The ego plagues every single one of us at one time or another throughout our lives. The ego was developed to serve very specific purposes but, is it still relevant now? Should we still depend on the ego as we so often do?
Enter Andrew Hawcroft on Ego
A great case could be made for saying that if the Earth…(including humans)…is ever to become the paradise that so many (religious or not) fantasise about, then the removal of the Ego from every man, woman and child on the planet would be the way to go.
I’m talking of Ego in the strictest psychological sense. Not just the casual interpretation that suggests arrogance, although arrogance is one manifestation.
I also put quotes around the word ‘adversary’ because it the Ego is not really an enemy in and of itself. Ego served its purpose in human evolution. It got us out of the trees and made us develop physically, mentally, culturally, technologically and emotionally. However, given the state of the planet and humanity at the moment, it is becoming clear that Ego has long since outlived its usefulness.
We all have an element of Ego inside us. The vast majority is generally unaware of its effect, usually only becoming aware (and often only faintly so) when something goes badly wrong in our lives; serious arguments in relationships, (beyond the “You forgot to buy the milk again,” variety,) or a sense of crushing failure when a business fails, a cherished career position is not reached, a desired athletic goal or title is missed, etc.
Valuing our self-worth through external achievements is often inviting the Ego to creep into our lives, and – bottom line – anything in our lives fuelled by the Ego is inherently flawed. The Ego is perhaps the single greatest (and most unappreciated) contaminant of humanity’s potential, both on a global scale and on a personal level; whether it involves a country, or an athlete sitting alone in a changing room before a sporting event. Okay, I’ll be more pragmatic and use fitness-training more specifically as a focus.
The shockingly common use of steroids, plastic surgery, Botox, etc, are all aspects of the Ego in its prime at work, and as mentioned, are inherently contaminated endeavours. Psychologically speaking, the Ego, by its very nature, is never satisfied, always wanting to be fed with just…more, and when it is actually indulged, be it with plastic surgery, or chasing a bigger house, more money…whatever, it is finally being fed, and as such grows stronger, developing s a more prominent place in that person’s psyche, just like a parasite.
During my time as a gym instructor, I saw the effects of steroid use on the personae of men and women, and wasn’t not pretty. We sense the energy (the ‘vibes’) of a person before they speak a word. Through various subtle means (which I may go into in a later article) ,assuming we shut-off/ignore any noisy mental pre-judging habits, we absolutely feel a person’s nature very clearly in their very presence, even though we don’t often intellectually understand why. This is why we can find ourselves naturally drawn to or repelled from somebody.
People who take steroids (sticking with steroids as an example, but you could substitute any ego-driven endeavour or process; this is not an article on steroids per se) are indulging a fearful side of their nature; (often founded on some level during their vulnerable childhood years,) a sense of inadequacy, something all-too common in any materialistic society. A sense of inadequacy is obviously an Ego-related flaw. Taking steroids is indulging that inadequacy, succumbing to that particular demand of the Ego, and so only feeds and develops it.
Many years ago now, a hulking bodybuilder that trained at a gym I went to, travelled abroad for cash-in-hand work, and came back literally half the physical size he was when he left. (Clearly they could not get what they were taking abroad.) The sense of crippling poor self- worth, stripped of its muscular coat, was now painful to see. He virtually crept into the gym, his hand almost over his eyes. “Give me a month and I’ll be the biggest guy here again,” he managed. He was, by the way. I’ll leave it to you to form an opinion on what such an approach to training and to life is worth. I don’t tell this anecdote to sneer or condemn, only to illustrate the very real-world effects of what I’m talking about regarding the Ego. Unless you are very young, it’s likely you could come up with your own examples.
But even before he left, when that guy was still the hulking monster version, there emanated from him that very pale sense of fear, of undeniable insecurity, of dependency, that always comes along with any activity that involves succumbing to the Ego. It’s really no different from romantic relationships where a man or woman claims the other is
“Their world, their rock, their life.” (Thank you, Celine Dion!)
Actually, that person is complete all by themselves.
The Dalai Lama said it best;
“The best relationships are the ones where your love for that person outweighs your need for that person.”
Not needing somebody, but being drawn to them, to who they are in their very essence, is probably the best definition of real true love. Needing somebody is something else. Needing a man or woman to make you feel complete, or safe, or worthwhile as a person, is a not true love. It’s not even romantic. It’s fear, and fear comes from the Ego, from the primeval dread of being obliterated by Life.
All easy to say (or type) you might think. Loneliness can be a powerful thing if it’s not understood., but understanding it’s roots lessens the fear to a degree.
Staying with relationships and the Ego; there is also the perceived sense of social pressure to find a partner.
“Everybody else has got one. I better get one or I’ll feel a failure…a freak.”
Again, here, the Ego is at work, stimulating again a fearful dread of being inadequate, and therefore a fear of abandonment; a time-carved social fear of being ostracised from the tribe (society) if you don’t fit it.
