Distinguishing Your Ego, the Hidden Controller

The Ego

The ego can be quite an unreasonable perfectionist.

Recently, I met with my ego. This side of myself is familiar enough that it didn’t feel like a meeting, but it was the first extended meeting on paper in a long time.

I have been wrestling since this encounter to put into words just what the ego is all about and what you can do about it, but nothing seemed right. However, I will share the few thoughts I do have about this side of one’s self, and you can decide if it’s valuable or not.

And keep in mind, I know everyone has a different definition of what the ego is. For those who are familiar with Freud, he seems to have called it the superego. The side of myself I ran across today seems to match my definition of “ego”.

First thing I notice is that the ego has a close-minded approach to things. He fixates on things, demanding that they be a certain way. Furthermore, he wants to reach a state of perfection, but can only think about what perfection is by way of comparison to other people, or through putting together wild theories (like from philsophy, science, religion, etc. anything you don’t have direct knowledge about). He wants to “pin things down” so to speak, and control the direction of your life.

The ego seems to care about being good. He wants to “be” good, but he wants it so much he doesn’t pay as much attention to the “doing good” part of it, and will spend time pointing out what’s good about him incessently, using selective evidence, to avoid admitting that he’s not near or on a set course towards perfection as he has a vague sense of it.

The ego promises lots of rewards. Like: Once I achieve perfection, I’ll be able to be open towards all people. Once I achieve perfection, I’ll be confident, compassionate, and loving. Once I achieve perfection, I’ll have overcome all egotism.

But as much as this side of you tries to prove that you HAVE overcome egotism, or any other “fault”, he sneakily tries to avoid being blamed for anything. And if you do fight with him, he gets happy! Because the ego WANTS you to overcome “the ego”. That’s why he seems to hide behind the scenes till things don’t go well. Till your behavior doesn’t match his expectations of you.

That’s why I could catch the ego with my awareness today, because I’ve been having a rough week internally and he was getting impatient with playing nice, and decided to cause a stir, trying to tell me what I should do, how I should be by now, and how I should have solved all these issues by now.

But I can’t seem to get past the ego by insulting him. Then it just turns into a mudslinging fest – him trying to dig dirt up on me, and vice-versa. The whole business of the ego seems to be becoming someone blame-proof. For all its good deeds and ways, the ego wants to be praised all the days of its life. So you don’t want to prove the ego wrong – I feel like it will always fight with you. But it is important to see what the ego is inside of you, so that when it tries to control you, you can resist it.

How does ego get you in everyday life? The appeal to approval. If someone praises you or hints that you will be somehow more favored if you do something, they are trying to control you through your own ego. Let the ego want that praise all it wants, but if you want to attend to your spirit, your destiny, and what you truly long for, then you’ve got to be willing to choose your own direction no matter how much the ego wants that carrot on a stick.

That being said, I feel each of us has an innate desire to grow, sometimes in many different ways. But sometimes our growth may lead us down paths that our ego finds awful, simply because it has a completely different model of perfection than the state of being we find ourselves growing into.

But if you despise your own ego, you’re just playing into its trap. During those times, it is controlling you further, trying to convince you that you’re doing a good job of pinning down your own ego. But in such cases, it’s just a shadow. It seems to me that the ego just wants to be accepted by others. And you CAN accept your ego, but just remember to not let it control you. It can be exceedingly powerful.

How can the ego be so powerful? It tries to convince us that we’ll somehow be “bad” or “not doing the right thing” if we do not do something. And that argument can be extremely potent simply because we want to do the right thing. But the ego has alternative motivations, and an indirect sense of what’s right. His thinking is misguided, and isn’t willing to admit it, unless he’ll be praised for it.

And keep in mind that the praise your ego wants isn’t necessarily from others. That’s why, if someone criticizes you, you might console yourself by thinking of all the reasons why you really are praise-worthy, even if “they” can’t see it. It wants praise according to your own idea of what is praise-worthy. The more your actions seem to dip into the “blame-worthy” category of actions, the angrier it will become. But hey, maybe its anger is unfounded, and it’s lacking understanding. Maybe the model is wrong.

