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.

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How does your Defensiveness hurt you?

There is a side of you who defends his actions against the consideration of doing differently. “But, that’s not all of me!” you might say (defensively), and you’re right. But what does that part of you do to you?

Defensiveness, protecting the wrong things

Well, one thing it can do is act like a shield against the wrong things, things that can actually help you. It holds back the desire to learn and grow, become better and more free inside. It’s that voice inside your head (or out loud) that talks like this “Just shut up! You don’t know me! Go away!” and causes you to push away from people. Always insistent and alarmed by a suggestion that you might be doing the wrong thing.

But learning is the process of discovering that you were wrong, again and again. You didn’t know it all, there was more to it than you thought. That wall of defensiveness, then, will stop you from learning. And learning renders you more capable to move freely and intelligently in a new area of life. If you push away from the idea that you could be wrong, then you also push yourself down too, you limit your capabilities. Rather than feeling like you can try new things, learn about yourself, or consider where your actions have caused harm freely, you learn resentment, denial of your feelings, and living a life where you try to avoid the things that push your buttons.

“But I don’t want my buttons pushed!” you might say. I hear you. But you can also dismantle the buttons. And defensiveness is one of those buttons.

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Balanced Apologies

Today, someone got upset after I touched some stuff of theirs. At the time, I had no idea that this person would get so upset, and to me what I was doing was no big deal. But to them, it was, and when they found out they got angry, calling what I did as “wrong”. I started to say things like “only according to you” and acted as if I had done nothing wrong or anything I need to apologize for. But at the same time I felt an inner conflict brewing over the issue.

So I separated myself from the situation and went to go utilize the techniques I have to work through the issue. The technique I used here was to just listen to the thoughts with my eyes closed, and get a general sense of the different parts of myself who were in on this debate. The issue, whether or not I should apologize, brought up several responses:

  1. A stubborn, fiery, demanding guy. He said things like, “why should I apologize? That other person over-reacted! I did nothing wrong! And I felt nothing was wrong at the time. Don’t try to force an apology out of me!”
  2. A thoughtful, calm, concerned guy. This guy thought things like, “But… it would be the courageous thing to apologize, the right thing. I mean, there are a lot of people who act the way you do and just act like a brat… Well, what is the right thing to do here?”
  3. A nasty guy who just wanted to gobble up praise from others: “hehe if we apologize then we’ll be thought of as a brave, courageous person. Oh boy!”
  4. A calm peaceful force, which, when asked, admitted that it didn’t care about the issue at all.

The first guy didn’t want to look weak, or put on a show of being pathetic. It knew I had thought it was the right thing to do at the time, I wasn’t “doing wrong”. However, that’s always the case, and I knew that apologizing is important on some occasions, or, if not apologizing, at least something to make it right. The way I resolved the issue was by the second guy saying, “Ok, it’s true we weren’t wrong at the time, but that was because we didn’t know how the person would react. If we had known, we would’ve chosen differently. So, we can at least tell them that.” Then the third guy popped up, getting excited about apologizing because it would make me look good. I decided I did not want to be it about that at all, and would say so as well.

So, when I went to apologize, I did so without getting all depressed or guilt-ridden. I simply said “let’s talk” to the person, then, in order to keep in balance between all sides of myself, mentioned three things:

  1. That at the time I thought what I did was right
  2. That if I had known how the person would react I would have chosen differently. And so, I was sorry for that.
  3. Then (after they said “well it takes a big man to say that”), I told them I did not want to be considered courageous or strong or a big man for saying what I just did. And I explained why. They understood and I got 0 praise after that, thankfully.

And things were made right, the barrier of bitterness was broken down and I could talk openly with this person again. Granted, that barrier wasn’t up long, but it’s easy to imagine that it can stay up for a long time between people. Moreover, after doing this exercise, I now realize how easily I could’ve just gone along with the first voice, and stayed self-righteous. A lot of people go about life this way, always blaming others and never taking responsibility for things themselves. But there’s always holes in the blamer’s argument.

I also realized that an opposite approach can be taken as well. You can punish yourself, and force yourself to feel guilty and wrong because of something that felt right to you at the time. Instead of taking the time to consider the voice that says “I am NOT at fault here”, you can impose an edict on yourself that you ARE at fault and you must apologize. This is also unfair to yourself, and it might be done to just not lose favor with other people.

That third voice, that likes praise, seems like another pitfall, because just wanting to be praised and esteemed by others is not a good reason for doing things, and I feel like it points to hidden insecurity. Remember to address this if you ever do something that others would consider praise-worthy. I guess I would call this ego, and that continuing down that path of collecting praise is one that will just continue to inflate one’s own ego.

In any case, when apologizing, I’d just say that just make sure that you settle all your conflicts about it first before you go ahead with it. Both the knee-jerk defensive reaction and the caring, thoughtful parts of yourself have things to learn from each other. I feel like if you favor one or the other your decision just won’t sit right.

Bias and Identity

When you identify with certain groups, ideologies, or activities, it seems to me that you bias yourself towards the viewpoints expressed by what you identify with. To consider other points of view becomes a danger to your identity, and so it becomes compulsion to shove it away from you – either overtly, or in subtle ways, like picking evidence that only supports the argument you identify with. However, this is only my strong suspicion…