Over the past few weeks I have explored and shared about the ways the ego shows up in our life that isn’t helpful. In this final instalment, I share more insight into the origin of my ego and how I manage it; and I offer you my key take-home message.

The Ego Is All About Me

My ego evolved to protect me and keep me safe. I created it. My ego is all about me. No surprise in this but why does the ego exist in the first place? It occurs to me that my life would have been so much simpler if I didn’t have an ego. It seems to have done nothing but get in my way of success and cause problems in all of my relationships in my personal life and at work. Ryan Holiday’s book, ‘Ego is the Enemy’ echoes my sentiments. It is a fantastic read and offers readers powerful insights into the impact of ego in people’s lives. Experts like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung wrote extensively on ego and are far more knowledgeable about the subject than I am or ever will be; however, it is useful to look at origin of the ego from a place of introspection.

The Ego Hides What I Don’t Want The World To See

I grew up in an abusive family environment. My father was easily angered and he expressed his anger frequently. He often took his anger out on me, emotionally and physically. As difficult as it was for me to live through this experience as a child growing up, as an adult I learnt that I didn’t have it as bad as some kids. However, knowing this didn’t make any difference. My life still unraveled when my first marriage ended. The feedback I got from my ex-wife, unwelcomed at the time, changed my life. I began working with a psychologist and together, we examined everything that wasn’t working in my life. We drilled down and unpacked my ego to see where and how it impacted my relationships.

The abuse I suffered growing up left me feeling “scared and stupid.” To avoid feeling stupid and scared, I studied. I was a slave to my ego. I became a high-achieving student and I completed my PhD by age 25. I spent the next 6 years at Harvard University doing post-doctoral study. I was determined that no-one was ever going to make me feel stupid so I became an expert in my chosen field of cancer research. Except for a number of other ‘experts’ around the world, I knew as much or more than anyone else did on the subject and I could get to be ‘right’ most of the time. In hindsight, I came to see my study was all a mechanism to ensure I ‘survived’. My ego evolved to protect me from the fear of feeling stupid. However, it was much more than this. My ego developed to protect the “scared little boy” I was. Instead of being scared, I became a loud, arrogant, dominating, blunt know-it-all to keep people away and to ‘protect’ me. All thanks to my ego.

The Ego Isn’t Going Anywhere

So how did this play out in my life? I usually flipped between being either a scared little boy or a loud, arrogant and egotistical ‘know it all’. As the former, I lacked confidence. I was at the effect of others and wanted to please people and receive their praise. Moreover, I wanted others to “tell me what to do?” As the latter, I was highly opinionated, controlling, not influenced by others, disconnected. I exuded an arrogance that said, “don’t tell me what to do!” On reflection, I can see my ego kept me safe as a child and served me well growing up. It helped me get an education and survive my circumstances. However, as an adult my ego hasn’t served me as well. As soon as I felt challenged, threatened, or I couldn’t control the situation my ego kicked in to bring back my sense of control and safety. This applied to all my relationships. I wasn’t comfortable feeling vulnerable and my ego had me push people away and keep them at a safe distance. I made it hard for people to contribute to me. I was often resistant, reactive and insensitive. Until I learnt to put my ego aside, I struggled to maintain healthy relationships. Thankfully, I eventually learned.

The reality is our ego isn’t going anywhere. The key, as I have learnt, is to recognise when my ego is activated and learn ways to manage it and set it aside and be my authentic, true self. An effective way I’ve found to manage my ego and focus on others is to ask myself “how can I be of service here?” When I’m focused on me and “how can I look good here?” it’s the ego that’s controlling the show. Whereas, when I focus on others I am in control and my ego is subdued.

Authenticity is a word that gets bandied around a lot these days. For me, authenticity lies somewhere in the middle between the ‘ego-activated state’ and the ‘scared little boy’ or whatever your particular version of the ‘hurt child’ is. Authenticity starts with developing self-awareness, which is key to understanding and managing your ego. If you want to build healthy, life-giving relationships and lead powerfully, start by getting to know yourself well.

Are you aware of your ego? Do you know when your ego is activated? Are you present to the impacts your ego has had in your life? Are you courageous and willing do the self-examination? If you don’t deal with your ego, sooner or later you will likely have to deal with the impact of your facade. The question is what will you do about it then? My advice is don’t wait until you are impacted by your ego, take action now to understand and deal with your triggers. Only then you will start having the life you were meant to have and be the contribution you were born to be.

Are you keen to unpack how your ego is impacting your life? Contact me today to explore the value of 1:1 coaching to make peace with your ego and elevate your effectiveness and empower the people around you.