Ego vs. Soul

I stayed up till the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday to write this week’s article ahead of time because of a packed schedule. Yet, after a few hours of shut-eye, here I am, rewriting the whole thing with what little time I have in my already full day. Why am I doing this? Because, with the post I deleted, I had reverted back to doing what’s safe, i.e., writing from my head. My heart has been troubled of late, and, out of reflex, the put-together persona I normally show to the world to hide my vulnerabilities automatically took over.

Woman in anguishOur Defensive Self, a.k.a. Ego

When I woke up this morning, I realized it’s precisely because I’m feeling vulnerable that I needed to take a few deep breaths and write from this space. This is the perfect setup to talk about what our mind does reflexively to try to protect our heart and our soul—our real authentic self—when we feel vulnerable for any reason. It’s something we all do subconsciously since we were young children to defend ourselves from further hurt. Over time, we pieced together different acceptable behavior to form a “defensive personality” to face the world, tucking away our soul for safe keeping. Since this is a subconscious process, without awareness building, we continue to live from this constructed, defensive self, never truly knowing our soul. That’s how so many of us end up drifting in the land of the living dead, unhappy and disconnected.

Pat Wyman, the author of Three Keys to Self Understanding, is the genius who enlightened me to the concept of the defensive self before I realized it was just another name for ego. I’ve mentioned her book in a previous article. In particular, based on many years of research and working with clients, she says that the Enneagram shows us what our defensive self (she calls it our “defensive system”) is like, while our Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) profile reveals our real, authentic self, our soul. Her claims about the Enneagram are rather controversial, but it’s way outside the scope and purpose of this article to go into that debate. I only wish to provide a little background.

Internal Tug of War

Until meeting Wyman early this year, I couldn’t place myself on the Enneagram for 15 years, whereas I had no trouble recognizing the INFJ (MBTI type) in me from the start. I didn’t know the Enneagram type is meant to paint the picture of the defensive ego. With Wyman’s explanation, I finally realized I’m a 3, who must always have it together, and failure is simply not an option. My ego’s logic is that, if I don’t show any signs of weakness, no one and nothing can hurt me. Leading most of my life from this ego-based defensive belief means that my rational mind got tons of practice in running the show. It automatically kicks into overdrive at the remotest hint of my feeling vulnerable.

Mind vs. soulThe tug of war between my soul, which is all about being authentic and heart-based, and my ultra-composed and overly analytical defensive ego is the source of much internal turmoil over the years. Even as I’ve worked very consciously and deliberately on connecting to and expressing my soul—and have pretty much overhauled my hard-fought, carefully constructed life in the process—lifelong habits take some time to reprogram.

Your true and defensive personality combination is quite likely different from mine. However, I offer the above as a case to talk about what happens behind the scenes when we have much more practice living from our defensive ego vs. our soul. If you find yourself among the living dead or feeling internal conflict that you can’t quite understand, I hope this discussion serves to shed a little light on what underpins the inner tug of war between your soul and ego.

Know Your Soul

With the above said, how do we move from living from our defensive ego to our soul? In my opinion, it really helps to learn about our authentic and defensive selves. There are established tools and trained professionals to help with that. Short of and in addition to that, below are some steps you can immediately take to live more from your soul:

  1. Quiet your mind. Cultivate a consistent spiritual practice. Connect with nature regularly. That’s a quick way to shift from analytical, doing mode to allowing, being mode.
  2. Let your soul speak. Through meditation, journaling, painting or any number or combination of practices, give the real you some regular airtime. Don’t judge or doubt what you see, hear and/or feel. If what you get doesn’t make any sense, it’s just your mind again trying to assume control.
  3. Nurture your soul. You don’t need to overhaul your life immediately. Do little things regularly that feed the real you. Like #2, it’s about spending time with your soul.
  4. Observe your reflexive behavior. Pick the most recent unpleasant situation in your life that you can remember. How did you handle that? What’s behind that behavior? Was it the same thing you’ve done over and over again because it has worked to allay, if not resolve, the issue? Do you feel good about that, or is there somewhere inside you that felt it wasn’t quite right? Bring that awareness to the next time a similar situation arises, and intend to act consciously.
  5. Be around similar others. One of the reasons we get trapped in the land of the living dead is because we’re surrounded by people who are similarly dead alive. It’s difficult to break old habits, even if they’re bad for us, if we don’t have support. Get yourself involved in community groups and organizations that attract those who share a similar intention to know your souls and live more from that place.

