That which we term “ego” is a source of suffering for many people in our society. It seems that virtually everyone has some issue with the ego.
But what is an ego?
“Ego is the immediate dictate of human consciousness” Max Planck
The ego creates the beliefs we hold about ourselves. It’s our thoughts and feelings. It’s our memories. Mostly the ego is a combination of the rational, moral, intuitive and instinctual abilities. When I use the word ego, I am discussing the part of us that thinks and feels, the I am me part of our minds.
This definition of ego is the opposite of what many believe the ego to be. The ego is often portrayed as a negative force. It’s described as being negative and selfish. I believe however that it can also be open, kind and giving. It encompasses both the positive and negative aspects of our personalities.
What is the Non-ego?
When we think of ourselves and who we are we are reflecting about our pure-self or the non-ego. If you think of it like a fire, then our individuality is the flame while the flame’s heat is our ego. Think of the non-ego as the physical flame. It’s our spirit, our reality before the ego. It’s the entire flame that reflects the unity of our reality. The non-ego isn’t our awareness, rather it’s everything that defines us.
What is the Role of Ego?
The ego is necessary to help us maintain a separate but illusion self. Without it we would not be able to survive or thrive. While it’s necessary for growth, it may need help in doing so in a constructive manner.
The ego often speaks if we just listen. It may engage in negative self-talk such as “you can’t do that because you never finish anything”. It may also help as in: “you need to stop and think about this, it’s a little crazy and could harm you”. Ego is the voice of reason in that it tells instinct that something isn’t right.
The ego portion of the self can even train itself. It will tell us when we need to slow down and be more reasonable before we do something harmful to ourselves or others. It can even help monitor behaviors that we need to change.
Suffering Caused by the Ego
No one ego is perfect, but you can choose to help it change. Self-checks is an important part of this change. Watch for anger, self-absorption, depression, and other negative feelings. In these cases, improvement is needed. For example, if you find you get angry when things don’t go as planned or that you feel an unjustified sense of entitlement than you aren’t just hurting yourself but also others. These feelings can lead to self-abuse.
The ego must learn to access its executive function instead of reacting to instinct. The ego may treat itself in different ways both ruthless and with compassion. It is possible to change these patterns, but it may not be easy. It takes a lot of tough love and nurturing.
What is a Strong Ego?
A big ego isn’t problematic until it executes priorities at the cost of itself and others.
A strong ego is one that has confidence in itself. It only becomes problematic when it closes itself to change. The ego may have a conviction on its side but for its health it should aim for self-improvement. Strong egos in themselves are not bad, it becomes an issue when it begins to harm others that lead to self-harm.
What Does A Healthy and Strong Ego Look Like?
A functional ego is balanced. It can be a confident, crazy and playful extrovert. It can also be a creative and vulnerable introvert. It’s neither self-absorbed nor insensitive to others. It’s often seen as kind and gentle. It will sometimes sacrifice its desires for the good of others. It may live on the edge and test boundaries, but it does so respectively in order not to harm itself or others. A healthy ego is open to change.
What About Problems With a Big Ego?
“Let’s face it God has a big ego problem. Why do we have to worship him?” Bill Maher
The ego has a problem when it’s consumed by itself and suffering as a result. It will worship itself at the expense of others. If you suspect, you have an issue with a big ego just ask yourself the following questions.
Do you make a scene when things don’t go your way?
Are you so immersed on yourself that you must struggle to have empathy for others/Are you self-absorbed and do you excessively love yourself?
Is changing your ego excessively hard to change?
Are you always angry or upset in your daily life?
Are you so self-centered that you must always place yourself first?
Is your self-image and how others view you a top priority?
Are you spiteful and generally disrespectful towards others?
Do you condemn other people to make yourself feel better?
Does being overly competitive lead to emotional dysfunction?
Do you aim to tear apart perceived threats with gossip and lies?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it could mean an issue with the ego. In some cases, it could be labeled as narcissistic behavior. It occurs when the ego wants more. The ego doesn’t fully embrace what it has and isn’t content. Being unforgiving, jealous or angry is an unhealthy attachment to our desires. It’s as if it is saying “I didn’t get what I wanted so I’ll make problems for others.
How We can Maintain a Healthy Ego
“I own and operate a ferocious ego.” Bill Moyer
There is nothing wrong with having a fiery ego even though others may wish for the rageful just to calm down. What about persons obsessed with image and always proving themselves? Examples of an unhealthy ego are when it wants a certain outcome no matter what may happen to others. It may feel superior, and when not recognized as such it becomes a monster that others want no part of.
The ego with difficulties loves to blame others. I call this blamism. It’s actually a cop-out, it merely justifies a feeling of helplessness. It stops itself from taking responsibility for unwanted outcomes. Let’s be clear the way we think and feel is our own doing.
Insight: The single most motivating factor in overcoming ego problems is that they cause suffering for everyone involve including ourselves.Do you want to unnecessarily hurt ourselves or others? I should hope not.
We have the power to control how we think, feel and act. By operating virtuously, we do ourselves and everyone else a great service. Ultimately we should aim to have a healthy ego that has a balanced attachment to itself. That attachment should be in ways that are functional but not attached in ways that reinforce the pain and suffering of itself and others. In this way, the ego remains healthy and painless.
“An ego leads itself into the depths of disconnection while knowing itself as fundamentally faux.”
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