E is for Ego
Updated: Jun 30, 2022
Literally translated the word "ego" is the Latin word for “I.” In psychological terms, ego is a person's sense of self-worth, self-esteem, or how much they value themselves.
“The enemy of character is ego. Within each of us there are two selves, a true self and a false self. The two selves are constantly battling with each other for supremacy. The true self speaks for character, and the false self speaks for ego. The authentic self finds its identity in all things that are good, true, beautiful and noble, while the ego is constantly making demands based on insecurity and aggrandizement” Matthew Kelly
It is this conflict between ego and character that is central to life, not only our personal lives, but within nations and between nations.
“Character and ego are constantly vying for dominance within us and the inner reality seeks an external expression” Matthew Kelly
The ego is unhelpful for our authentic selves for several reasons. It can keep you out of touch with reality by making you over-estimate your own abilities and worth, and under-estimate the effort and skill required to achieve your goals and prevents you from accepting critical (but sometimes necessary feedback) from others. In so doing you miss opportunities to improve, have better connections with others, and to achieve your goals.
“If ego is the voice that tells us we’re better than we really are, we can say ego inhibits true success by preventing a direct and honest connection to the world around us… The ways this separation manifests itself negatively are immense: We can’t work with other people if we’ve put up walls. We can’t improve the world if we don’t understand it or ourselves. We can’t take or receive feedback if we are incapable of or uninterested in hearing from outside sources.”
The ego can create unrealistic expectations and a sense of entitlement. Those who live in an ego-centred manner often have a sense of entitlement. This is destructive for all concerned because it tries to convince you that you have a greater right to something than someone else and that you are more worthy than others.
“The ego we see most commonly goes by a more casual definition: an unhealthy belief in our own importance. Arrogance. Self-centred ambition… It’s that petulant child inside every person, the one that chooses getting his or her way over anything or anyone else. The need to be better than, more than, recognized for, far past any reasonable utility — that’s ego. It’s the sense of superiority and certainty that exceeds the bounds of confidence and talent.”
People who feel entitled often feel angry and that the law doesn’t apply to them. It is important to remember that everyone is equally worthy and believing that you are more deserving leads to the disempowerment of others
When the ego is dominating, you can wrongly assume that you “deserve” or are “owed” something or a specific outcome because of your past efforts and others are not as worthy as yourself.
“Entitlement assumes: This is mine. I’ve earned it. At the same time, entitlement nickels and dimes other people because it can’t conceive of valuing another person’s time as highly as its own. It delivers tirades and pronouncements that exhaust the people who work for us and with us, who have no choice other than to go along. It overstates our abilities to others, it renders generous judgment of our prospects, and it creates ridiculous expectations.”
If your ego manifests too much control in your life, it needs and craves constant external validation in order to feel satisfied. Validation can come via the praise and admiration of your family, friends, colleagues or boss, social media likes and follows, audience applause or alternatively from extrinsic signals like high salaries, a big house, a fancy car, expensive holidays etc
“Ego needs honours in order to be validated. Confidence, on the other hand, is able to wait and focus on the task at hand regardless of external recognition… [With ego], we need to be recognized. We need to be compensated. Especially problematic is the fact that, often, we get that. We are praised, we are paid, and we start to assume that the two things always go together. The ‘expectation hangover’ inevitably ensues.” Ryan Holiday
Our ego puts us firmly at the centre of all things and everything else is either in its rightful place or not according to our own unique perspective and whims. Everything we experience, all our interactions with others are filtered by what is of interest or how it will affect us When we approach our relationships or our life like this we often experience constant frustration and disappointment and feel that everything and everyone else is not how it should be.
“But the world of ego is an illusion. The reality is that everyone and everything is in place, exactly as they should be at this very moment.” Matthew Kelly
It is our thinking that is not how it should be however and the more we give in to the demands of the ego, the larger it grows and the more control it has over our thoughts and actions and our subsequent feelings of peace and happiness and our relationships.
Life never pans out how we think it ought because there are too many factors outside our control. It is too easy to get agitated or frustrated over simple things and take them personally from our own egotistical view of the world. Even if someone annoys us for being late e.g. or for not contacting us exactly when they promised to do and we don’t say anything, if we are not careful feelings of resentment can build up inside of us.
We are not the centre of the universe, others have their own lives and experiences happening to them at the same time and sometimes the two worlds don’t match up perfectly. If in our minds we insist that they should then we are simply setting ourselves up for frustration and disappointment. In order to reduce the dissonance between what we think should happen and reality it is necessary to embrace the present moment as it is without any judgments and make use of any’ unexpected opportunities to develop patience, resilience etc
To learn how to quieten the ego and give more attention to building our character, we need to spend time listening to our inner voice; becoming attentive as to whether we are being driven by the insecurity of our ego or the integrity of character. As work to become increasingly aware of ourselves and our reactions, our ability to control our responses increase.
“The unexamined life is not worth living” Plato
How can we work reduce the unhelpful effects of our ego?
In Ryan Holiday’s book ‘Ego Is the Enemy ‘ he suggests a way to reduce our egos is by not putting our efforts into trying to make ourselves look good.
We always have a choice of whether to try to be somebody impressive or we can put our efforts into doing something impressive. When we aim at trying to be somebody, we often compromise our beliefs and values and we unfairly take more for ourselves at the expense of others. In contrast, when we focus our efforts to do something, we are motivated more by our authentic selves than by the external validation we may get and we’re willing to work hard, stay true to our purpose and our beliefs, and treat others generously. By acting in line with our values, we’re less concerned about how much credit, recognition, and rewards we may get and are more concerned with how much impact and influence our actions will have.
Another suggestion is to focus on effort and progress not outcomes. With almost anything we do there is a strong element of luck involved ; despite any amount of preparation we cannot always guarantee the results. The only thing we can control is our own actions; we cannot control the environment or what other people do.
When we pay attention to other people’s needs, desires, and goals, we are by definition setting aside our ego and self-absorption in order to focus on others. In the process, we learn to develop a sense of purpose and humility. It’s no longer about you — it’s about what you can do to help others. When we approach our relationships and work this way, we’re not worried about taking opportunities, credit, or the spotlight for yourself, we are concerned with giving these things to others and improving others’ wellbeing.
“Imagine if for every person you met, you thought of some way to help them, something you could do for them? And you looked at it in a way that entirely benefited them and not you. The cumulative effect this would have over time would be profound: You’d learn a great deal by solving diverse problems. You’d develop a reputation for being indispensable. You’d have countless new relationships. You’d have an enormous bank of favours to call upon down the road. That’s what the canvas strategy is about — helping yourself by helping others. Making a concerted effort to trade your short-term gratification for a longer-term payoff. Whereas everyone else wants to get credit and be ‘respected,’ you can forget credit. You can forget it so hard that you’re glad when others get it instead of you — that was your aim, after all. Let the others take their credit on credit, while you defer and earn interest on the principal.”
By actively managing our ego, we will be more receptive to diverse perspectives that challenge our thinking, which in turn will allow us to be open to new ideas and opportunities. Our relationships with others will also improve and alongside a better sense of purpose and service a grounded humility.
“Our job, as souls on this mortal journey, is to shift the seat of our identity from the ego to the Self. That’s it.” Steven Pressfield
Imagine how much more peaceful and productive our lives could be if we lived an intentional life this way.
“No one has learned the meaning of life until he has surrendered his ego to the service of his fellow men”. Beran Wolfe
Some questions to think about/or discuss below:
What motivates your behaviour and your choices? Is it to be somebody, or to do something?
If you want to reflect more on this subject here are a few links to get you started: