Last week, I was at an event of great strategic importance to my company. At a personal level, it was critical that I delivered a stellar performance. Until the event was over and I was back in the office debriefing with a larger team under my boss, I didn’t fully realize how much pressure—much of which, I must admit, self-imposed—I had internalized. Thanks to my learned self, the achiever (Enneagram 3), being anything shy of a raving success is simply not an option. Learned self (vs. true, authentic self) is simply another label for ego.
Now that the pressure valve has been released, I can clearly see how much my ego was in control. Against her protestation for what she considers embarrassing and shameful, I’d like to use this week’s post to talk candidly about some telltale signs that ego has taken over.
Need for personal validation
Throughout the event and shortly after, I was starved for confirmation that I succeeded. This need for personal validation stemmed from the learned fear that I really was a failure after all—the ultimate blow to the achiever—which would ultimately render me worthless. (Again, my ego is screaming at me right now for daring to share this with you!)
Whether you feel the need to be recognized like me, or need to know you’re needed, or need to be seen as unique, etc., the need for any form of personal validation is a sure sign that ego has taken over. Need for validation stems from the fear of not enough, the domain of ego. Our original, true self is inherently whole and grounded in love, not fear, and, therefore, does not need validation of worth.
Question for keeping ego in check: Who am I without external validation?
Sourcing worth from fulfilling a role
Ego as our acquired identity learned to believe that unless we fulfill certain roles, we will be rejected or abandoned. In other words, ego believes that our worth comes from how well we play the roles that earn us credibility, acceptance and love. For instance, as an achiever, unless I earn kudos consistently, I fear that I’m worthless. For someone who needs to be perceived as perfect, unless everything they touch is impeccable and immaculate, they fear they would be rejected. For someone who is a peacemaker, unless they could appease everyone, they fear they would not be loved.
Question for keeping ego in check: Who am I if I weren’t trying to be the kind of person I think I need to be?
Related to the above point, ego was developed out of fear that who we really are, without being dressed up in some acceptable manner, courts rejection or abandonment. Therefore, acting authentically will never show up in ego directives. Whenever we feel the need to hide or withhold our true selves to protect ourselves, that is a telltale sign that ego is in the driving seat. For instance, it’s routine that I wrestle with my ego’s objections whenever I attempt to write a post like this or anything on vulnerability, as my ego cannot tolerate feeling exposed—again because of the fear of rejection and abandonment.
Question for keeping ego in check: Who am I when I don’t hide when feeling exposed?
Shame is a learned human response. We only have to observe little children, whose egos haven’t yet developed, to see that we were all born free of shame. Ego uses shame to censor our behavior in order to avoid potential rejection or abandonment. However, by retreating out of shame or embarrassment, we are the ones doing the rejection and abandonment of our true, authentic self. When we worry about embarrassing ourselves and hide behind a mask, we deny our authentic self the opportunity for truly meaningful engagement. Not everyone makes for an appropriate counterpart for that. However, if we made it a habit of hiding our true self reflexively out of shame or embarrassment, we miss those with whom we can connect authentically for mutual satisfaction, enrichment and growth.
Question for keeping ego in check: Who is shame and embarrassment trying to protect?
With all of the above said, one thing I have learned is not to persecute ego as the villain, even though I most definitely want to cultivate the consciousness to recognize it and not allow it to drive. After all, experiencing ego is an integral part of being human. It was my soul’s intention to come into this life to evolve in very specific ways that elude human consciousness. Because of that soul intention, I’m meant to go through a series of experiences in this life that caused me to forget for some portion of this journey the spiritual truth of who I am. In finding my way back to that truth, back to love, that’s how my spirit evolves and fulfills its purpose for being here in this incarnation. Without recognizing ego for what it is and accepting and loving this part of myself, I can’t be truly compassionate with others, nor can I accept and love them through their less than enlightened moments.
So, what do you think? What other faces of ego might you add to this conversation? How do you know when ego has taken over?
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