having acquired the ability to speak with appropriate grammar.
- Repression: The process of attempting to repel desires towards pleasurable instincts, caused by a threat of suffering if the desire is satisfied; the desire is moved to the unconscious in the attempt to prevent it from entering consciousness; seemingly unexplainable naivety, memory lapse or lack of awareness of one’s own situation and condition; the emotion is conscious, but the idea behind it is absent.
- Undoing: A person tries to ‘undo’ an unhealthy, destructive or otherwise threatening thought by acting out the reverse of the unacceptable. Involves symbolically nullifying an unacceptable or guilt provoking thought, idea, or feeling by confession or atonement.
- Withdrawal: Withdrawal is a more severe form of defence. It entails removing oneself from events, stimuli, and interactions under the threat of being reminded of painful thoughts and feelings.
- Upward and downward social comparisons: A defensive tendency that is used as a means of self-evaluation. Individuals will look to another individual or comparison group who are considered to be worse off in order to dissociate themselves from perceived similarities and to make themselves feel better about themselves or their personal situation.
Level 4: Mature (humor, sublimation, suppression, altruism, anticipation)
These are commonly found among emotionally healthy adults and are considered mature, even though many have their origins in an immature stage of development. They have been adapted through the years in order to optimise success in human society and relationships. The use of these defences enhances pleasure and feelings of control. These defences help to integrate conflicting emotions and thoughts, whilst still remaining effective. Those who use these mechanisms are usually considered virtuous. They include:
- Humility: A mechanism by which a person, considering their own defects, has a humble self-opinion. Humility is intelligent self-respect which keeps one from thinking too highly or too meanly of oneself.
- Mindfulness: Adopting a particular orientation toward one’s experiences in the present moment, an orientation that is characterised by curiosity, openness, and acceptance.
- Acceptance: A person’s assent to the reality of a situation, recognizing a process or condition (often a negative or uncomfortable situation) without attempting to change it, protest, or exit. Religions and psychological treatments often suggest the path of acceptance when a situation is both disliked and unchangeable, or when change may be possible only at great cost or risk.
- Gratitude: A feeling of thankfulness or appreciation involving appreciation of a wide range of people and events. Gratitude is likely to bring higher levels of happiness, and lower levels of depression and stress. Throughout history, gratitude has been given a central position in religious and philosophical theories.
- Altruism: Constructive service to others that brings pleasure and personal satisfaction.
- Tolerance: The practice of deliberately allowing or permitting a thing of which one disapproves.
- Mercy: Compassionate behavior on the part of those in power.
- Forgiveness: Cessation of resentment, indignation or anger as a result of a perceived offence, disagreement, or mistake, or ceasing to demand retribution or restitution.
- Anticipation: Realistic planning for future discomfort.
- Humour: Overt expression of ideas and feelings (especially those that are unpleasant to focus on or too terrible to talk about directly) that gives pleasure to others. The thoughts retain a portion of their innate distress, but they are “skirted around” by witticism, for example self-deprecation.
- Identification: The unconscious modelling of one’s self upon another person’s character and behaviour.
- Introjection: Identifying with some idea or object so deeply that it becomes a part of that person.
- Sublimation: Transformation of negative emotions or instincts into positive actions, behaviours, or emotions, for example, playing a heavy contact sport such as football or rugby can transform aggression into a game.
- Thought suppression: The conscious process of pushing thoughts into the preconscious; the conscious decision to delay paying attention to an emotion or need in order to cope with the present reality; making it possible to later access uncomfortable or distressing emotions whilst accepting them.
- Emotional self-regulation: The ability to respond to the ongoing demands of experience with the range of emotions in a manner that is socially tolerable.
So, ego’s aren’t bad, they aren’t evil.
They are part of us and if we are in a good place, we are complete, with ego intact.