What Is Your Ego
Telling You to Do?
by Beth Maynard Green
My ego says this blog should be on the front page of The Huffington Post. And if it were, even that wouldn’t be enough, because even if it were on the front page, it wouldn’t be up long enough or in a prominent enough position for total ego satisfaction. Or even if it were, my ego wouldn’t be satisfied because I didn’t get enough “likes” or comments, or the comments weren’t positive enough. Or something. My ego tells me that I need to be important. Where does your ego position you?
Our egos certainly have a way of dominating our inner and outer conversations. They tell us that we are different — better or worse, smarter or dumber, better-looking or uglier, sicker or more athletic, wiser, more cunning, more compassionate, more in need, more stupid, more “right,” more something than others, or at least we should be. And we need to prove that it’s true and be acknowledged as such. And our egos can be sly. Some of us have egos that tell us we’re nothing, yet we are secretly judging others. Some of us have egos that announce to others that we’re nothing, so that we can protect ourselves from their judgments.
Why does the ego continually distinguish between us and others? Because we need to prove our value, so that sufficient resources flow to us. Because we fear that if we do not establish our value, we will not be supported materially or emotionally by others. Because we fear that if we cannot prove our value, we will ultimately die, like those who have historically been left behind by groups who needed to move forward unencumbered by the unproductive: the sick, old or infirm.
To understand our egos, let’s look at their beginnings, when we are born into our families. No matter how rich or poor, the resources available to anyone are limited. Mom and Dad — if we had them — have to allocate their time, attention and money among many competing needs, including us. In such a world, our ego is always trying to capture enough resources for ourselves. And to do so, it has to distinguish us as different. One way it does so is to create our identity. We might position ourselves as mama’s little helper, or the terror of the family, or the most gifted, or even the most depressed. With these identities, we hope to build a case for our being cared for. We need resources because we are the most talented, or we need resources because we are the most challenged. These identities are hard to shake, because they are developed from birth and are associated with survival itself.
For many of us, the path to survival has been to be “somebody ” — somebody in the family, in the school, in the neighborhood or even in the world. And it hasn’t been enough to be somebody; we need also to be acknowledged by others as such. The stress of having to be somebody haunts the meek, who continually need to prove the value of their service to others. It haunts the proud, who are driven to continually engender admiration. It haunts the “unsuccessful,” who long for better fortune. And it haunts the “successful,” who have to maintain it.
Let’s look at an example of the stress caused by our ego’s need to be somebody. We know that failure hurts. But let’s say that I am “successful” — meaning I am working steadily, earning income and gaining recognition for my work — and my success appears to be growing. Sounds good? But is it? If I have built a life based on the income I have been earning over the past few years, then don’t I have to earn as much money or more this year, and the following year, and the year following that? And how will I do it unless people believe in what I offer and pay for those services? Has my success gotten me out of the hamster cage of having to prove my value? Hardly.
Let’s say, on the other hand, I have not created financial pressure for myself, but my emotional wellbeing has become dependent on my being admired by you. Am I still not driven to prove my worth? Am I not a hostage to The Huffington Post, which could decide to stop featuring my blogs? Don’t I have to keep proving their value to some faceless person at the site? And if my last video has received 4,000+ views and is still rising, what about other people’s videos that have 10,000 views? Yikes. I’m behind. And what happens if my next video is less well received? Don’t I feel threatened? Isn’t my house of cards ready to fall at every possibility of failure?
I’m exhausted by the need to continue to prove my value. What about you? And what can we do about it?
• Acknowledge that these ego-based patterns come from childhood.
• Ask ourselves, “Who did we believe held the power in our family?”
• Consider what we felt we had to prove to them in order to induce them to channel resources to us.
• Recognize that these patterns are based on circumstances that probably no longer exist.
• Face the possibility that we may lose some money or admiration if we drop the roles, but consider the price we are paying for staying in them.
What is the price of these ego-based patterns? We keep ourselves small, puff ourselves up, stress out to maintain control, strive to stay ahead of the game and see one another’s success as a potential threat. We become alienated from our own deepest needs: We may work when we need to rest, placate when we need to confront, escape when we need to go forward fearlessly.
I am sick of paying that price, and I would like to take a stand right here, right now, right in front of my ego. I am exhausted from the effort of having to prove myself, and I hereby release the right to strive to be better than you, more successful than you or more valuable. On the contrary, I want to support you to be successful. I want you to thrive, do well and fulfill your potential. I want you to make your full contribution to our world, because our world needs all of us, and our world needs all of our contributions.
Is this more than words? It can be. But to make these shifts in a real and deep way, we need to relax into knowing that we don’t have to prove anything about ourselves to survive. On the contrary, we need to support the whole. As we have seen, the ego in its raw, immature form has the view that we must compete to survive. But what I call the “ego twice-born” — the ego that is maturing and growing up — is coming to terms with the reality that:
• We are not separate and cannot thrive at the expense of others.
• Separation and competition are strangling our individual and collective potential.
• We will never be happy if others are not happy and fulfilled as well.
• When words or actions demean you, I am hurt, because you and I are one.
The ego does not like this message and will try to undermine this determination every day. But that’s understandable. The ego believes it’s doing its job, which is to ensure our survival by proving our value. But the ego can grow up if we are ready to confront our survival instinct, and if we can help it and ourselves learn to think about the good of the whole.
This topic is too big for one blog. But let’s take a step together now. Please join me in saying, “I am meant to exist, and so I don’t need to prove anything to anyone anymore.” And after saying this, let us meditate for a moment on our value, what we offer to ourselves and one another. And let us connect to the reality that relaxing into being ourselves is a reward worth more than any other.