What’s the first thing that you think about when you hear the word “ego”? A lot of people seem to equate the ego (especially having a “big ego”) with egotism. While that’s understandable, especially since we’re living in the social media age where more and more people staging their lives in order to get social approval in the form of likes, shares, and comments, that’s not what the ego is.
The ego is something that we all have. It’s a part of ourselves. Like all the parts of our psyche, we can be privy to what it wants and needs. More importantly, we can work with it.
Ego in Psychoanalytic Theory
Sigmund Freud introduced the concept of ego in 1911, in the Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning. Freud introduced the idea of the psyche as having three layers: the id, the ego, and the superego. The id is all about the instincts, impulses, and desires, while the superego is the internalization of all the societal rules and values. The ego is the mediator, the part of the psyche that consciousness resides in.
Freud referred to the ego as “Ich”, or “I.”
The ego is our sense of self. It is neither bad nor good. It is who we’re referring to when we say “I like skiing,” or “I want to change the world for the better.”
The Ego and Our Sense of Self
To understand what a positive relationship with the ego looks like, I think we need to understand the opposite first. What are some of the most common characteristics of an egotistical person? Here are a few:
- Everything has to be about them.
- They need constant validation and approval from everyone.
- They have an exaggerated sense of self.
- They are focused only on the things that they value, how they see the world, and what they like.
If you look closely, all of these characteristics have something to do with holding on to a particular identity that a person has concocted for themselves. Egotistical people hold on to a singular narrative about themselves, and they will preserve that narrative at the cost of anything. When they encounter something that (they feel) challenges that image of themselves that they have in their heads, they feel like their very existence is being threatened. They will carefully curate and arrange their lives to maintain that image, and they feel satisfied when people compliment or validate them accordingly.
With that being said, to have a positive relationship with our ego is to be the exact opposite of that. Having a strong ego is to be flexible. To be open to challenges and questions. To take pride in one’s ability to adjust and to grow.
A person is not a brick wall. We are fluid and constantly changing. Would you say that you’re exactly the same person that you were 10 years ago? If no, why would you think that who you are at this moment is worth building your entire life around?
Building a Positive Relationship with Your Ego
In a way, we can’t really escape the ego. We experience the world through one point of view: ours. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that who we are is all we are. It takes special care and effort to think of ourselves as a part of a bigger whole, with a role to play in making the world a better place.
The ego’s work is a balancing act, and so is the work of building a relationship with it. It’s important to understand and celebrate our capabilities, our personalities, and our talents, but it’s equally important to remember that we are also so much more than those things. The goal is to welcome growth, change, and improvement. Once we shift the focus from who we currently are towards the person that we’re working on being, we’ll see the world, and ourselves more clearly.
The ego will become our guiding light, a friend that uplifts us whenever we’re doing things that are in service to our higher calling. When that day comes, all we’ll have is a quiet celebration of this part of ourselves that has long been misunderstood.
Thank you Ego…
You have shown my limits
You have shown my force
Shed lights upon the real me
Good and ugly, guiding me, pushing me, you tried it all
My worse enemy when angry
My best ally when in control
Indeed, a while it took to tame you
Turn off the loud fake fanfare
Turn on silent work
Ego in check, you are now a silent force with focus
A silent force not seeking fame & fanfares
A silent force not seeking instant rewards
A silent force not seeking approval
A silent force, fierce, fair and focus
Focused on what matters to my greater self
Focused on long term rewards
Focused on healthy priorities
I know you will never go away
Always here, dormant for a moment
A dormant dragon that could burn it all
A dormant dragon that could fly high and far
Reaching beautiful summits of new horizons
Let’s go ego
Let’s be wise and wait and work
Let’s be smart and smooth and sure
No loud claims, but silent inputs
No loud ma-tu-vu,
No fake fanfares,
Ego, we shine
Ego, we grow
Ego, we achieve
Now and now
Our results talk
Our intentions shine
Our achievements show off
No fake fanfares