Many Faces of Ego

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.

thumb upNeed 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?

Avoiding authenticity

shjameRelated 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?

Feeling shame

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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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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14 comments
karenjolly
karenjolly

Alice - thank you so much for this post. I loved the questions at the end of each point! I'm going to keep those with me as a good "check-in." 


Having come from a childhood where I craved love that just wasn't given - I have to check in from time to time on the first point, Need For Personal Validation. It is so wonderful to catch myself when I start to go down this road because it is so completely unsatisfying! No matter how much I want that validation...it's never enough to fill the ego's empty tank. It is a very empowering moment, when I recognize the ego's need and realize, at last, that I already have what I am seeking.


I am so grateful for your honesty and willingness to share yourself so openly Alice. I learn so much from you and feel so moved to empowering action whenever I read your blog. Thank you for giving such a tremendous gift to all of us. 

nowisbest
nowisbest

Dr Alice,

Thanks for your reply.I came through your comment at a blog.What I found here was originality and sensible content in this post.aia got the answer.But what I think that it is really important to understand the difference between confidence,over confidence , pride & ego.Complex  matter a for a common person like me  because perhaps there are very thin lines which separates these four traits and it is difficult to know when you cross one and reach in another boundary.

nowisbest
nowisbest

Hi Dr Alice,

Came to your blog first time and enjoyed the post fully.As I was able to engage myself with every para and sentence.I find that at many places I feel the same and could really co-relate with the different situations.If anybody become conscious and watch his or her inner  self closely can identify that exactly when & why ego hits and hurt us.

One question in my mind comes that what is the relation between confidence and ego?Thanks and have a wonderful week ahead.

Nitesh Sharma

Hiten Vyas
Hiten Vyas

Hi Alice,

This was an excellent post, my friend.

Another face of the ego I would like to add to the list, is judging and looking down on others. In such cases our ego is trying to compensate for its own insecurities by finding fault in others.

Thank you.

Lori
Lori

Alice, I LOVE your questions for keeping the ego in check! I They all point to one thing, don't they? Why is it so hard for us to just be who we are?!?!?!? We look to others to tell us we're okay, or special, or amazing because we somehow have never felt this way within ourselves. Why? That's the question - why do we feel the way we DO feel? What first made us feel that way? At least that's the path I follow to uncover old truths in my brain!


It's as if the ego is helping us to hide from these old "truths" or is it revealing them to us? I wonder.

Lori


AlliPolin
AlliPolin

Always so grateful that you are willing to face your ego and share so vulnerably and truthfully here.  So much of what you wrote resonated with me too... especially ego showing up as an achiever and nothing feels better than acknowledgement that I delivered as planned.  


I had a wise friend help me put my ego to rest this week when I met with a new prospective client.  I wanted to make a positive impression and he challenged me to carry the perspective of simply showing up in service.  Total game changer.  Showing up in service was exactly what I needed to embrace and share as my authentic self. 


Really fantastic questions that I'll return to here, Alice.  Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom and experience. 

ThinDifference
ThinDifference

Excellent questions and insights, Alice. Ego can place self above others, meaning we more concerned about being right than doing the right things in the right way. Authenticity is impacted here, too, as this approach can cause harm in many ways. A question to ask is: Who am I taking this position or taking this direction for? Whose purpose will be gained by my actions? 


Our ego needs to be held in check so that we are doing things for a greater good, not a self-centered one. Ego can deliver self-confidence, but it cannot dominate and prevent a better idea to be pursued. 


Another wonderful, insightful post, Alice. Thank you! Jon

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@karenjollyMany thanks for your kind words on all fronts, Karen! I can certainly relate to what you said about not receiving the love you craved, and I'm sure most can relate to that as well in their own way. That's the primary reason why I keep writing here and sharing personal reflections--I can't be alone, and it fulfills my soul's purpose to share and learn together. I'm grateful to have connected with you as well, as it's very clear in your writing that you live with high consciousness. So, thank you for what you share as well, Karen!

Latest blog post: Connectedness

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@nowisbestThanks again for your kind words. Yes, it could seem like fine line between ego and pride. When we've crossed over to ego, fear drives. For instance, we're afraid we won't be liked, accepted, loved, etc. If it's pride that's of our true essence, it would be about using our gifts to be of service. There isn't anything to prove. Recognizing where that line may be crossed comes from cultivating consciousness. It's perfectly human for that consciousness to be higher sometimes more than others. Again, thank you for your engagement, observations and questions.

Latest blog post: Connectedness

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@nowisbestNitesh, so glad you found your way here. Curious to know what/who referred you? You raised a great question. Confidence that comes from our center and emanates from our true self is an essential part of who we are. It's grounded in love to serve, to help us carry out our mission and purpose for being here in this life. It doesn't come from ego. When ego wants to dominate, be the one and only in the exclusion of others, that comes from fear. That's what I've learned. Hope this answers your question. Thanks again for sharing your thoughtful comment and for joining in this conversation.

Latest blog post: Connectedness

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@Hiten Vyas Great add, my friend. Indeed, we project our own lack of self acceptance onto others. Thank you for adding your insight.

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@LoriMany thanks for chiming in, Lori! Yes, all the questions really lead us back to remembering who we really are. Why do we look to others to feel ok, special or amazing? Because we learned to see validation since we were really little--our parents, teachers, authority figures. Not that they mean harm, but when we were really little, we didn't have the sophistication to put into context whatever feedback we received. So, over time, we accumulated judgments of not good enough, and we learned to look for judgments that we were ok. And this need to be validated simply continues into our adult life. When we're able to recognize ego's handy work, then it's easier for us to remember who we really are.

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@AlliPolinThanks, Alli, as always for appreciating my commitment to push past ego objections to share what I feel is important for our shared learning. And, it's always nice to have your voice and perspective here. Your friend is very wise indeed. It reminds me of Wayne Dyer's recommendation against ego-based behavior is to remember to ask, "How may I serve?" When we simply hold the intention of serving, our attention is directed outward instead of inward to feed our ego's insecurities. Thanks again, Alli!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@ThinDifferenceGreat questions to add, Jon. Asking for the purpose behind doing anything is a great way to keep ego in check and to ensure that we do things for the right reason. In some cases, it may make us rethink whether action is needed. Thanks again for adding your thoughtful contribution to this conversation!

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