The ego can is defined in the Cambridge Dictionary as ‘your idea or opinion of yourself, especially your feeling of your own importance and ability’.
What we believe about ourselves plays a significant role in how we react to the world. If we believe we are funny, we will crack jokes because that is the type of person that we believe we are. If we believe we are boring, we will avoid talking about ourselves out of fear that other people will find it very dull.
The funny thing about these two examples is that the label drives the behaviour, rather than the other way around. We were not born with the labels funny or boring, yet by encapsulating these personalities in how we act, we make them happen. The funny person constantly tells jokes and finds what people find amusing. The boring person avoids speaking about subjects they find interesting and come across an uninteresting character.
When we talk about ego, we often refer to the inflated sense of self we may have. Ego is usually made out as a criticism where we talk about people’s inflated egos and high opinions of themselves. But ego can be broader – it’s how we behave more generally, and one of its bigger influences in modern society is explicitly wanting to avoid the label of having a big ego, meaning that we often avoid talking about our achievements for fear of being seen as arrogant.
As established earlier, how we see ourselves can dramatically change how we are seen by others in the world. Rather than us being born with specific character traits, it is actually dominated more about our sense of self. So if we can change how we see ourselves, we can make massive changes in the way we behave – to the point that we can even change how happy we decide to be.
The ego has a purpose. It is what defines us as a person – it is our name and how we are identified as one individual as compared to an other. Without any sense of self, it would be hard to perceive our world as opposed to the life of another. By having a level of ego, it will also allow us a level of self-agency to live life and take decisions for ourselves.
But there’s also a reason we have built up all these different beliefs about ourselves. When we were young, we internalised many labels based upon what people said about us. What our authority figures – parents, aunts and uncles, teachers – said about us played a great role in defining how we see ourselves. So if we were told we were a troublemaker, this often actually made our behaviour worse because that is how we viewed ourselves. Likewise if we were told we were the smartest kid ever (or ‘going to be the next president’) we encapsulated this into our believes. Unsurprisingly lots of people then have a crisis of confidence when they were told these things then find it extremely hard to get a job when finishing their studies.
For me, I have been working on deconstructing my ‘intelligent’ label. A lot of my adult interactions have been driven subconsciously from an analytical level, to the point where the rational-side of my brain has dominated my life. Meanwhile my care for my body, emotional wellbeing and wider sense of spirit have been neglected. This has been driven by my ego – to be the one with something intelligent to say in the room. I also was embodying what I told myself – that I’m not sporty, based upon how I was at school.
I do not think my ego particularly likes being challenged. Having grown up with this label ingrained in my head, it has taken a hold on how I frame and interact with the world. So there have been points where I feel uncomfortable with reviewing my own beliefs. What has been particularly prevalent recently is the frustration that I am doing this work and others are not. This is an ego-driven emotion, because it highlights judgment about others (that I don’t actually know what they are doing!) nor am I in control of other people’s lives – I’m in control of my own. The ego’s self defense mechanisms can be strong.
Working on my ego has meant I am now more comfortable in situations where I don’t have anything to say, and when I need to listen to others. It also has allowed me to get less frustrated when people have other points of view, as implicitly I am not feeling subliminally attacked as being less intelligent. By not defining myself by individual character traits, it allows me to express myself in different ways that I previously could not.
This is more broad than just intelligence, but also things like being funny, or charming, or even introverted. The latter label of ‘introverted’ is interesting as a particular example because I believe that it can be helpful to understand more about ourselves through tools like personality tests in MBTi, but we can then end up overplaying this to the point we let such new labels define our lives. Whilst I recognise that I like having downtime after socialising with people, I also enjoy people’s company and can spend lots of time with them in a subject that stimulates me.
By taking away these definitions of who I am, I am far freer. I can live in the moment and react to situations as I want to. If I want to make a joke, I can do. If I want to be very serious, I can as well. I can have more intense conversations about life goals, but also have a casual chat about the weather. Before I used to find the switch between these two harder as I told myself I enjoyed deeper conversations with meaning, however now I recognise any conversation can have meaning, no matter the subject of discussion.
From here, I can define new behaviours that I do want to embody – being creative, generous and happy. For example, by deciding that I want to be a happy person, I am rewriting the narrative I had about myself about being a pessimist from when I was younger and had a more negative view of the world around me. So I am changing how I am.
I share these points because I believe people can change, and change rather dramatically. This is not a question of age, sex, religion or anything else. This is a question of whether you would like to work on changing yourself, and are willing to put the work in to do so. From my own experience, I can enjoy life more fully by not tying myself down to outdated labels, and yet the work to get there takes time and can be challenging, particularly when we see things we don’t like.
Would you like to change? Let me know your reflections and comments below. Equally drop me a message if you’d like to hear more about this space of personal development.