Relationships ruled by ego feel like a really messed up and twisted dictatorship. The two people may have gotten there initially based on the early butterflies of love, but when the ego takes over it becomes a vicious cycle of individuals taking part in controlling, manipulative, possessive and selfish behavior.
That’s because the ego doesn’t know love, it only knows how to stay alive. This portion of our psyche aims to gain energy from the outside world by sometimes resisting, arguing, seeking revenge, or withdrawing from a person or situation.
The ego, as you may famously know, is one of Sigmund Freud’s famous psychological ideas about our personalities being more than one part. There is more information about those three parts of id, ego, and superego here. The ego is part of our personalities that deals with the external world and is the feeling of “I”. It is the self-conscious part of us that want to be in control, have a plan, and is always obsessed with our safety, reputation, personal interest, and survival.
And while we don’t want to be taken advantage of, told negative things about ourselves, and genuinely believe everything we hear, we also don’t want the ego to be the leading source of our decision making and perception.
When the ego rules, we’re focused on the outside and can’t help but see “us” separate from “them”. This increased feeling of separation is usually based on our desired expectation for the way we interact with the world to be different. The ego is projected desired expectations, and desired expectations are projected ego — one cannot exist without the other. When we act with our egos, we’re usually losing the mindfulness, connectedness, love and compassion that nurture relationships and often encounter the same unresolved issues because of it.
“When ego is lost, limit is lost. You become infinite, kind and beautiful.” — Yogi Bhajan
So how do we break the bind? Well, the ego will never ever fully go away but there are steps to identify, understand, and find actionable ways to work with our ego and keep it in check.
1. Identify: acknowledge when we’re guilty of dichotomous thinking, where something is either “right or wrong,” “good or bad,” or seen in black and white. When no common ground can be found, it often leads to judgment and criticism of ourselves and others. Interestingly, the core element of when we feel the sting to our ego is its dependence on the external environment. When we rely on other people’s perception to feel good or validated — we also may fear judgment and failure, fight to prove a point, or blame others for our situation.
2. Understand: there’s a reason why we struggle and fight to make the outside environment give us what we want. If we felt fulfilled, happy, and satisfied, we would not need to rely on anything or anyone else to make us feel the way we want to feel. For instance, we would probably not care about other’s opinions as much if we were deeply connected and felt in touch with ourselves and others. The ego only rears its head when we feel unsatisfied, incomplete, or internally inadequate. When we feel the way we really want to feel, we stop needing anything from the world outside of us.
3. Overcome: when the ego is in action, it feels like we don’t have what we need and we don’t feel the way we want to feel. Seems simple but one way to overcome the ego is to foster an internal mindset that helps us feel the way we DO want to feel independently — without relying on input or approval from the external environment. For example, say you are in a job where your boss doesn’t listen to you and you feel powerless over the situation, so you want to feel powerful. There are few ways to tackle that problem and here are two options. You could make other people do things for you to impress your boss, or could push yourself through a big fear that scares you — like finding a way to manage up to that boss. While the first relies on other people, the latter would allow you to feel powerful without relying on how other respond.
Other tricks to feel in control and managing the ego:
— Be generous — with time, energy, resources which focuses less on “me” and more on having more. Overcoming ego involves a shift of focus from the self to others.
— Be compassionate and kind — instead of drawing back when things aren’t going your way, observe how you can help others and lead with compassion. Instead of judging, find value in others’ uniqueness and differences.
— Be present — don’t get stuck obsessively thinking about the future or your ego’s worries and try to stay content in the moment. Take deep breaths, move and feel your body, observe your surroundings, and most important, make space for you. Find small moments of silence in the day.
— Be courageous — uncertainty scares the ego and change can be viewed by it as a bad thing, but following your heart and living with purpose almost always involves facing your fears.
There is no formula for this, only some tools to help. And while sometimes it’s dealing with our egos in relationships, sometimes its work or finances, and other times just generally handling life. I’ve been starting by trying to rework my process when I start thinking “this isn’t my problem” or feeling the victim. Reframing thoughts like this by acknowledging them from a place of gratitude and appreciation for the beauty of life seems to weaken the ego right in the moment.