What is Ego?
The ego is that which mediates our actions and beliefs so that we delay immediate needs for long-term gratification in some way due to what's considered acceptable. For example, we might see someone eating an ice cream and we want one, but we don't go and snatch it out of someone's hands! But sometimes, we give away ourselves to our ego without any resistance. That’s why ego is often associated with the words like selfish, arrogant, or proud because we let it do whatever it wants in order to feel good about ourselves.
According to Freud, ego is meant to act as a mediator between choosing right and wrong. The ego works to satisfy our desires in a way that is socially and realistically acceptable. The word 'EGO' comes from Latin, which means 'I'. The ego operates under the principle that we seek to bring benefit and avoid grief or pain in the long term. Simply put, on a very basic level, pain and pleasure.
Very well mind states that: Freud's theory explains that "certain aspects of your personality are more primal and might pressure you to act upon your most basic urges. Other parts of your personality work to counteract these urges and strive to make you conform to the demands of reality".
"A fight is going on inside me," said an old man to his son. "It is a terrible fight between two wolves. One wolf is evil. He is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other wolf is good. he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you."
The son thought about it for a minute and then asked, "Which wolf will win?"
The old man replied simply, "The one you feed."
— Wendy Mass (Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life
How does your ego affect you?
If you dig deep into your life and certain situations and struggles that keep arising in your life, you will sometimes find a dominant role of the ‘Ego’. While you might think that it's only about coming off as arrogant, there are many other ways the ego affects you.
Though ego is indeed a part of our personalities, sometimes it acts as our enemy and this is when we need to understand what it is and when it is becoming a barrier. Sometimes, your own unmanaged ego can sabotage you and be what's stopping you from getting the life you want and managing situations better.
When we come from a place of a lack of self-awareness, we can often find ourselves in situations where we've lost control and the ego has taken over, and we're not even clear what's gone wrong..
One article in INC.com said it best:
"Ego is necessary and important because it does the work to assemble your personality. It manages your fragile identity while you figure out who you are. It protects you from the onslaught of societal expectations and motivates you to work hard and achieve great things."
When Does Ego Become Our Enemy?
Here are a few of many things our ego makes us do:
You don't perceive things as they are
When your ego finds sneaky ways to interfere in your life, relationships, or situations, you could have unrealistic ideas of how people should be. You might be quick to judge or look down on people. You might have grandiose ideas of yourself and feel you can achieve without effort, or feel you deserve more credit when you haven't done the work. You might not acknowledge mistakes or where you might have said something or done something out of impulse.
One article puts it well: "Whenever you feel threatened (“Bob is trying to take my job”), blame (“Mary said the customer didn’t buy because of me”), shame (“The boss knows I fudged the report”), or embarrassment (“The entire company heard that I lost the big sale”), your ego kicks in and keeps you from clearly understanding reality. In other words, the ego makes up its own reality in response to the “ego arrows” people shoot your way. This false “ego reality” closes you off to the true situation and causes you to go into a defensive mode, ultimately hindering your success".
You rely on others for approval and validation
If your inner confidence is a bit shaky and your ego could rely on others' approval and praise. It might make you ignore critical feedback when you need it and get crushed if you don't hear the exact praise you'd hoped for. This is not to say we should not receive appreciation from people when we work hard or do nice things, but if we are entirely dependent on this as the reason we do the action, it's coming from a place of ego and not love or purpose. This is the same with external factors like material possessions meant to impress or maybe becoming way too reliant on social media likes and followers to feel good
The need to be validated by external people is one of the quickest way to be disappointed. Don't get me wrong, we all need appreciation, but there's a difference between having people say thank you and needing approval constantly from your friends and family, your colleagues, your boss, your partner, your culture, your society, your religious group, etc.
The problem is that when we rely on validation from everyone else to placate our egos, it leaves us with no space to grow or gain confidence in our actions, our beliefs, and our behaviors. Have you ever found yourself ignoring your own judgement and asking everyone else to see if you can get them to agree and validate what you already knew to be true?
"As long as you look for someone else to validate who you are by seeking their approval, you are setting yourself up for disaster. You have to be whole and complete in yourself. No one can give you that. You have to know who you are - what others say is irrelevant."
— Nic Sheff
You have unrealistic ideas of what you expect from others
Ego makes you believe what you think you deserve and what other people deserve too. You deserve the job that you applied for, you deserve a big raise, you deserve to be appreciated, and a lot more just because you put in some effort in the past. This way, the person doesn’t validate other people’s efforts and talents. You often end up expecting unrealistic things for yourself.
