Nowadays, we often hear a lot of talk about the ego. Once known as a foundational and integral piece of the human psyche, the ego has come to be known as an internal dragon that needs to be slain at all costs.
Death of the ego is often the ultimate goal for serious spiritual seekers looking to breakthrough to their divine, authentic self.
For the every-day folks who may not want to embark on a disciplined meditation practice or to ingest ayahuasca in the Amazon to (temporarily) slay their ego, we still have to contend with our ego at every step of our lives.
How we decide to interact with our ego and how much power we give our ego is the real objective.
Ego should not be looked upon as either good or bad.
Instead of looking at ego as a noun, and something that is, it is more helpful to look at the ego as a verb, and the function it performs in our life.
Ego can serve as a protector, a negotiator, a mediator and an insulator. The way we need to look at ego is, “Is my ego helping me or hurting me?” “Is my ego serving me or am I serving my ego?”
Learning to discern the ego is the first step.
You can begin to identify when your ego is in the driver’s seat by being aware of certain feelings that arise when the ego is threatened or doesn’t get its way — just like a bratty little two-year-old that wants what he wants when he wants it.
When you feel like you are being made to be “wrong” in a situation, you will get angry, feel belittled or feel like you don’t deserve being treated a certain way — your ego’s hackles immediately go up and goes into fight mode.
You will either want to retaliate with words, actions or getting “even.” Even if this is not a conscious dialogue in your head, your behavior will be taken over by a sense of inner justice for your “self” versus the other.
The ego always wants to see itself as “good” — having done good, having looked good and having acted good. But that is not always the case.
The ego has a hard time admitting that it has done something “bad” — especially in relation to hurting those close to us.
Since the ego doesn’t like to look bad, ego can justify its actions away to keep up the facade of looking and feeling good.
When we truly learn to identify our ego and challenge its ways, we can begin to live more of an authentic life — A life inspired by our authentic self rather than our ego.
While in recovery, we have to contend with all the bad, shameful and hurtful things we did while in the throws of addiction.
Acknowledging and owning all the hurtful things we did, is not an easy task but it is critical to the health of your ego and to the growth of your “self.”
Shame and disappointment need to be allowed to seep into your ego, rather than your ego repelling shame because it is too painful to face. It is okay to own shameful moments, learn from them and move on.
You don’t need to stay in shame, but you will if you don’t properly contend with it. Just because we do “bad” doesn’t mean we are “bad.”
For example, a transaction with an unhealthy ego may sound like this: “It’s no big deal that I stole his liquor, he wasn’t drinking it anyway. What does it matter?”
A healthy ego’s transaction may sound like this: “Stealing is wrong, and I don’t condone stealing for any reason. I was in a bad place at the time and I need to apologize to him.”
When your ego accompanies you during the recovery process, it is helpful to realize that your ego may not always be rooting for YOUR best interest.
It is important to learn to discern between your ego’s voice and your true, inner voice.
So, how do you do that?
By sharpening the skills of learning healthy introspection. By learning to distinguish between the ego and its need to be good and of the inner self, who possesses a clearer, truer, compass for your well-being.
When your ego gets “checked” you may feel belittled, angry, humiliated or threatened.
Your ego’s reflex may be to attack back and lash out. Instead, when you feel like your ego is being checked, run the scenario through the lens of your inner self, and ask yourself:
Does what this person is saying having any validity? Why? Why not?
What about what they said is making me so — — — -?
What about this statement is triggering me to feel this way?
What can I learn from this transaction?
Learning to keep your ego in check means to ability to realize that the lens in which you may be looking at a situation may be tainted by your ego’s needs, and not what’s best for YOU, the person.
The unhealthy ego also does not like to take in new information, for taking in new information means that the ego was lacking, and the ego does not like to feel inadequate.
Learning to discern the ego’s voice from your true, inner voice or authentic self is a skill.
But also, learning to check your ego can make a very significant difference in your life.
When you are led by your ego, new information can be easily shut out, and an opportunity for real growth missed.
When you soften your ego or push it aside, new perspectives can be seen, and new choices can be made.
A healthy ego should be fluid and ever changing. Ego should be adjusted to be a framework, not a shield.
Ego work is a lifelong journey that requires mindfulness, being in the present and being aware.
By being conscious, you can empower yourself to turn the ego dragon into an ally and friend.