Stop Demonizing Ego - We All Need One to Survive and Thrive

Caroline de Braganza

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(Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay)

It’s time to set the record straight.

Ego has received a lot of adverse publicity over the years, because we don’t understand what it really means.

It’s common to dismiss people with, “She’s so full of herself - such a big ego.”

We’ve forgotten the importance of ego and view it with disgust as something we should conquer and banish forever from the planet. We interpret it as a state in which a person is vain, self-centred, conceited, proud (why the heck not?), and is too damn high and mighty.

In everyday language, ego means the extent to which one has a high opinion of oneself, in psychology it means something different.

We shouldn’t forget the essential role ego plays in our psychological make-up.

In my case, we are close friends; we have a healthy relationship. We’ve walked through the rocky terrain of depression and we’re still together.

Let’s first look at varying definitions of ego

  • A person’s sense of self-esteem
  • Your idea of opinion of yourself; feeling of your importance, ability and intelligence
  • Considering oneself separate from God and others because of association with mind, body and intellect
  • Self-concept - who am I
  • That part of the mind which mediates between the conscious and the unconscious
  • The part of a person’s mind that tries to match the hidden desires of the unconsciousness mind with the demands of the real world
  • Sigmund Freud’s tripartite model of id, ego and superego.

The list of definitions is endless but the curious thing is how did we reach this point where ego is so maligned?

Ego functioning (or identity) is one of the most important elements to consider in understanding an individual’s personality and the ways they operate in the world. It’s our self-consciousness system that reflects on our thoughts, feelings, and actions and inhibits or legitimizes them to ourselves and to others.

You can see that without ego, we’d be dysfunctional or disinterested humans; or both. It’s who we are.

People on a spiritual path often misinterpret the meaning of ego, as psychotherapist Mark Epstein explains:

What makes for an unhealthy ego?

If you say yes to four or more of these ten behavioural habits, you’ve work to do to improve your mental health.

  • You use anger to control other people
  • You feel you’re not good enough
  • You refuse to face fear and challenges
  • You expect perfection from yourself and others
  • You use blame, avoidance, criticism or denial in difficult situations
  • You feel a sense of entitlement or snobbery
  • You compete with others to prove you’re better than them
  • You’re jealous or judgmental of other’s success
  • You avoid making apologies and taking responsibility
  • You always need to be right and feel superior

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse may help shift your perspective if you feel small and insignificant:-

What’s a healthy ego then?

If you generate thoughts, feeling and actions around the following personality traits, you are on the right road to thrive.

  • You are reflective, responsive, and resourceful
  • You think in terms of possibilities
  • You’re optimistic and grateful
  • You’re curious
  • You don’t personalize what others say or do; you maintain a healthy perspective
  • You embrace the imperfections of yourself, others and life
  • You take ownership of problems; let other people handle themselves
  • You practice acceptance, compassion, and cooperation
  • You act with integrity and authenticity
  • You can tell the difference between what you can and cannot change
  • You have a strong sense of personal power
  • You are adaptive and flexible
  • You feel worthy
  • You can give and receive love and appreciation
  • You are aware of your interests, desires, and talents

Don’t despair if you don’t yet reflect all these characteristic as you go about your day. However, the good news is that you can develop these ways of thinking, feeling and acting until they become second nature.

Our ego is an integral part of our emotional identity

And you are the lead actor. You are the pilot. You are the navigator. Your healthy ego is your friend, but you always need to be in charge. Mind what you say as Ego is expecting cues from you - it does what it thinks you want it to do.

Watch your thoughts and the words you use and ask yourself if they’re helpful or harmful.

With the right coaching, you and your ego make a formidable team!

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Published essayist. Follow me for local news that impacts our lives, plus stories on public and mental health. Through writing, I also share my passion for music, politics, our environment and social justice, and hope you find value in my words.

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