When we think of ego, what comes to mind? A person with a lot of bravado, cocky attitude, super entitled?
Well, 90% of the time, that’s not what ego is. The ego is a deep and complex part of our psyche, and it pops up everyday subtly.
One of the biggest ways we shoot ourselves in the foot is by letting our ego dictate our actions and how we think and feel about ourselves and others.
So, to break it down and manage our ego, we need to explore what it is and how it works.
What is the ego?
You might recognise the Ego from some good old Freudian psychology (No, not the dick stuff).
Basically, our ego is the little voice in our head that tells us what we are, what we aren’t, what we’re good at, or what we suck at. Our inner dialogue- good or bad- is created by our ego to establish our identity.
Think of the labels you use to describe yourself.
High performer. Intelligent. Good parent. Attractive. Successful. Innovative. Creative.
Our ego wants to keep the status quo, and solidify these labels. It’s not necessarily a bad or evil thing, it’s just something we develop over time to form our identity.
If something happens to threaten the image we have of ourselves, our ego rises up and tries to prevent the emotional pain of having this label taken away from us.
A common example we hear is about participation trophies and kids getting told they’re special all the time.
The reason that can be damaging, is because if you’re told you’re gifted every single day, you get awards and trophies all the time, you start to engrain that as part of your personality.
It becomes who you are, you identify with the label of gifted.
Then one day, you try to make it big in the city or something, and you realise you’re actually not the most gifted person on the planet. There are people better than you, and you were just a big fish in a small pond.
Because that’s painful to experience, your ego comes out to protect you. It says it’s everyone else’s fault for giving you false hope. It tells you that everyone else must have some secret advantage, or that you’re way more special than Bob, Tim, and Jane.
You can see, the ego is something we form to protect ourselves. It’s not trying to hurt us, but it does stop us seeing things clearly and distort our judgment.
How to recognise your ego
Some symptoms of ego you might notice in everyday life are:
- Deflection- taking the conversation somewhere completely different, “it wasn’t me it was someone else”
- Denial- fighting to prove something’s not your fault
- Distortion- twisting the situation to try to make it fit what you wish the situation was
- Comparison- comparing yourself to others either proving you’re better or worse than them
- Defence- getting defensive or manipulative
- Justification- trying to sell someone as to why you’ve done what you’ve done
- Blame- putting the responsibility or fault on someone else
A good way to know if your ego is controlling you, is if you see yourself and your behaviour in this list and you’re doing one of these right now to avoid confronting your ego.
How to check your ego every day
Our ego is that little voice in our head, right? Well it’s time to start talking back.
To manage our ego and help put it in its place, there are five things you need to say to get it to pipe down.
- I can hear you
The first step to dealing with any issue is to acknowledge it. When we hear that little voice start to pipe up, we say (out loud or not, up to you), “I can hear you”. When we acknowledge our ego, it stops having to fight to be heard.
- I know what you’re trying to do
One of the quickest ways to disarm the power struggle between you and your ego, is to lay the cards on the table. It’s trying to talk to you, influence your actions, and dictate how you live your life. Stop it in its tracks and recognise what’s happening.
- You are not me
This is an important distinction to make. Your ego does not actually dictate what you say and do and how you think and feel. It just gives (sometimes unhelpful) suggestions. What it says is not absolute, and you don’t have to take it on board. Establish a boundary between you and your ego, and it becomes more manageable.
- I’m not going to play this game anymore
When your ego pipes up with a “God I don’t know why she’s mad at me, it was all Jane’s fault anyway” or “He’s only criticising me because he’s jealous”, you’ve got to disengage. You hear the ego, you recognise what the strategy is, you know it’s not a part of you, and you choose to ignore it. It takes two to tango, and you’re politely deciding to walk away, because you have your eyes on bigger and better things.
- Thank you
Finally, we need to take a moment to appreciate our ego. It’s only trying to protect us, and we’ve calmly and firmly decided that it’s not serving us anymore. So thank it for its service, and let it go
How will this change your life?
When you stop living and dying by the labels you’ve assigned yourself, you’re free to respond to situations exactly as they are. You don’t have a nervous breakdown or take it personally, you can respond calmly and rationally.
Now who likes the sound of that?
If you’re at work and someone criticises you, you learn not to take it personally, and instead ask yourself, “where’s the truth in their perspective?”. You take the feedback you can work with, then leave the rest.
BOOM – your work improves and you don’t end up in a petty feud.
If your kid lashes out and says they hate you, you know you love that little monkey more than anything and you’re only doing the best you can.
You know you’re a good parent and they’re just chucking a tantrum.
BOOM – you react with patience and logic, and you’re showing your kid what healthy regulation of emotions looks like.
Say your partner or your friend takes a few days to respond to a message, or they forget your birthday, or they don’t love your f**king outfit.
BOOM – you know that this has nothing to do with your worth as a person. And because it doesn’t affect how you see yourself, you don’t get a chip on your shoulder and end up in a dumb fight with them.
So, thank your ego for how it’s trying to help you, and recognise all the ways in which it’s holding you back.
Managing our ego and keeping it in check is one of the most productive, rational, magnetic, attractive things we can do.
But not that it matters, because we’re not obsessed with these labels, right?