In the online world of empowerment and self help there seems to be an endless debate about whether your ego is good or bad. Should we be striving to strengthen it or eradicate it?
It’s really not that simple as there are many schools of thought regarding the ego.
In psychoanalytic circles, the definition of ego is based on Freud’s most important and enduring theory that the human psyche or personality has three aspects; the id (I want it NOW!), the superego (No way! What would Grandma/our pastor/the neighbors think?), and the ego (Maybe later, at a more appropriate time, under more appropriate circumstances.) According to Freud’s theory the ego experiences and reacts to the outside world and mediates between the primitive drives of the id and the demands of the social and physical environment.
As a psychotherapist, the theoretical approach to understanding human behavior that I most employ is more psychodynamic than psychoanalytic. For the purposes of this blog and podcast, when referring to ego, I am using the psychology understanding of ego as your sense of self, self image, self esteem and your feelings.
Being mentally healthy requires having a solid, rather than fractured, sense of self (ego) and striking the balance between extremes. Basically, the ego is not all bad, there are simply different types of ego characteristics that either help your mental health or hold you back. The below list of ego strength and weakness characteristics are based on a post from Dr. Athena Staik created for PsychCentral.
Low Ego Strength Characteristics:
- Wasting energy fighting reality and hoping it will go away.
- Rejecting the fact that they will have to face what they fear most or are most challenged by.
- Confusing actual strength with defense strategies that they rely on, like angry outburst, avoidance, denial, wishful thinking, etc.
- Refusing to accept things that are actually happening in their lives and think escaping the pain (like the pain of growing, developing, maturing, etc.) is a viable solution.
- Believing that relationships and happiness in life means the complete absence of pain, fear and anger.
High Ego Strength Characteristics:
- Taking a “learning approach” to life, meaning that hardships increasingly grow their strength and confidence in handling triggering situations.
- Having the ability to tolerate discomfort,
- Approaching life with curiosity and a readiness to explore and master what strengthens them – therefore, increasing their chances of finding new ways of coping with challenges.
- Treating themselves and others as having inner resources to deal with challenges.
- Not personalizing what other people say or do so that they are regarding themselves and others as human and thus, fallible.
- Exuding an overall confidence in self and other to use their resources to handle and resolve life issues.
As you can probably surmise from the list, low ego strength behavior, beliefs and reactions perpetuate dissatisfaction while high ego strength behaviors correlate with more resilience and happiness in life. A fragile ego can be quickly damaged and easily injured. But there are ways to move from low to high ego strength if you’re motivated. The first step to transformation is being aware of how you’re functioning now.
One of the most obvious and relationally problematic symptoms of low ego strength is being easily offended or feeling slighted often. These reactions are sometimes referred to as narcissistic injuries (bruised ego) which can become blocks to intimacy and effective problem solving. Strengthening that aspect of a weak ego can be as simple as pausing to consider another person’s point of view before taking offense. If you can become more interested in your reaction to feeling slighted or disrespected than your right to be offended, you will start to move towards higher functioning. Your desire to learn and your immense capacity to be compassionate are two key ingredients to a creating a healthier, more balanced ego.
Today on Hello, Freedom I’m talking all about (you guessed it) the ego. I find the topic endlessly interesting because I see, in my own life, and in the lives of my clients how being easily offended (or having low ego strength) robs us of joy and growth opportunities.
Join me now for today’s Terri Talks episode of Hello Freedom for additional tips on how to strengthen your ego (and as a result, be less offendable). As you gain a deeper understanding of your ego reactions you might just create the space for the best version of yourself to emerge.
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“Being so vulnerable to what other people say, by constantly reading into it, depletes energy and becomes an exhausting, futile, and painful cycle.” – Terri Cole
- How ego robs us of joy
- Why you should try understand why you get offended
- How this show requires me to be open
- The consequences of being offended
- How insecurity can make you prone to feeling offended
- How to build a strong identity
“There are certain personality types and life experiences that make people very vulnerable to constantly feeling offended.” – Terri Cole
- How to know if you are high maintenance
- Why you shouldn’t be so reactionary
- How to be less offend-able
- The value of practicing detachment
- How to bring awareness to each moment without judgment
- How to talk yourself down
“Being slighted easily points straight back to a fundamental insecurity.” – Terri Cole
- Learn more about the fantastic Brené Brown
- Listen to my interview with Carrie Ann Moss
- Read Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements
- Listen to my interview with Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt
“Be interested in the truth more than being interested in being right.” – Terri Cole
*Featured image courtesy of Giuseppe Milo