I briefly covered the role of ego in our closest relationships in my article on Winning Too Much. In this piece, I’ll delve deeper into that and suggest ways to overcome those challenges.
There are times of hostility in my relationship with my partner. We act passive-aggressively and avoid taking each others’ calls. Even when we do call, we resort to saying nasty things; things that we almost always regret saying later. Other times, we keep silent (on the phone) hoping that the other person will talk first, and once they do, we’ll use that to “build a case” for the wrongs they’ve inflicted on us and point it out to them. In other words, we want to “win” even at the cost of putting our relationships at risk. Such is the power of our egos that it drives our actions and behaviors to no end. This is just one example to show how our egos can permanently wreak havoc on our closest relationships if we leave it unchecked.
Ego is nothing but an imaginary identity. It has a mind of its own — it has its own thoughts, needs, emotions, and beliefs. To a degree, we are ego-oriented and will always feel misunderstood and alone. Ego has no home or companion of its own — it always lives in anxiety and misunderstanding. It is background noise — like that 24/7 news channel that is always running on the television in the adjacent room.
Ego is related only to the past, never with the present or future. In my case, I resent my partner’s actions from the past. That is driving my ego in the present. In other words, I am stuck in the past and unwilling to move on. Ego is the string of lessons learnt from past experiences, none of which quite fits the present situation.
The role of ego is to create distancing emotions in our relationships with others causing us to have irritation, defensiveness, disgust, anger, etc. The most important thing to know is that our ego has one objective: to keep us alone. It will do whatever it can to achieve that.
Our ego has critical thoughts about everything. It can take many forms (and even with complete strangers) in the form of aggression, defensiveness, superiority, criticalness, competitiveness, and much more.
Ego tries to force the appearance of closeness in order to create separateness. The one who runs is the one who chases.
Ego is focused on words and fails to take into account the feelings and/or context behind the words. Ego focuses on each word literally, and, in doing so, completely ignores the actual conclusion the person is coming to.
The way ego reacts to fear is some form of withdrawal into the smaller self — placing our interests over the interests of our partner, for instance.
So how do we deal with our egos? Well, the thing to know is that our ego can never fully go away. Here’s the thing: We can never keep ego out. It’s like a 24×7 news channel. We can turn down the volume, but it never really goes away. We cannot be egoless. The best thing we can do is to be aware of it and ignore it as much as possible to keep it at bay. Once we have the awareness, ego has to go because they cannot exist together. Awareness is about watching and checking your ego.
When our mind is being driven by ego, we experience fear. We criticize others without thinking twice. We become cynical and we condemn others. Always keep your ego in check, especially in conflicts where it’s easy to lose one’s objectivity. Remember, in any situation, we are either driven by ego or love. Ego involves (but is not limited to) fear, criticism, cynicism, condemnation, etc. Love is about having awareness, devotion, peace, service, and forgiveness. According to Scott Peck, love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. Understand the relationship between love and ego. The more love there is, the less ego there will be.
Finally, we need to focus on our actions and behaviors. As long as we are focused on the actions of the other person (in terms of what they should do or not do), we’ll never get anywhere in terms of improving our situation. We need to focus on our actions, which have to be independent regardless of others’ actions. That means reminding ourselves that our response is not dependent on others’ responses.
There are times in our lives where we hurt others or we are hurt by them. This is in large part due to our egos, which never completely goes away. It is always present in the background. It rears its ugly head in our relationships every now and then. The most we can do is keep the ego at bay as much as possible by being aware of it. When we have awareness, ego has to hide, and we can choose to let it go — especially when others hurt us. That is a choice only proactive people can make.