Earlier, I shared some thoughts about our sensitive ego. In that piece, one of the things I wrote was how it was impossible to get rid of our ego completely and that the most we could do was keep it at bay. I’ve since learned that it is possible to remove ego from ourselves, but more on that later. That said, even if we kept our ego at bay most of the time, we would still be much farther ahead with that awareness than without it.
Let me first illustrate how I let my own ego come in the way of my relationship. Earlier this month, I was going through a difficult phase in my relationship with my partner. While the relationship was smooth for most of the brief time we spent together, we hit a rough patch in the form of a difficult week. We had a handful of difficult conversations (mostly over the phone). They were difficult for us because I found myself mostly stuck in my head while my partner was doing her best to reach out to me to help get me unstuck.
What I mean by being stuck is I had likely — and unintentionally — become stuck on a thought in my head from the past involving our relationship (which I don’t even remember and besides, the exact nature of it is irrelevant for our learning purpose), which made it difficult for me to get past it and be present with her. I was neither able to share that thought in the moment with her nor was I able to let go of it. Instead, I found myself sulking. My responses to her questions were terse. She could easily tell I was not quite “myself”. During those instances, I put up my metaphorical wall. I could tell she wanted to break through, but no matter how hard she tried, (inadvertently) I made it impossible. For a brief time, it probably felt as though she was talking to someone else. That someone else turned out to be my ego, which had gotten the better of me in those instances.
Because I let my ego drive my part of the conversation, she felt as if she was walking on eggshells and that she needed to tread lightly. Thinking twice about what she wanted to say and how she was going to say it for fear of not knowing how I would respond. As you can see, our egos can be quite stubborn and sensitive. While she was able to eventually get through to me, more than once, she understandably felt emotionally drained and frustrated. As much as I was appreciative of her reaching out to me during those times, I felt awful for putting her in a state of vulnerability and for inadvertently taking her attention for granted. No relationship should have to be such where you needed to reach out to your partner constantly. While this situation may be an exception (as we are all humans), it needn’t be the norm (in a healthy relationship) as it turned out to be during that week for us. Because at the end of the day, we can’t help others at the cost of our own well-being. It’s just not sustainable. Unsurprisingly, this experience has created a sense of doubt within our relationship.
Later, when I was reflecting back on this, one of the things I learned was that we don’t sulk with everyone, but only those who we feel should understand us. The problem occurs when we expect our partners to understand us all the time without having to explain things to them. By having this false expectation, we are only setting ourselves up for failure. Our partners are not mind readers, as much as we would like them to be. And it’s only unfair to them.
Philosopher Alain De Botton reminds us, the greatest gift we can give to those we love is explain in good time, without fury, why we are upset with them when the time is right. Besides, it’s always better to err on the side of over-communicating than going the silent route. The best thing to do in this scenario would be to bring it up OR to let it go. Choosing to hold onto it (as in my case) only causes bitterness and pain, thereby making it difficult for both us and our partners.
Put in another way, I sulked because I let my ego get the better of me in those instances. I was neither comfortable in bringing up the thought that had upset me nor was I okay with letting it go. In other words, I was stuck and indecisive (even if unwittingly). This reminded me that our ego thinks it’s always right. It’s only concerned with our past; its job is to keep us alone and away from our loved ones, and it will do everything in its power to make sure that happens. I can’t deny that’s what happened in those instances.
It turns out, we lose respect for ourselves when we don’t live up to our own standards. It’s only when that happens do we give rise to a false sense of self, known as ego, to compensate for our lack of self-respect. We doubt ourselves when our imperfections and weaknesses (including lack of judgement and low self-esteem) cause us to despair and to lose trust for ourselves. Then, we seek ways to “prove ourselves” to others.
But, if we can build a strong sense of self by drawing from our own pool of strengths, we don’t have to rely on our ego. Instead, we can focus on developing our self-respect. I realized where there was love, there was no fear. And where there was self-respect, there was no ego. They are both mutually exclusive — when you have one, the other can’t exist. When we work on cultivating our self-respect, over time our ego will have no choice but to die. Here are some ways to do just that.
We can elevate our thinking. We can choose to see the best in others. We can learn to affirm, appreciate, and enjoy them. We can be proactive and stop complaining. We can find the silver lining in every cloud. We can practice the art of dying, so we are light and happy in any moment. We can stay detached from others’ emotional states, so we can help them when needed; we can choose to operate out of love, particularly when others choose fear. That’s the only way we can bring them around. We can be at peace, regardless of what ensues outside.We can accept our situations for what they are without judging them. We can stop holding onto pain from our past, so we can let go and set ourselves free.
This was one example of how we let our ego come in the way of our relationships. But, if we cultivate enough self-respect for ourselves, we can eliminate ego altogether from our lives. Then there will be nothing for ego to protect or defend since there will be no false sense of self.
P.S. I first learned about the relationship between self-respect and ego from the work of spiritual monk and teacher, Aruna Ladva. This piece is a reflection of some of my learning from her insights.