You are not your Ego
What’s the ego? How would you describe yourself if someone said to you, “Tell me about yourself?” Most of us would say what we do, our career, where we were born, whether we are single or married, if we have children or not. Even though these are standard answers, they are still part of the ego.
They are the masks we wear. Just like the masks of a carnival that we can change at will, in the same way we alternate between different masks, character and personality, depending on the environment and circumstance we are in.
We may act differently around family than we do at work. The same in our social circles, with friends, depending if they are close friends or acquaintances.
These are the “softer” parts of the ego. The “harder” parts would be our qualifications, our position at work, the car we drive, our house and its location, because we want to appear better than others. We want to feel important, validated, that we are someone, recognition for what we do.
That is normal, part of our basic human need to belong and to be validated. It tells us that we are somebody, that we are not a nobody. That’s more of an emotional need rather than the ego.
But basing that recognition on external factors, such as material belongings and who we think we are in the eyes of others, comes from the ego perspective. This is the ego that most of us deal with, the ego we see in ourselves and in others.
It becomes more obvious by people’s behaviour and attitude towards others. How the customer treats the person serving them, for example.
As for money, I recall it being described as a magnifying glass to a persons existing personality and character.
Growth of the Ego
Our ego begins its existence as soon as we are born. Although a baby or an infant cannot have an ego, as they are not able to comprehend the “importance” of external factors (material objects), they are still learning from those around them, and they always have an ego.
We build a dependency on a person, a parent, a family member and possibly get attached to a toy, a blanket or some other object – our comfort “toy” when the person we have put a dependancy on is not around. Other beliefs become a part of us at this stage, such as fears of abandonment, loss of love, need for validation when it does not exist in the first place.
At the pre-school age, we become aware of ourselves and our environment. We continue to form habits, dependant on what we see, what we hear, our experiences and our observations. This includes fears.
We are mostly influenced by the person with who we have build a dependency, taking on their ideas, opinions, fears and beliefs.
It is at this stage that we “take things in like a sponge”, meaning that we accept what we are told and see, whether that opinion is right or wrong.
Taking on Beliefs
Our likes and dislikes, our biases, become more apparent, forming a set of habits specific to us, the individual.
Our beliefs and fears, our biases and opinions, will remain the same until we question their validity, how true they are, by ourselves or we get information that shows or proves that they are not as true as we initially thought.
Education, family, friends and environment influence us and determine the outcome of our future, unless some intervention or crisis occurs, which directs us on another course of action.
Our adult life, then, becomes the sum total of those formative years. As we grow older we mostly “become wiser”, but, the type of “wiser” and how we put it to use is dependant on all that has gone before and whether we learned from the lessons that life brought us.
(See Jane Loevinger’s “Stage of Ego Development” for a more inside view on the development of the ego.)
The Reflected Mirror
The ego is that part of us that tells us that we are who we think other people think that we are. In other words, we build an idea of how other people see us.
Now, that is an amazing feat, because it would imply that we can “read” other peoples minds. We may be empathic and have an intuitive feeling about another person, but knowing what they are thinking about us is not within our current grasp (although I do believe that it is within our capability, if we believed that we could).
In reality we become a reflection of all the circumstances and events in our life. We create a persona that we want the rest of the world to see us as. And in effect it’s what we think the rest of the world sees.
The school we went to, the university, our qualifications, the wealth of our family, our parents’ careers and positions at work, our parents’ expectations on us, the clothes we wear, our career and position, our financial standing, the material objects we posses including our house….. the list goes on. All of these, and more, are what the ego is.
Layers upon layers of ideals and beliefs that we hold onto, that we believe that it’s who and what we are. All the ideas and beliefs that make us think that we are separate from the next person, that our individuality in this arena called life, is the most important thing there is.
It is a false image. A mask. Like an actor or actress who pretends to be a character in a film, but once that scene is over, they are someone completely different. Different beliefs, ideals, personality and character. As if we are a person with multiple personalities.
But, doesn’t it serve?
Doesn’t the ego serve though? Giving us that competitive edge, wanting to be better that John or Jane Doe or their company? Doesn’t it drive us to be better?
Simply put, no it doesn’t serve. Why would you want to be better than someone else when you can strive to be better than what you were yesterday? What greater challenge is there than to beat the you of yesterday?
