I am constantly fascinated by narrative, language and storytelling, as they are key to the reality we create for ourselves – even when we are not the originator of the narrative. Our narrative frames possibility, both creating and limiting our potential to live our best lives.
Somewhere in the middle of all that sits ego. There are several differing interpretations of what ego is in psychology and neuroscience, so to be clear for the purpose of this article, I am talking about ego as your sense of self, the opinions you have about yourself and your abilities, and your sense of self-worth. I am not talking about ego in terms of conscious mind or psychoanalysis.
Humour me for a minute; stop reading and just jot down somewhere who you are, how you might describe yourself – your words, not what you think others might see or think.
Don’t read on until you’ve done the exercise!
Now have a look at what you’ve written – how does it read?
It’s probably a bit of your personal story , the things that define you. For example, I might write: I’m a mother, a teacher, an author, an enabler. I’m big into neuroscience, spent many happy years working in the NHS leading emergency care. I hate rules and being told what to do, I’m stubborn, curious and love creating – words, photos, food, décor – just creating. I have big dreams, a bigger heart and the courage to follow through – most of the time. The longer you give yourself the more you will come up with, the deeper into yourself you’ll probably go – and I often get clients to spend much longer doing this, it can be a very interesting voyage of self-discovery.
If your ego is your sense of self, then it is the story you create about yourself – create being the salient word. It’s not real, it is simply the illusion – or the story, you create in your mind. Your story is, of course, your lived reality, so reflect again on what you wrote above and think about the stories you repeatedly tell yourself – are they empowering, supportive of who you want to be in the world or are they fear driven limitations and excuses that hold you back?
Most people have some and some; you might believe you are great at what you do, you might also believe you are no good with numbers or money, you might think you are really clever and that you are too old to make a difference, you might believe you are kind and loving and also that nobody listens to you – do you see how these contradicting, but potentially real internal stories can create confused ego?
Your ego is in play every time you say I can do this or I can’t do that, it is being formed everytime you think I’m not good enough or I’m too good for this, and for the most part you will be oblivious to what is going on. Your ego is an evolving part of who you are, and it can be difficult to see, mostly because you are not looking; introspection is a hugely undervalued activity in our society.
Your ego plays a massive part in how you show up and engage with the world, it is fundamental to how you connect with those around you personally & professionally, face to face and online. It is also responsible for many of the emotional reactions you have to circumstances, other people’s behaviour, perceptions of fairness, feelings of insecurity. To protect from the confusion created by both empowering and disabling stories you may well have created one or a series of masks you pull on in different situations to protect yourself and your fragile ego.
It is these masks that are often the destroyer of connection, because the you that is showing up is playing a part, fitting in. However practiced you are – and you may have been wearing some of those masks for a long time, people can’t quite connect, they don’t feel entirely safe or like they can trust you. When your ego puts up a mask it creates a barrier to genuine connection, your ego fields behaviour and emotion driven by fear and self-protection. When people think about ego it is often over inflated opinions, or arrogance that come to mind – ego can keep you small just as it can make you big yourself up.
If ego is going to be the creator of connection then you have to drop the mask, you have to get comfortable paying attention to your ego and treating it as your friend – as the integral part of you that it is. You have to nourish it, not punish it and this comes down to what you feed it – the stories you chose to believe about yourself, the stories you repeatedly tell yourself.
It is time to stop confusing your ego. Think about who you need to be, how you want to show up in the world, how you want to connect and feed those stories to your ego, create that reality for yourself.
If you are not sure who this is go back and repeat the earlier exercise as if it were the very best version of yourself. You might start by jotting down everything you believe about yourself, then cross out the things that are not true – other people’s opinions you have chosen to own, or old stories that are no longer true. Look at what is left and choose to keep the best version. This way there is no need for a mask, the real you shows up and connection is created.
If you falter along you journey, be kind to yourself, your ego has been a lifetime in the making, remain introspective and work on your stories a bit at a time.
Your ego is not your enemy, it is simply your story – make it a good one.