You and your ego are not the same
Our ego is a function of our mind and is caused by our mind’s awareness of its self. This awareness develops from our early life experience as a baby, as we naturally try to make sense of being conscious in our body. We discover a sense of our self as separate and different from everything else, and that continues to adjust and develop over time. For example, as a baby, we learn where our body ends, and the rest of the world begins. Perhaps how we feel different from the mattress we are lying on, or the blanket over us. Maybe we notice we have influence over our own limbs, but not the objects around us.
Over time our ego reinforces a sense of separateness from people and situations, as we literally feel different from everyone else.
We live in a story that we tell ourselves – and call it ‘life’
As we regard ourselves and compare the world around us, our story of ourselves builds further. For example, we develop descriptions of ourselves, or attach labels; perhaps we decide ‘I’m a sporty person, creative person, good person’ and so on. Some of these labels are healthy and positive and others less so, for eample, ‘I’m lousy at maths’ or ‘I’m not as successful as other people.’
Ego – it’s practical, and yet unrealistic
By the time you are an adult, you have a well-developed concept of who you are, and who you are not. Some of this is practical; it’s useful to think of yourself as a ‘good’ person, as it gives you standards to judge your own actions against. You might stop yourself from saying or doing something unkind, simply because it didn’t feel like ‘you’ to do that.
Three Horsemen of the Ego*
Unfortunately, our ego is fearful and tricksie in nature; fear and doubt lurk in its depths and self-preservation is a strong and strategized compulsion. Core drives of the ego include the following tendencies:
- Inflation – we build ourselves up in some way, either directly, or by association with others.
- Deflation – we play small, reduce ourselves somehow, e.g. shyness or false modesty
- Rigidity – we remain intransigent, inflexible or dogmatic
Under its fearful influence, our ego can misinform us:
- ‘I shouldn’t risk asking that question, it’s not safe’
- ‘I need a partner who will take care of me’
- ‘I shouldn’t risk leaving this job/city/partner, I might not be okay’
It’s also less useful when our ego perception of ‘I’m a good person’ develops into inflated righteousness; for example, ‘I’m a good person and they aren’t’. As a funky sort of self-preservation, the ego takes a position of being above judgment, and assumes we are always right, all of the time. Perhaps you know someone who does this? And perhaps sometimes you do that, too…
How do I spot the impact of my ego?
Over time, our ego becomes a mass of perceptions, ideas and beliefs we forget to question. Unaware of these, and how they affect our patterns of behaviour, our lives can become a restricted, less realistic place to be. Our sense of possibility and potential is reduced as we become programmed to react consistently, driven by thoughts and impulses arising from egoic fixation.
Use the following questions** to become more aware of your own ego; have fun recognising the forms in which your ego expresses itself!
- How conscious are you of ‘status’ or ‘position’ – either your own or someone else’s?
- How good are you at being ‘wrong’? For example, can you admit you are wrong? Can you apologise?
- How much are you concerned by what other people think about you? Are you affected by their opinion or approval?
- What effect does criticism have upon you?
- How easily embarrassed are you?
- How much do you resist being controlled by other people in situations?
- How easily do you laugh at yourself?
If you’re comfortable, perhaps ask someone whom you trust to offer additional views on your typical behaviour and tendencies.
*Credit, Kevin Billet, Journey Seminars
** From Brilliant Coaching, by Julie Starr (Pearson)