In this day and age, certainly here in the affluent West, where consumerism and material attainment is such a part of those superficial social values, people can suffer purely from an Ego-created sense of inferiority that persuades them (if they choose to listen to those Ego- created thoughts) to all manner of unhealthy, possibly destructive actions and attitudes. Why else would anyone take something that has such an ugly medical and emotional track record as steroids? Why else would you have a surgeon change your very face for purely cosmetic purposes? (Injuries and genetic abnormalities don’t count. Then plastic surgery is a medical marvel, a godsend!) Why else would you buy new versions of electronic devices a matter of months after the previous version came out? Why else would you indulge the ugly and damaging energies of resentment and envy over a colleague or competitor who achieved the job or medal that you sought?
Ego plays its part in business too.
Consumerism, the aspect of our society that reduces our bank accounts so effectively, is almost entirely an Ego-based industry. That’s why I have to turn off the sound on TV when the adverts come on, or simply avoid a cafe’ or other place where local radio is belting out their constant five-minute ad breaks. Adverts, be they be in image or audio, are not benign. Each one is quietly telling you that you are lacking something, and that, on a very low level, stimulates fear, usually in the form of a slight sense of inadequacy. Maybe also the actors used are so good-looking you will feel physically inferior. How else could the painfully common phenomenon of body-dysmorphia (feeling excessively physically unattractive) be so prevalent in our society? Maybe the product suggests that you will be socially inferior without it? I won’t labour the point, you get my meaning.
Violence could not exist without Ego. When somebody threatens you, and you react angrily, the Ego has taken over, because it fears obliteration. It doesn’t know that the real you is always there beneath it and the fearful thoughts it creates. That’s true by the way. Your thoughts are not you. Thinking is just an evolutionary tool that is sometimes useful in day-to- day practical aspects, such as planning things, but when not in use for such a purpose, it can be overtaken by the Ego, which then runs fearful interpretations and scenarios through your mind. None of these thoughts and images are real though. None of them are you.
Aggressive behaviour itself comes from fear. Yes, that drunken knucklehead who thinks you spilled his pint is unconsciously reacting from a sense of Ego-created fear, a sense that your action suggests he’s inferior, weak, thus vulnerable. Therefore he must defend himself. Nobody with healthy self-esteem would react that way. Alcohol by the way, contrary to popular belief, is a stimulant, just like coffee. Once the initial soporific effect has settled, alcohol stimulates many of the bad stress hormones such as Cortisol, encouraging aggressive or ‘boisterous’ behaviour as a release. It encourages anxious thinking. It also lowers the healthy ‘feel-good’ hormones such as Testosterone and Serotonin, which is why alcohol is labelled a chemical depressant.
But aggression is only an extreme form of the unconscious psychological process described above. It exists on much more subtle levels, that fear-fuelled reaction. It might be in a heated discussion over holiday destinations, panic over a lost wallet, failing to achieve a promotion you wanted… On the fitness level, it can manifest as unhealthily obsessive training, the kind that feels almost like a kind of self-punishment. It could be excessive ambitiousness to win a certain title or event, to the detriment of a well-balanced life and the important things that such a thing contains. Things such as an honourable attitude, personal integrity, maintaining relationships with friends and loved ones, general good health and well being, and maintaining other interests.
The habitual judging and critiquing of others, either mentally, verbally or in print, is another, very common means of the Ego attempting to strengthen itself. In criticising, the Ego is attempting to place others below it in its estimation. It is perhaps the only reason that TV programmes such as most reality shows, and the more miserable soap operas, remain bizarrely popular. Relishing the misfortunes of others is ugly ‘entertainment’ at best, since it entirely involves the greedy feeding and strengthening of the Ego.
I hope you are beginning to perceive the ways in which Ego plays its part in the more negative aspects of our behaviour. Beating it ultimately involves simply being aware of it. Being aware of it means it can no longer secretly operate your thoughts and behaviour, and you will be putting yourself back in control of your life…of yourself, allowing you to become the best version of yourself you can be.
To end then, some basic suggestions to reduce Ego’s impact upon your character and your life.
1) Use your feelings daily as a guide to the presence of Ego in you, thus reducing its influence. When you feel an unpleasant sense of urgency, desperation, fear or anger, that’s the Ego blindly reacting. Awareness isolates and diminishes it. It’s not you. Therefore don’t give it any attention. Let it go.
2) Examine your own physical training, whatever form it might take. Make sure it is enhancing your sense of wellbeing; your health and your peace of mind. Desist any aspects that are coming from a place of self-enhancement in the eyes of others. (What one might call the ‘Bad Ass Syndrome’. Martial artists and bodybuilders per se, though not exclusively, are particularly vulnerable to this.) This is merely feeding that Egoic-insecurity, and it’s only a number of steps further on from that before you are strutting the streets or pubs, unconsciously or even consciously hoping to encounter trouble, display your mightiness, and feed the Ego even more.
3) Knock off the casual critiquing of others.
4) Cut down on the booze. Alcohol dulls your self-awareness, providing the Ego with a bigger portal to enter your life.
5) Remember, you are already complete.