How do you define ‘ego’?
Not the Freudian ego that keeps the id and superego balanced but the one that is intrinsically intertwined into our everyday actions.
How does it exactly feel to be egoistic? Is it the feeling you get when you sense someone is beneath you, and you love the power and position that allows you to look down on others? Or the high you get when you boast about your achievements while stomping on someone else’s self-esteem? Yes, this sounds evil and this is overly exaggerated. However, Ryan Holiday writes,
“The ego we see most commonly goes by a more casual definition: an unhealthy belief in our importance. Arrogance. Self-centred ambition… It’s that petulant child inside every person, the one that chooses to get his or her way over anything or anyone else. The need to be better than, more than, recognized for, far past any reasonable utility — that’s ego. It’s the sense of superiority and certainty that exceeds the bounds of confidence and talent.”
But is that all ego is about? That is what I thought it was until I was introduced to the concept of guilt being a subtle form of ego. This concept was so beautifully explained by Mark Manson, “Construing everything in life to make yourself out to be constantly victimized requires just as much selfishness as the opposite”. Thus, deciding not to let my ego get the best of me is not only because of the ego itself but the guilt that exists in the form of ego.”
When talking about ego in terms of the ego itself, I don’t want it to get the best of me because it stops you from growing. Life itself is a series of problems that need to be solved to derive happiness and every time you go through the process, not only do you live a happier life but the bonus point would be the lesson learnt that in turn makes you grow more mature, wise and skilful. When you attain ego that tells you that you’re better than everyone else and constantly focuses on how to show that superiority, you lose sight of the elements that promote growth in you. Not only does it make you feel invincible in a bad way, but it also robs you of the opportunity to learn. This is because when you truly believe that you are always right, you will stop seeing yourself as a mere imperfect human who makes mistakes and messes things up. You forget to question yourself ‘What if I’m wrong?’. As much as this sounds like a confidence boost, the effects can be detrimental where we begin to constantly justify our mistakes and wrongdoings instead of apologizing, reflecting and learning from them.
Moreover, when we talk about ego in the sense of it being the basis of guilt, I don’t want it to get the best of me because it forces us into the victim mindset. As explained earlier, victimizing ourselves requires as much selfishness as ego itself requires. When we indulge ourselves in guilt where we believe everyone else is better off than us, we begin to buy into the victim mindset that convinces us that we deserve special treatment, that we are entitled to special treatment from people around us. Not only does it crush our self-esteem and make us dependent by believing in the given statement, but it also stops us from taking a hundred per cent responsibility for who we are at the moment. Instead, the victim mindset influences us to constantly blame the external circumstances for how we are now and justify our guilt-ridden attitude with our past traumas. It causes us to be stuck in an eternal loop of blame and indulgence of guilt that prevents us from taking charge and doing what needs to be done to mend what’s broken.
Lastly, both ego and subtle form of ego (guilt) ultimately makes you lack understanding. It is no secret that ego and being understanding are at both ends of the spectrum. When we are overly-indulged in our world view of how things are in regards to our ego that allows us to look at ourselves through rose-coloured glasses and have a jaundiced view on others, we will stop trying to understand them. For instance, when our peer encounters a failure, instead of trying to be understanding and compassionate, we usually let our own thoughts consume us where we attribute their failure to their incapability and attribute our failures to external circumstances that indirectly make us feel better or worse about ourselves depending on which side of the ‘ego’ coin we’re talking about. But what we should be doing instead is not comparing our successes and failures to others that the ego encourages us to do, but to give a helping hand to pull them out of that failure. Similarly, when we perceive our guilt-ridden selves to be entitled to the special treatment due to our situations, we expect to be considered more important and prioritised above everything else and this prevents us from even trying to shift our focus from ourselves to others, never mind trying to understand them. When you lack understanding, you automatically lose your ability to be compassionate. It comes in a package.
Ego is present in all of us, to protect ourselves in some sort of way and being in denial about its existence is not going to help. But what helps us to understand why it’s not a good idea to let ego take the steering wheels of our lives. Life is not life without growth. Life is not life if we’re constantly stuffing ourselves into a box called ‘victim’. And life is definitely not life without understanding and compassion. These are the reasons why I decided not to let my ego get the best of me.