Out of all the things I’ve studied in psychology, learning about the ego is my absolute favorite. Because our ego lives in our subconscious it is very powerful in shaping our lives. We’ve all heard the word “ego” but do we really know what it means? If you’ve ever been called egotistical or egocentric then you probably didn’t think it was a compliment. There is so much more to our ego than just thinking we are full of ourselves. Our ego is not just our source of pride but also our self-love so before we learn what to do with it, we must learn what it is.
Your ego is the voice in your head.
Our ego is our inner narrator or our sense of “I”. A better way to think of our ego that offers us the most insight into our behavior is that our ego is the voice in our head. Our ego comments on our actions and behavior from the moment we open our eyes in the morning until we fall sleep at night, telling us what to do and what not to do. This isn’t the kind of “voice in your head” that is attributed to psychosis. Rather, you can think of it as a voice that manifests through your thoughts. According to Freud, the ego represents a psychological mechanism that mediates between our morality and our base desires.
For example, your ego is the voice that tells you “I’m way too tired to go to the gym” even when you know you haven’t gone all week and that it will be good for you. It’s what makes you obsessively check your emails a thousand times per day when you’re waiting for an important email, or gaze into the refrigerator even when you are not hungry. This internal voice is more than just a voice, it has a personality and it’s always trying to dictate our behavior.
Your ego is greedy.
To most, the ego is the source of behavior that is self-serving or unconcerned with the well-being of others. Our ego is selfish. The ego is never satisfied. It will always want more, it will never be content and it will never be perfectly happy. By design, the ego will always want more than it already has. When the ego is “fed” a new shiny thing, this simply resets the baseline for desire and immediately the ego begins reaching for something more. It doesn’t matter how many material possessions you have, nor does it matter how much money you’ve spent acquiring them – even if you don’t need it, you still yearn for the newest sports car or that hot new gadget.
So no matter how many times you try to satiate your ego’s desires, your ego will only want more. The ego is obsessed with the past and the future, and in its obsession, neglects the present, thus keeping you from fully living in the now. The ego loves dwelling in the past and thrives on drama by keeping old wounds open. It’s the reason that you complain to your spouse about a work problem at dinner, and it’s what causes you to lament being rejected by your first love at 17, despite being happily married today.
Your ego is your worst critic.
Your ego is constantly assessing your worth against the appearance, wealth and social status of others, but will always find you failing. No matter how smart, beautiful or wealthy you may be, according to your ego, there’s always someone smarter, more beautiful or wealthier than you. Thus, your ego will spur you to continually strive to become that “better” person. But after achieving what your ego wants, will you be happy? Probably not. The ego is never happy. Just think of all the rich, famous or fortunate people who have committed suicide, become addicted to drugs or otherwise ruined their lives.
So now that we know that our ego is our subconscious internal greedy voice that tells us what to do, always wants more and is never happy, does it mean we are destined for doom? No, of course not. Now that we know where it is and what it is, we can now know what to do with it. An untamed ego is an out of control ego. This is why we can’t let our ego run our lives, we must learn to control it.
“Be wise selfish rather than foolish selfish.”Dalai Lama
Around the time we are young adults, our ego begins to rebel by telling us to challenge all rules and to ignore direction from our parents. This is the time we must not give in to everything our kids want. Remember, the more our ego gets the more our ego wants. Nobody wants a spoiled ego, so if we want a healthy developed child, their ego must learn to obey and follow rules. It’s very important to teach our kids the word NO and use it often. Every time you say no to one of their demands you are challenging their ego. You might go through a tantrum or two during their childhood, but it is so much better than having an adult throwing tantrums whenever they want something they can’t have.
If we find ourselves always having negative thoughts and feelings about ourselves it may be because our ego has been secretly sabotaging our lives. If we didn’t learn to tame our ego as young adults or we simply let it get out of control, we can still do so as adults. Remember an out of control ego is an unhappy ego which results in an unhappy life. Luckily we don’t have to live with a spoiled child in our heads.
Control your ego by practicing mindfulness.
We can tame our ego by practicing meditation. When we practice meditation, we learn a valuable skill called mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to respond – and not react – to our surroundings as well as our impulses. Meditation increases our mindfulness by instructing us to immerse ourselves fully in the present moment, and not to be overwhelmed with life’s stressors.
Meditation also increase our compassionate behavior, that is, practicing concern for your own well-being and the well-being of others. Learning to demonstrate compassion toward yourself improves your decision making by allowing you to forgive yourself for mistakes and accept your flaws. In fact, studies have demonstrated that people trained in self-compassion meditation are more likely to demonstrate healthy behavior, such as quitting smoking or eating healthier. Likewise, being compassionate toward others actually helps you to become a more fulfilled person.
Your ego is your worst enemy or your best friend.
Controlling your ego does not mean forgetting about your own needs, stop being a productive member of society or becoming a pushover. In fact, practicing mindfulness actually makes you more creative and more productive as it clears your mind of unhelpful assumptions and routines and making space for new ideas and thoughts. High levels of stress or the need for competition are not necessary to fuel your drive. It is a much more satisfying exercise to control your urges than to indulge in them.
Knowing what our ego is and how powerful it is in our lives, the happier we will live with it. Our ego can be our best friend or our worst enemy, it’s our choice. The sooner we learn to love ourselves for who we are and learn to coexist, the happier we will be. Our ego is our true unapologetic self but due to society we have learned to hide out of fear of what others will think of us. Our ego doesn’t care what others think so we often have to suppress or hide it so it doesn’t manifest it’s true awesomeness. By letting go and just accepting ourselves for who we are and stop caring what others think, we will live in harmony and finally love ourselves for who we are.
Know thy true self.
My ego’s name is Lola. She is feisty, she is determined, she is manipulative, she is relentless. She believes in spoiling herself when she knows she has earned it. She demands respect and doesn’t waste time with people who don’t contribute to her growth. She is silly, she makes mistakes and is unapologetic about them. She owns her flaws and believes they are what makes her strong. Her battle scars means she’s gone to war and came back victorious. She knows how to forgive but never forgets. She accepts the limitations of humans. Nobody is perfect as long as we always push forward and overcome our obstacles. She believes mistakes are a way of life and a signs of work in progress but there is no excuse for ignorance so learn from them. She demands respect and she gives it in return. She treats others the way she wants to be treated. She believe in freedom of choice and that we can be who we want to be. She is my badass boss babe who I look up to on the daily. She is my muse and I admire everything about her. She lives in me and I am responsible for making sure she thrives. Her happiness is my happiness, my weaknesses are her strengths. She watches over me and always has my back. We are one.
10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story. (2019) by Dan Harris. Harris stumbled upon an effective way to rein in that voice, something he always assumed to be either impossible or useless: meditation, a tool that research suggests can do everything from lower your blood pressure to essentially rewire your brain.