The ego’s model of how life “should be”

Each of us carries around a model for how life “should be”. The problem is that the model for how life “should be” relies on logic, and logic is not enough to contain all the complexities of the truth of your life as it really is. Logic is inflexible, while life is fluid and constantly changing. Plus, every time you discover something new, your model of how things “should be” is prompted to change by your discovery of how things really are.

If you make a habit of conforming to your own ego’s model for how life is (including how you “should be”), whenever someone comes along with a different model  of life, you might feel disturbed. What do you do then? Try to defend yourself? Try to prove them wrong? If you live this way, criticism can be as though your whole existence is being assaulted.

Because the thing that changes your model of reality is reality itself, the truth of life can make you very uncomfortable. Yet another thing to incorporate into your model. Bah. Or maybe that new aspect of life is “wrong” and needs to be fought with, changed or fixed.

But there are other sides to you, that don’t mind living in reality – they like every single surprise and “new thing” life throws at them. That way, life is an adventure! There are always new things, and there is a sense of openness to all thoughts, senses, feelings, people, and opinions. And yeah I know, that side of you might get into a whole lot of trouble with its naivety. Just know it’s there, very different from your ego.

Of course, your ego might think that it’s like what I just said. After mentioning what I did above, you may find yourself thinking of all the ways in which you do believe life to be an adventure, how you are open-minded about things. But it’s your ego who cares about proving itself to have the right perspective. And don’t try to chase the ego down now either! Just know what it feels like to be thinking from the ego. The ego IS a side of you, whether or not you deny it. And its thoughts and feelings are a part of the fabric of reality.

The best defense you probably have against your ego’s tricks and demands is to get to know it. That way, you can get a sense of what disagreeing with your own ego might mean. Because as long as you agree with it, your ego seems like you! And it can harm you, unchecked.

Exercise: Call Out and Calm Down Your Ego

In the following exercise, the goal will be to goad your ego to come fight with you about something, so that you can calm it down and address its concerns, and get to know it a little better.

  1. Think about some action you take on a regular basis that you do “because it’s the right thing to do.”
  2. Now, I want you to entertain the idea of doing its opposite. Something that you “should not” do.
  3. Watch for a response from your ego. It may seem like “you”. Look for responses like “I would never actually do that.”, “I’m not the kind of person who would do that” or any feelings of vengeful punishment, anger, or annoyance. (if it was some other kind of response, keep poking around till you get whatever you feel is your ego. Hint: it’s very close-minded)
  4. Hold the side of you who responded in your awareness. Get a sense of the feeling they give off.
  5. Let your ego know it’s no big deal – you’re only doing a harmless exercise to get to know it better. Get a sense for how it feels – it may be angry at you for calling it out to talk “as if it has done something wrong”.
  6. Now, ask your ego “is there anything you’d like to discuss with me?” Just listen.
  7. Once you know your ego’s position on things, remember that you can choose to do differently. But at least now you know what your ego wants, and why. You can take it into consideration, but you don’t have to let it dictate your path. Remember to treat your ego with respect, or it will devolve into a shouting match, most likely.
  8. Finish up the conversation and get back to your life.

Now of course, these little guidelines may not fit your ego, and maybe you’ll run across some totally different side of you. That’s OK. At least you had an opportunity to meet some side of yourself, even if it wasn’t the one you were looking for.

I hope this gave you some insight into the ego. But if you remember anything from my lengthy article, please remember this: you can choose differently from your ego. You don’t have to act like you think you should! You can do what feels right to you instead.

Further Reading

Mark Ivar Myhre has a meditation about this called Healing your Ego. Felt really good after this one – can give you a direct experience of what it’s like to live unburdened by your ego.

Wikipedia article on the Id, Ego, and Super-ego. (they call super-ego what I call ego, it seems)

Article on Discovering your Life Purpose in about 20 minutes – can get you past all the false ideas you have about what you want and back to a connection with what you really want.

Article on the World Government from One Piece, the manga by Eiichiro Oda. They seem to be a representation of the ego.

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