Silhouette of man and woman

Live from Our Soul

When you start taking steps toward knowing and honoring your soul, you’ll become more and more tuned into the real you over time. You’ll also find naysayers naturally falling away from your day-to-day life, while more and more like-minded others join your network. That’s what has happened in my life. While my defensive ego is still in the driver seat more often than I care to admit, I’m much more aware of when that happens so that I can do something about it—like rewriting this article. People with whom I spend time are from my spiritual community who are equally vested in raising their consciousness. I keep meeting women at professional events who feel intuitively like soul sisters. My life keeps getting better, more authentic and more reflective of my soul.

Living from our soul doesn’t mean every day is peachy or that we become immune to challenges or a heavy heart now and again. After all, they are all valid and unavoidable parts of the human experience. Our soul holds both light and darkness, as it knows that desires are birthed out of contrasts, and that’s how our spirit expands and grows through our humanness. It’s our defensive ego that can’t tolerate the dark side of our soul and continues to wage the internal war that torments us. When we’re conscious of the defensive strategy of our ego and embrace our soul, we can ease this inner conflict. More importantly, we learn just how strong we stand in our vulnerabilities. Our soul doesn’t need protection. It’s the real us who holds the highest vision for our lives and our dreams. Why wouldn’t we want to live from our soul?

What are your thoughts and feelings about living from your soul? Please share in the comment box below so that we can all learn from each other.

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Photos: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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About Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Dr. Alice Chan is passionate about developing conscious leaders and organizations. Her path to serve her life purpose has included being an award-winning Cornell professor and a leader in the corporate world for nearly 15 years. She’s the author of the book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life, and creator of the program, 30 Days to Living Your Best Life. All content on this blog and website is her own, not the opinions of her employer.

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16 comments
WP Ho
WP Ho

Thanks for the insightful post, Alice. It reminds me of the Buddhist text I've read that says that our individual existence is nothing more than a process of mental and physical phenomena. Our body, feelings, perceptions, volition and consciousness do not constitute, neither singly nor collectively, any self-independent ego or self. It's us who grasp tightly onto this illusion and create multiple versions of ourselves when there is in fact none. Being mindful as much as we can remember is probably the only way to wake up from this dream, and the ways you've given above are great ways to expand mindfulness. Thank you for the reminder!

Mimi Shannon
Mimi Shannon

Dear Alice, I am forever taken by your willingness to be vulnerable and your ability to convey so clearly the intimacies of living, loving, growing, discovering, letting go and being. Your generosity is such a gift in my life (and others) and my soul is always happy to hear your words because it recognizes you as an old friend. Blessings. XXOO

Shelley
Shelley

Dear Alice, Every time I stop by to read your words I know my own heart better. The truth is simply there. I so struggling with trying to understand things instead of accepting that they simply are. In fact I cause myself incessant tears and turmoil with it. My mind, my ego, needs boundaries. But my heart, when I pay it heed, needs no such thing. I jsut wants to live wide open. Thank you for sharing your journey and your beautiful heart. You make a difference in my life. Always sending love & light. xo Shelley

Jodi Chapman
Jodi Chapman

A beautiful post, Alice. I'm so glad that you're being vulnerable and sharing your own journey with us as you are going through it. That is such a brave way to go through life, and you're a wonderful inspiration for all of us. I have been experiencing moments these last few weeks of struggling to drop into my soul - feeling the need to teach and come from my head, and so this was a great reminder that it's truly when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and really get into our soul that the truth comes out and flows through us. Sending you lots of love! I hope you're able to get some rest. XO

Kumar Gauraw
Kumar Gauraw

Wow! Incredible wisdom Dr. Alice! I enjoyed your post and especially those 5 steps. Each step is very valuable, easy and powerful. Thank you for sharing your wisdom that your readers can enjoy and benefit from.

Scott Mabry
Scott Mabry

Love this part of the post... " Our soul doesn’t need protection. It’s the real us who holds the highest vision for our lives and our dreams." There really is a difference, a strength that is hard to explain...a natural ease that comes into our lives when we allow our souls to emerge. The world around us does not invite our souls to be revealed but unconsciously we are all drawn to individuals we recognize as authentic. We know who they are immediately even when they share our struggles. I agree, it takes deep awareness to recognize when your defensive self is taking over and let that voice fade so that you can hear the voice of your soul. Thanks for sharing your courageous decision and... get some rest. :)

