What is ego?
The first album I ever owned was one by the iconic Aussie band Skyhooks and one of their more famous songs was “Ego is not a dirty word”. Ego has more than one meaning depending upon the context in which it is used. We could be talking about the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious minds. In metaphysics it refers to a conscious thinking subject. In this case we are talking about self-esteem and self-worth and it is usually a term that is applied negatively. Especially when we turn the word into an adjective; “He (or she) is so egotistical!” We are usually talking about arrogance and that is mostly how we think of Ego. A brash, over-the-top over confident, arrogant individual who over values their own importance.
The ego’s role in self-esteem
How ego driven are you? How would you even know if your ego is running the show? Ego is the part of you that seeks approval. Whether we like it or not we all need someone to love and be loved by and someone to approve of us. It is part of how we feel validated and our need to belong as human beings. We are after all, social creatures and we understand ourselves in large part through our relationship to others. Even highly critical people still have the need to be loved and liked despite evidence to the contrary.
Problems arise when your ego is running the show. One way to check-in as to whether your ego is in the driver’s seat is to ask yourself the following questions.
Do I feel inferior to others?
Do I feel superior to others?
If the answer to either of these question is YES then you are ego-driven.
Two sides of the same coin
They are in fact two sides of the same coin. If this doesn’t make sense think of it this way. You hand has both a back and a front; a palm and the back of your hand. In the same way ego shows up as the kind we are normally familiar with; over confident and self-serving, it is also lacking in confidence and self-effacing. The are two side of the same coin and one cannot exist without the other. It’s all ego and it’s all destructive.
So what are the warning signs that your ego is in the driver’s seat?
- Comparison:- You compare yourself to others and you measure your success and achievements in terms of others. The obvious problem with this is you start from different places, have different skill sets and goals. Run your own race and measure yourself against YOU.
- You have to be right:- The need to be right is often driven by a desperation NOT to be WRONG. If you are “wrong” then it means something about you and corrodes your self-esteem. Saying the words “I’m sorry” are not likely to be part of your vocabulary. Your worth as a human being has nothing to do with whether you are right or wrong.
- Winning at all costs:- You are overly competitive and MUST win. This can come at a high personal cost and has the potential to put winning before relationships. Ultimately a win/lose mentality or a zero-sum game as it is also known costs everybody. YOU included.
- You are driven:- There is no such thing as doing something for the sheer joy of it. It is all about the outcome. What about doing something even if you aren’t that great at it? That is very difficult if your ego driven. Experience it just because you can.
- It’s someone else’s fault:- You look for someone else to blame when things don’t go your way. The flip side of this is EVERYTHING is your fault and you shame yourself.
- You are jealous and envious:- This is closely linked to comparing yourself to others (see point 1). Such types of judgement only lead to pain for you and those around you.
It’s all in the mind set you adopt
A lot of our thinking we inherit both from our environment and it is shaped through our experiences. Fortunately, our thinking can change if we are willing to take stock and adopt ways of thinking and operating that are aligned with what we want to achieve and who we strive to become. A fixed mind-set associated with black and white thinking will keep you stuck and ensure you continue to be ego driven. The way you talk to yourself and others will indicate where you sit with regard to that. Statements like “I’m the bomb” and “I’m the smartest person in the room”. Who are you trying to convince? On the other extreme is “I’m such an idiot”, “I can’t do anything right!” which are corrosive statements which will express themselves in your relationships. In any case it’s all EGO!
Letting go of ego
So what does this have to do with self-esteem? You have constructed your self-image and self-esteem over your life time and it is closely tied to the beliefs you hold about yourself. Some of those beliefs are true and some of them are false. As long as you compare yourself to others and peg your self-worth to your achievements your self-esteem sits outside of you and outside of your locus of control. How you feel about you is determined by your circumstances and those around you and is certain to lead you away from your personal pathway to happiness.
Let go and just BE.