Ego is one of those vague concepts that we all understand, but can’t quite pin down and verbalize. So what really happens inside you when your ego gets in the way of a heartfelt response and effective communication, and how can you mitigate it in future?
Just stop for a minute and in the privacy of your own head, try and find a way to verbalize the concept. You have 30 seconds starting now. Go.
Not so easy is it?
Even if you look up the dictionary definition of ego, it variously covers a wide range of concepts, from the awareness of ourselves as individuals, to our ability to relate and interact with the world, arrogance and self importance and even your self esteem. And that still doesn’t cover all the dictionary definitions. Point is, it’s vague, very vague – and if you can’t understand something and break it down into its components, it becomes almost impossible to work with or change it.
So what are the elements that can make up an ego response?
On some level, what the person has said has made you doubt something in your world.
Whether that something is about yourself and your abilities, or your connection to people or things that are important to you, the important key is that where you once felt secure, you now feel insecure.
In A Course In Miracles, we are taught that any reaction is about fear of separation, and in the case of doubt this holds very true: where you once thought were aligned with a person, ability, resource or characteristic, you now feel separated from that. In that moment, you therefore feel less-than the other person, and your immediate ego response is to make them less-than you.
So you belittle them in some way that reduces them to less-than you, because if they’re less-than you, then what they have said can obviously not be true. You must know better because you are superior to them – didn’t you just prove that by cutting them down to size?
So I guess it’s no surprise that feeling vulnerable is next on our list. In fact, feeling vulnerable could be an umbrella-categorization for all the ego-based emotions and reactions.
Whether you are doubting yourself, you feel shame, embarrassment, humiliation, fear, anger or guilt, you only do so because you are vulnerable: these topics are so near and dear to you, they carry such strong charges, that the slightest misstep in any of these areas makes you feel like you are laid open bare – anyone could rip you to pieces. So what’s kicked in is your survival instinct.
Over the years we’ve come to understand that emotional and mental stimuli can be as damaging to the human body as physical stressors – think a stress-induced heart attack for example. Your body however, has known this for as long as you’re alive. So when you experience any kind of stress, many of your terrestrial or instinctive reactions kick in – including the need to attack those that make you feel vulnerable and exposed.
Shame, Embarrassment & Humiliation
Shame, embarrassment and humiliation really have to do with how others see and perceive us, how we see and perceive ourselves, and the expectations we all have of each other.
Shame, humiliation and embarrassment cause us to feel foolish in front of others, they cause a sometimes-painful loss of pride, dignity and self-respect. We feel like we haven’t achieved enough, done enough, we aren’t worth enough; so again this drills down to our very self-worth.
So when someone is attacking you and you have a shame, embarrassment or humiliation, it’s again a less-than feeling that you want to rectify by making the person feel less than you.
We all have our internal secret fears, regardless of how together we look to the outside world.
Fear-based ego reactions are usually either driven by the fact that the person we feel is attacking us hit a very sensitive nerve, or we are simply overloaded with fear, and the wrong word at the wrong time triggered a flood of fear inside us.
Fear is irrational and takes a long time to control. Most importantly, until you have control over it, it’s an instinctive response that happens inside you.
Have you ever noticed how, while being in an ego-bashing situation with a superior you were possibly afraid of, that at the point the fear kicked in you got breathless, you had that surge of adrenalin wash over your body, your hands got sweaty, you felt like you wanted to run away or die? That’s your body’s terrestrial or instinctive fear response.
Fear makes you feel vulnerable, but far from being the maligned experience we often make it out to be, fear serves the purpose of getting you out of danger and keeping you alive.
The trick to managing fear in ego-reactions is to get a grip on all the fear in your life, and learn how to control your physical response in fear-based situations. It really can happen – it just takes a lot of practice if you aren’t that way inclined.
Anger happens for a number of reasons in an ego-based reaction, but like any anger, anger in this situation shows you that either the person in front of you has crossed your boundaries, or you have crossed your own internal boundaries.
Boundaries, like everything in life, are subjective. Perhaps the boundary the person crossed is that you didn’t want to hear or talk about this subject; perhaps they touched on something that’s always been painful for you to face; either way, they crossed your own internal boundaries of what is acceptable behavior in yourself or others.
So yes, while this makes you feel vulnerable, it also speaks to your expectations. Often if you realize that your expectations are unrealistic – or have not been communicated – you can release the charge of anger that lies in your ego-based reaction.
If you feel vulnerable and scared, most often it’s because you believe and fear that you lack in some way: you didn’t do enough, say enough, give enough, be enough, or love enough. Where there’s a feeling of not enough, there’s guilt.
Why didn’t I do that? Why didn’t I do more? Why didn’t I try harder? These thoughts live inside us, plaguing us, corrupting our inner voice and looking for a way to jump the surface and cause havoc in our world and life. An ego-based response is the perfect opportunity for this.
Guilt is really one of the most wasted of human emotions. First it throws you straight into vulnerability that causes a physiological response that you are going to battle to overcome. Second it keeps you and your energy trapped in the past, focused on events you can never change.
The most effective way to deal with guilt is to turn all those could-haves into dones. So when your mind starts listing all the things you could have done, then for each one list five things you can do now to make amends and clear your guilty conscience.
A one-stop tool for mitigating ego
The single most powerful tool for overcoming ego responses is simple tool you can use anywhere and anytime: the Ho’oponopono Forgiveness exercise.
If you find yourself reacting badly in a situation, simply focus on the person and in your head, keep repeating: “I’m sorry, I love you, I forgive you, Please forgive me.”
If your response is after the time and it’s playing over and over and over again in your head, then use the same statement while thinking about the person.
Keep going even if you don’t mean it in the beginning, you will eventually feel a release point where the charge will completely disappear – and you will stop thinking about it.
If you battle to visualize or need help keeping your focus on the person – which you often will with this exercise – then use this free online forgiveness tool based on the Ho’oponopono forgiveness exercise: http://lifecoachestoolbox.com/newmirrors/forgive.html