Linda Joy
Linda Joy

Alice thank you for again stepping out of your comfort zone and into your truth and allowing your readers to know its safe to do the same. While it would have been 'easier' to release your original post - this post written from the depths of who you truly are touches me as it will so many others. My journey of living from my soul (love) instead of ego (fear) began about 15 years ago though I couldn't have told you that at the time. I just knew something had shifted deep within (that's another story) and as I unpeeled the layers of fear/ego/false masks I began to discover the beautiful light within - a light we all have. A pivotal time for my trusting soul was when I birthed Aspire following an inspired dream seven years ago. I noticed that each time I honored my soul's calling I could hear the voice of ego/fear getting softer and softer and my heart opening more and more. Like you the more I stepped into my truth the more like-minded souls came into my life many of who I felt I had known forever. Now I'm blessed to serve a global community of women and I am continually awed that I get to learn from, play with and collaborate with, and support some of today's leading heart-centered visionaries and teachers.... like YOU my friend! Honored that our paths have crossed and inspired by the courage and vulnerability you show every day in your journey of living from your soul.

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Thank you for reading and adding your great insights, WP. Yes, we do hang onto all kinds of illusions. That's part of the human experience. As you pointed out, being mindful is our only way to minimize letting illusions become our truth. Many blessings to you.

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Dear Mimi, So nice of you to stop by again to read my post; it's an honor! I've always admired your wisdom and grace, so am extra honored to be the recipient of your very kind praise. Lightworkers do attract each other and band together, so I'm grateful to know you, Mimi! Love, Alice

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Dear Shelley, Thank you for sharing your comments and kind words. You described what most, if not all, of us experience. The mind wants to understand what's not to be understood but experienced. I'm with you in terms of wanting to live wide open! Thank you for sharing this journey with me. I'm grateful for your beautiful heart! Love and Blessings, Alice

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Thank you very much, Jodi! It has become clearer to me every day that it's mine to do to be willing to be transparent and authentic with the ups and downs of my journey while in process so that others know that it's ok and they aren't alone. That's what honoring ourselves and our lives is all about--including the times when we feel vulnerable and want to hide. That's living authentically and loving life through everything, not just the rosy times. You, of course, my friend, walks the talk every day as well. I'm so grateful we're doing this together in our own way, separately but united at the same time. Lots of love back to you, Beautiful Soul!

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Thank you very much for your kind words, Kumar! I'm glad the 5 steps resonate, as they really do form a good foundation for tuning into our soul/authentic self and living from our truth.

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Thanks, Scott. You're so right about the explainable strength of our soul. There's no striving or trying, it's just there. There's more and more talk authenticity all around, but let's hope that it doesn't turn into another jargon with which people become jaded. Anyway, thank you for the encouragement and support. Yes, I do need some more sleep. :-)

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Linda, thank you so very much for sharing the highlights of your journey! I'm truly grateful for your personal mission and how your light and your soul (love) have inspired you to found Aspire magazine. It has become clearer and clearer to me every day the special energy that women create while together that's so indescribable. It's truly priceless for me to be able to hold space for them for their beauty, strength and vulnerabilities and, at the same time, feel supported to run my own feminine energy, which was suppressed for too many years when I was pursuing my formal education, and then immersed in the academic and corporate world. Even my writing has evolved, after 20 years of academic and business writing, which was all left brain. Can't imagine ever giving up writing from my heart and my soul. Anyway, I'm equally honored that social media have connected us at just the right time on both of our journeys! Thank you for the inspiration that you are and that you share so generously with women around the world!

Acee Dee Kay
Acee Dee Kay

Thanks for the great piece of information. The steps are helpful, they help us create positivity amongst ourselves and let alone live with hope.

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Thank you very much for stopping by and reading. Nice to see you here in addition to Twitterland. :-) I'm glad this piece and the steps specifically are helpful to you.

Trackbacks

  1. […] researching and writing on Jung, gifted me a beautiful article by the wonderful Dr Alice Chan. In Ego vs Soul, she writes with such honesty and wisdom, and I recognised so much of myself as she described the […]

  2. […] I grew up and strived to prove myself to be a self-sufficient and socially acceptable citizen, my defensive self completely took over, operating through my rational mind. I learned to hang onto more and more […]

  3. […] human experience. We falter and fail at times. In behavioral theories, there is a concept of the Ego versus the Soul. The ego is self-protecting while the soul is harmonious to fulfill love, charity and hope. What […]

  4. […] our inner critic—the part of us that’s quick to issue judgments and indictments. Depending on our acquired defensive personality, the specifics of the judgments and indictments vary. Our defensive personality is not the innate […]

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