Studies show that when we believe in people, we can tend to set unrealistic expectations for them.
"Expectations are nothing more than the rules we set, in order to maintain our ego and self esteem. What we seek from others is often that fulfillment of what we believe we require for happiness. However, many of us will raise the requirements so high that we can't even reach them or better yet, realize that we could find that expectation met by our own introspection and action."
— Shannon L. Alder
Victim Ego complex
This is an interesting one because it's not the typical ego portrayal that can appear overly arrogant or willful. Instead, the ego comes out as a protective and sabotaging measure but can be just as harmful. It can give us the idea that everything is against us, and our ego will go around justifying itself by finding reasons to prove ourselves right.
It gives us the impression that everything happens TO us and not FOR us. Have you ever known someone who could find blame, find the hidden insult, or someone who went out of their way to get offended by every little thing no matter how small? Or have you ever assumed the worst about someone or something or a situation (not to be confused with intuition) to find all the bad things that could go wrong instead of what could go right? When things happen again and again, you can say: SEE?! I was RIGHT!!
The problem with the consequence of this ego state is that it thrives on blaming or guilting other people to avoid responsibility instead of empowering. This ego complex can be a result of unprocessed negativity or negative situations that are unhealed, and unfortunately they can cloud over life perspectives and sabotage growth and fulfillment. As long as we decide to feel powerless against the world, we will never have any control over it. Or ourselves. Or our lives.
"You are not the victim of the world, but rather the master of your own destiny. It is your choices and decisions that determine your destiny."
— Roy T. Bennett
So, how to get past your ego?
The ego is a necessary part of your personality and can help with motivation and help drive your purpose, but it needs to be balanced. You need to get control of your ego so that it doesn’t end up making wrong decisions for yourself.
Here are some of the things that you can do:
Practice forgiveness, empathy and letting go, so you're not holding on to everything and allowing it to cloud your judgement and sour your perspective on things.
Practice mindfulness and intentions that are positive and ways to deliberately manage your mind
Practice meditation to calm your mind and be more in control of your emotions, mood, and thoughts, so you're able to approach things from a rational perspective and not from the ego.
Practice gratitude to see the good things you have - set 3 positive intentions in the morning and 3 things you're grateful for. Perhaps get a journal and try to jot down things every day or a few times a week.
Define your motivation and your why for goals. Is it for fulfillment or recognition?
Take responsibility and be accountable for your actions. Ask yourself in situations that don't go the way you hoped: what is my role here, and what could I have done differently?
Find yourself and find ways to create your own happiness so you're not dependent on others to create good feelings within you
Practice self-compassion when you make mistakes and treat yourself with kindness as you would treat a good friend instead of beating yourself up.
Stop blaming and complaining - this takes away your personal power and lets your ego sabotage you.
Find the lesson in everything, find the gift, find the learning to take away instead of the negative consequences and circumstances - this is easier said than done of course, but when 'bad things' happen, look to see where you can take a different approach instead of catastrophizing instead.
Focus on the journey, not the destination - as Ralf Waldo Emerson said, and don't think of everything as a prize to be won but a development of progress to find the success and gratitude for the journey you're on. This will lead you to find more satisfaction on a regular basis instead of putting off your happiness until you reach a long-term goal.
"You ironically have to have a very strong ego structure to let go of your ego. You need to struggle with the rules more than a bit before you throw them out. You only internalize values by butting up against external values for a while". - Author: Richard Rohr
Did this resonate for you? Comment below!
Do you find your ego is getting in the way of your personal growth and stopping you in life? Life coaching can help you sort out your blind spots to see where you could put yourself on a different path and evolve into someone who can take charge of their life!
ANDREA HUNT - Online Transformational Life Coach & EFT Tapping Practitioner based in Munich, Germany
I'm an accredited transformational life coach from Animas Centre for Coaching UK and a member of the International Coaching Federation. I'm also a Level 2 practitioner in EFT Tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique) and a member of AEFTP (Association of Emotional Freedom Technique Professionals).
If you're not sure where to start transforming your life, you can download my free ebook on How to Start Your Personal Growth Journey.
Are you ready to change your life, let go of old beliefs, empower yourself for a mindset shift to move forward? Mark Batterson says: You're always one decision away from a totally different life.
header image: Orkun Azap
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