Last week you run a mile and a half in nine and a half minutes? This week aim to run it five seconds faster.
I remember running behind others and saying to myself to try and catch up with that person before I reached my end line, giving myself the challenge to be better than before.
But what about races and international events? Runners? Tennis? Football (soccer)? They are competitive sports. Doesn’t the ego serve?
They are competitive sports and in them lies the idea that to win you have to strive to defeat the other person. And there are times when in doing so you end up performing better than you have before. But it’s not the ego – it’s a competitive spirit. Yes, it’s about defeating the other person or team, but it’s not your persona defeating another persona. It’s based on skill and the effort you put into it. Of course, you could allow your ego enough room to defeat the other person, making it a personal matter against another human being.
Competition is a matter of skill and effort, and putting your heart into something that you want to succeed in. And even that can be questioned by asking, “How much better can I perform than I did last time?”
Either way, there is always a small part of the ego remaining in competitive games.
When you let go of the ego you will also be free of restraints that bind you to the ego. It’s like a tug-o-war. Two teams pulling on both sides of the rope. When neither side is pulling there is no need for the rope. There is only the space where you can now do more in, not just pulling a rope.
Creativity flourishes when the ego is released, because we let go of emotions, fears and beliefs that do not serve us.
Think of the ego as a set of blinders that guide you in one direction. You can’t look to the sides because of the blinders – the ideals, beliefs, emotions, fears – you hold onto, that are part of the ego.
Drop the ego, drop the blinders, and a whole new world comes into your vision. New roads, pathways, that you have previously not been able to see and missed. Opportunities that you failed to see and act on.
In some ways it would be easier to say that the ego is like an onion, with each layer being a new belief and ideal that was placed as we grew up. At the centre is the pure self, the true self, long forgotten.
At the same time, the ego is similar to an egg, with its shell, the egg white and the yolk.
The shell is the persona we portray, who we think other people want to see and what we want others to see us as.
The white is the synergistic mix of the layers of ideals and beliefs. They are not independent beliefs, but so mixed that they become a bit interdependent on the other.
At the centre, the yolk, we have what is called the “Self Image”.
The Self Image
The self image and the ego are part of the same ideal.
Unlike the ego, however, the self image is how we see ourselves when we look in the mirror – it is the judgement of ourselves by ourselves.
It’s that part that tells us whether we can do something or not, be someone or not, achieve success or not. Whether we look as we want to look – physically.
It’s who you think you are when you look into the mirror.
Just like the ego, the beliefs and ideals you hold about yourself have developed over the course of your life and embedded into your subconscious mind, just like the beliefs of the ego.
All that you think you are, ego and self image, are stored in that mental, unseen, automatic library that we call the subconscious mind.
But what if you let go all of those beliefs? Who would you be then? And would that mean that you have no ego anymore?
I cannot judge what your morals and ethics are, but if we were to let go of our ego and self image, we would also be letting go of all our limitations.
You would realise that all you have been told may not be necessarily true – depending on your environment whilst growing up, whether it was a nourishing and encouraging environment or a neglectful and discouraging environment. Whether those beliefs that were encouraged or discouraged were biased or not.
Either way, you would realise that you are limitless, that you can achieve anything that feels natural to you, the only limitation being that of the body that you occupy. At the same time you would realise that all that you believed to be true, your beliefs and ideals, may hold no truth either.
The ego does not serve, no matter how positive it may seem; it’s still a set of blinders.
When we begin to let go of who and what we think we are, our need for material possessions to represent who and what we think we are, and must display to the world, diminishes. We begin to find a sense of peace.
In reality we can never not have an ego. What we can do is reduce its effect on us and our lives and not allow a persona that we have created to run out of control. It is a matter of mental awareness and acknowledgement, knowing it’s there, but we are the masters of our fate, the captains of our ship (taken from “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley).
We realise that happiness is not found in material possessions, but in what we have excluding them.
Let go of your ego’s need to be right. When you’re in the middle of an argument, ask yourself: Do I want to be right or be happy? When you choose the joyous, loving, spiritual mode, your connection to intention is strengthened.
To me the ego is the habitual and compulsive thought processes that go through everybody’s mind continuously. External things like possessions or memories or failures or successes or achievements. Your personal history.
If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.