by Mariya V.Dimitrova | Jan 22, 2019 | Mind
The relationship with our own ego is fundamental for our happiness. It is central to how we deal with everything in life. So many times ego has been described as an enemy we are in a constant battle with or confused with self-confidence. In fact, according to psychology it is a natural part of us and we need to get to know it well in order to understand its function which will help us have a more balanced approach to it and ultimately – have a healthy relationship with our ego.
The structure of our psyche
We can imagine the structure of our psyche as consisting of three parts – the subconscious is on the bottom, then the ego comes and the superego is on the top. The subconscious contains our instincts, the aggressive and sexual impulses, as well as our suppressed memories. The superego contains our ideal vision of ourselves. The ego is our identity – our behavior, our relations with the world and it depends to a large extent on the way we balance between the subconscious and the superego. We cannot ignore either of them. That is why we as humans are such complex creatures – we are woven of contradictory impulses, desires and needs. It is really hard but vital to find and maintain a relative balance between them in a healthy way.
The natural need to feel significant and valuable
Our ego is tightly connected with our need to feel significant, special and valuable. This a natural need for all of us. When in our childhood our parents express their love for us, treat us with respect and use the right approaches in our upbringing to help us build a solid, healthy sense of self-worth, we start feeling confident and valuable deep within ourselves.
However, if our parents haven’t managed to help us feel valuable and build self-respect, we regularly suffer from intense negative feelings like anxiety, anger or jealousy. Then our ego has the task to compensate for this and it often doesn’t happen in the healthiest way.
Some of the usual unhealthy ways in which the ego tries to protect our sense of self-worth:
- building masks that hide the true self and undermine authenticity (these masks and pretending to be someone you are not eat up a person’s energy and are extremely exhausting)
- all kinds of unhealthy ways to avoid the pain and internal insecurity, trying not to face reality and denying problems since acknowledging them is frightening to the people whose sense of self-worth doesn’t have deep, healthy roots
- focusing on other people’s weaknesses and disadvantages and behaving arrogantly in an attempt to lessen the tension coming from the poor self-esteem
- or the opposite tactic – acquiring the role of a victim so that in a pervert way the person gets attention and compassion from the others which he or she uses as evidence of his/her own significance
- excessive people-pleasing and search for approval and praise
- destructive ambition and workoholism
- striving for living up to certain expectations at any cost
The costs of using these harmful strategies usually include a person’s physical or psychological health as well as the relationships with the closest people.
We need to say good-bye to our childhood defense mechanisms
When we are under stress or start feeling anxious because the discrepancy between our superego, our ego and our subconscious is expanding or when we get scared that our sense of self-worth is being threatened, our ego switches on automatically one or more of the defense mechanisms it created in our childhood years. When we were children, these mechanisms were our savior in stressful situations. We didn’t have another option because we were inexperienced and immature.
However, when we become adults, we have a much bigger capacity to analyze a situation and consciously choose a suitable attitude and reaction to it.Unfortunately, a great number of people are not aware of this and still automatically and in most cases unconsciously jump to the old, outdated defense mechanisms. And in these cases we say that the person has a problem with their ego. Actually, what happens is that this person’s sense of self-worth or the things their ego is used to are threatened and the ego does its best to protect them. Sometimes with overcompensation – the person behaves as though their confidence and self-esteem are huge when in reality they are underdeveloped and like a small dog frightened by the dangers of the big world, their ego “barks” by putting on the mask of self-importance just to protect the extremely vulnerable essence underneath.
Psychologists have made a list of the usual defense mechanisms of the ego. You can check whether you or the people around you use any of these mechanisms in stressful situations by
Acting out–expressing an emotion or urge without being aware of it
Compensation—offsetting your weaknesses by doing the opposite, counterbalancing, making up for them
Denial—refusing to accept the obvious truth in an unpleasant situation; insisting on the opposite; contradicting the evidence.
Displacement—channeling emotions onto another target rather the one that produced it; transferring feelings onto somebody more acceptable/closer/ less threatening
Distortion—substantial, grotesque alteration of events or reality
Fantasy—escaping the reality by focusing inwards, imagining revenge or your own death; excessive day dreaming
Humour—expressing otherwise unpleasant thoughts in a humorous way for pleasure; making fun of bad situation
Hypochondriasis—complaining of unknown illnesses; constantly worrying and talking about health issues as a reaction to negative feelings towards others
Idealization—refusing to see the negatives in others; praising something or someone; putting them on a pedestal
Identification—role modeling; taking on behavioral patterns of another person; moulding oneself on other
Intellectualization—objectively explaining the events; using logic to justify the situation
Introjection—relating to ideas; associating with objects or other people so much they become part of you
Isolation—isolating the emotional and rational part of the event; talking about traumatic experiences without displaying feelings
Passive aggression-—expressing your anger and frustration indirectly to other people
Projection—imputing your own negative qualities, emotions, behavioral motivations to others
Rationalization—giving false rational or logical reasons for behavioral or situational outcomes, i.e. when you fail to get something, saying that you did not even want it that much
Reaction Formation—reacting in an opposite way to the emotion, reversing the feeling
Regression—acting childishly; throwing tantrums; reverting to an earlier stage of development
Repression—preventing unpleasant ideas or memories to reach conscious awareness; blocking them
Suppression—pushing away unpleasant feelings to the unconscious, bottling up anxiety, keeping the traumatic feelings inside in order not to think about them.
Ego is like a fearful child whom our soul, like a wise and loving parent, has to calm down and direct
Ego is not our enemy. It is trying to protect our sense of self-worth, albeit with unsuccessful and wrong methods, and defend the familiar territory of our habitual behavioral models and way of thinking. It is afraid of changes even if these changes are beneficial for us. However, we do not need to fight with our ego. If we think of it as a fearful child, we need to be the wise, understanding and correcting parent it needs. So the first step is to realize that we are not our ego. It is part of us, but we are bigger than it. We are an entity of body, mind, spirit and soul. Our soul contains our wisdom, or in other words – the internal, wise parent that we become to ourselves if we really grow and reach maturity in our way of thinking.
There are different ways in which we can substitute the old, outdated defense mechanisms of our ego with healthy attitudes, approaches and coping strategies. Psychological books, seminars, workshops and individual consultations with therapists, actually, anything that awakens our consciousness and helps us connect with our soul is good and beneficial to our development.
Daily self-observation and conversations with other people who have started their journey of self-knowledge or have already gained a lot of experience in it are like vital nutrition to our soul, success as human beings and happiness. If you would like to learn more about some good coping strategies as well as the ego of different types of people according to their prevalent element Air, Fire or Earth