We all have an enemy and it lives within us. For some of us, to a greater extent than others. The enemy is called “Ego”… This topic started interesting me when I became aware of how people react in situations where, as the outside observer, I could clearly see where the challenge for them lies or how the well intended feedback I was giving them, could enhance their performance so much…if they were just willing to listen, without regarding it as a criticism or taking it as a personal insult. My Question was “What makes people act in this defensive, all-knowing, superior and egotistical way?” – the answer to be found is the last descriptive word – “Egotistical”…an enemy to our true nature and potential.
For the sake of these thoughts, the ego can be explained as the “self made mental/mind image of who I am”, embodied in the titles of “I”, “me”, “mine” and “myself” as Eckhardt Tolle defines it in his book “The New Earth”. Our behaviors and emotions, driven by the motivations of our ego, alienate us from relationships with loved ones, clients & friends, let us crave for more possessions and recognition, let us play roles in life, create states of unhappiness, want, pain, rejection etc. It closes us off from further learning, resenting feedback, creating arrogance and a sense of superiority in all relationships.
Whatever behavior the ego manifests, the hidden motivating force is always the same: The need to stand out, be special, be in control, the need for power, for attention, for more and the need to feel a sense of separation.
The ego is continually strengthening itself trough a few strategies:
- Complaining and Resentment – every complaint is a little story the mind makes up, that we completely believe in – it is a habitual and unconscious action. Applying negative labels to people, either to their face or talking about them to others, is often part of this action. The emotion that accompanies complaining and labeling, is resentment. It means to feel bitter, indignant, aggrieved or offended. Complaining and feeling resentment can also be aimed at situations. The implication is always “I don’t want to be here, I am being treated unfairly, I don’t want to be doing this”. Complaining is not to be confused with informing someone of a mistake or a deficiency. There is no ego in telling the waiter the soup is cold and needs heating up, as long as one sticks to the facts. However ” How dare you serve me cold soup..” There is a “me” here that feels personally offended by the cold soup and is going to make the most of it, a “me” that enjoys making someone wrong. The complaining I am talking about, is in service of the ego, not of change.
- Reactivity and Grievances – a long standing resentment turns into a grievance. This is a strong negative emotion, connected to an event in the sometimes distant past, that is being kept alive by compulsive thinking, by retelling the story in the head or out loud of “what someone did to me”. It will also contaminate your present relationships and distort your perception of present events. Reactivity follows on complaining – always waiting for the next thing to react against, feel annoyed or disturbed about. We hear it in the words: “This an outrage..How dare you..I resent this..” They are addicted to upset and anger as others are to a drug. Through reacting against this or that, they assert and strengthen the feeling of self / ego.
- Being Right, Making Wrong – Complaining can give one a sense of superiority . When we complain, by implication we are right and the person or situation you are complaining about or react against, is wrong. Nothing strengthens the ego more than being right. For us to be right, of course, someone else needs to be wrong. We need to make others wrong in order to get a stronger sense of who we are.
Ego takes everything personally. Emotion arises, defensiveness and even aggression. Every ego confuses facts with opinions and viewpoints. It feels it has to defend the “truth” – Whose truth? It’s own, infused with “I”, who we have seen, has to be right!
Another danger is that we confuse the ego we see in others, with their “identity”. This is the work of your own ego that uses this misconception to strengthening itself through being right and therefore superior and through reacting with condemnation, indignation and often anger against the perceived opponent.
Nothing changes until we take action…
It is difficult to change a lifetime of self induced, ego-driven behavior and perceptions, but we can start somewhere small to diminish the effect of our “self made mental image” and it’s entitlement.
- Non- reaction to the ego in others, is one of the most effective ways of going beyond the ego in yourself. You can only be in a state of non-reaction if you recognize that someone’s behaviour is coming from their ego. When you realize its not personal, there is no longer a compulsion to react as if it were
- Listen to your language , the words you choose to describe your feelings and emotions to situations – the words as described above, will lay your ego bare and make you realize to what extend you are being held captive and driven by the wants and desires of your ego to be superior, justified, to be right, to complain and harbour resentment.
- Stick to the facts – When describing situations, objectively quantify the facts of the matter, separating viewpoints and opinions from it, as the starting point of a solution. See the situation and see your anger “how you feel about it”, as two separate things. Then you will realize that there maybe different ways in approaching and resolving that situation.