When I am in a negative state of mind, much of what I see and perceive comes from the lens of my Ego. I don’t want to get all Freudian on you, so when I talk about Ego, I am really just talking about that part of us that constantly is trying to protect us, and wants us to be the center of the universe.
I often have to remind myself that my ego is a part of me, but is not my authentic self. It wants me to be first. It wants me to be right. It wants me to be perfect. It wants me to be loved.
Unfortunately, I can’t always be first, right, perfect or loved, so when I let my ego take control, it can lead to a lot of discontent, both within myself and with other people.
I recently read a parenting book by a psychologist in the US named Dr. Shefali Tsabary, and although her work is mostly centered around how we are with our children, I would like to think that most of the work that she is encouraging around connecting with our children, starts first with how we connect with ourselves.
In the book, she talks about 5 ways that the ego gets in the way of connection.
THE EGO OF IMAGE
These are the times when we behave in ways that don’t align with our values, and rather than feel guilty about the behavior, we try to blame others because of how it reflects on us. We do this out of fear and to protect our sense of self-worth and our reputation.
Example: You are driving our car and it runs out of gas. You curse and blame your partner for not filling it up, even though you are the one that drives the car 99% of the time. You end up getting into a big fight with your partner when you finally get home.
THE EGO OF PERFECTION
When we fantasize about our own perfection, we lose sight of what it means to be human. One of the best ways to connect with ourselves is to acknowledge our flaws, so that we can release ourselves from the "should" of being perfect.
Example: You are invited to go paddle boarding with a group of people that you don’t know very well. You love paddle-boarding, but you don’t love your body. You decline the invitation for fear of being judged and deemed imperfect by the others, thus losing out on potential friendships and connection.
THE EGO OF STATUS
For me this connects directly with the first two, but is more about our rigid ideas of what it means to be successful. In order to connect with our dreams, we might have to let go of our ideals of success and accept what is.
Example: You have been dreaming about starting your own non-profit for years, but fear of failure holds you back, so instead you continue to work for your current non-profit despite the lack of enthusiasm you have for your work.
THE EGO OF CONFORMITY
We are all different people, and when we try to be other people, it doesn’t fit. We cannot live in the shadow of others, and feel connected with our true selves. We must be okay with not conforming to those around us. It leads to compare and despair. Be who you are and do what makes you happy, no matter what other people around you are doing. There is no need to conform.
Example: You are invited to a dinner party and despite being a vegan, you say nothing to the hostess about your dietary restrictions. You don’t want to “rock the boat.” As a result, you eat what is served, but go home feeling disgusted with yourself for going against your values.
THE EGO OF CONTROL
We instinctively try to hang on even tighter when we feel like we are losing control because it gives us a sense that we do in fact have control. It gives us a sense of power when we feel powerless. Unfortunately, when we do this with people around us it can backfire, and lead to our own feelings of anguish and resentment. We cannot change the behavior of others, we can only change our own.
Example: You have asked your neighbor numerous times to not mow his lawn at 7:00am on Saturday morning, but he continues to do it. Out of frustration, you start playing loud music on Friday evenings so he “knows how it feels,” and will finally listen to your request about Saturday mornings.
Now, it's your turn:
Think about any disconnects you have right now--with other people and with yourself.
Is your ego getting in the way?
- Are you worried about what people will think?
- Are you seeking perfection?
- Are you worried about your status and potential failure?
- Are you conforming, and going against your own values?
- Are you trying to control someone else’s behavior?
- Are multiple things happening at once?
To truly connect with ourselves and with others, we have to acknowledge our ego, but not let it over-run our behavior and emotions.