Day 60-Ego, New Clothes for the Emperor & Stanley Milgram.
Piggybacking on yesterday’s blog I want to delve into the idea of ego. I kinda think it is really at the heart of all expectations and it would be remiss to let yesterday’s blog stand without addressing the root cause.
There are lots of definitions of ego. I mean like a ton. Freud kinda kicked us off with the concept but I think we can go back to the beginning of peoplekind and see that even early cave dwellers suffered from ego and its manifestations. I am sure there was some guy who got eaten by a sabertooth tiger because he was showing off, believed he was above the natural law or just plain thought he could cheat death. I say this because we have been acting that way ever since.
So ego gets us into trouble. I have heard it said “my ego is not my amigo.” True Dat!
So what is ego and why is this part of our persona such a hard person to live with?
While we could delve into a long historical discussion about the formation of the concept of ego (I know you don’t appreciate when I do this because I can see that whenever I do this, my readers go way down).
This would be Freud’s definition of ego:
the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity.
His psychoanalytic theory of personality is much more complex and tripartite but I promised that I wouldn’t do this...so I won’t. It is really fascinating stuff so I highly encourage a quick read...
Ok, ok I can’t help myself.
So for today’s purpose we are going to define ego like this:
That which resists what is. (Pema Chodron)
So we have this part of our mental structure that is tasked with interacting with our internal and external worlds all the time and at the same time. The ego seems to collect information from the outside world and then assimilate that with our internal world and then spit behavior out in response. All the while, the ego is still spinning - constantly trying to keep this inner dictator under control. It would be great if our egos were this really highly emotionally intelligent benevolent ruler but we did not luck out in that department. None of us. Some of us are worse off than others but most of us kind of have this inner asshole that makes really stupid decisions based on faulty information.
This takes us back to our definition of that part of us that resists what is. It seems that instead of having this internal mediator that is concerned with evaluating reality and then directing behavior in response, it is like we have this internal ruler that is much like the Emperor that walked about with no clothes on. His internal go between needing to believe that despite all evidence to the contrary his “new” clothes were fantastic when in reality he was just walking around naked looking like an ass for showing his ass.
Come on! We can all relate to that! Who hasn’t metaphorically done something ridiculous, embarrassing, stupid and arrogant because our internal arbiter told us that it would be a good idea and that the reality that was occurring was actually something more to our liking.
Haven’t we all:
Believed that someone hated us when they really didn’t.
Believed someone loved us that really didn’t.
Hung on to a relationship because we were sure that things were going to get better despite objective reality getting worse by the minute.
Purchased and wore an outfit that we later looked back on and thought “what the fuck was I thinking?”
All of the above brought to you by good old fucking ego.
I am most interested in what happens in our minds that allows us to completely discard reality for this internal assholes’ version of reality. Why do we do this? How does this serve us? Why hasn’t anyone been able to really make real strides in giving us a better path?
Probably because we can’t get rid of ego. It is hard wired. It is in there and it is sitting in power central. It is not unlike some recent government officials who throw temper tantrums whenever their use of power is questioned. Power begets power and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We have had a lot of wars and bloodshed that have proved the above beyond any reasonable doubt. (Just as an aside - check out the Milgram Experiments from 1961 if you want to see why the Nazis were not an anomaly. Scary fucking read).
Ok, I digress again. Maybe I should have been a psychologist. Fascinating stuff what makes us tick.
Ok, back to Ego.
This part of us that seems to HAVE to resist what is, is the part that is largely in control and is making most of the decisions. So we spend the majority of our life trying to adjust reality to fit the view of this tiny, yet powerful internal dictator. Reality can’t be what is out there because that is way too threatening for our inner misguided guide. Reality is what we manipulate, change, alter and out right refuse to accept. This is how the ego stays in the power center. It is constantly and habitually throwing up shit to distract us from what is really going on.
How many of you have done this?
You are in a relationship and all is going well. Then your head tells you something like - “Hey why didn’t she call me tonight?” Then you see a Facebook post of “her” out with another guy and your ego quickly concludes THAT is why she didn’t call you tonight. But the ego does not stop there. The ego now goes into storytelling mode and spins this tale...”she never really liked you. She was just pretending. All that time you spent with her, all the things she said to you, the intimacy shared - all a big fat lie because you are loser. Except that you are not going to be a loser anymore because you are never going to speak to her again.” You unfriend her and move on. Ghosted.
Ok, maybe that is drastic but I know someone out there has done this! I know a lot of someones who have done this or something like this. I may or may not be one of them. (My ego won’t let me tell you the truth here.) This is the only result that can happen when the ego is running the show. There is no time for questions or conversations. The ego is only concerned with regaining lost ground, covering over the ouchie spots and moving on. Restoring that sense of equilibrium and self concept where you are not a loser as quickly as possible.
So what can we do? We can’t get rid of this inner guide that is so often misguided. I think we have to work with ourselves. For me, I have to supplant a new core belief that my ego is not really all that savvy at reading reality. I have to create a space where before I begin to take action based solely on the advice of my inner decider and run my thoughts by someone else. This isn’t theoretical - it is a requirement for living. Just like breathing. I have to do this. I do do this. It is now my second response to whatever bullshit my head is telling me. “Hey so-in-so, my head just told me that I am one of the smartest people walking around - true or untrue?” Which leads to discussions where my confidants say things like “yep, you are so smart you are wearing two different color shoes today” or “yep, you are so smart that you forgot to your friend’s birthday again.” This cannot turn out another way because my ego needs to have center stage at the expense of all others.
Here is what I know. I need a workable strategy to deal with myself. I need to involve other people in my internal mental processes. If I am in my mind alone, we are all in trouble. So I have to have some close, intimate people in my life that are not going to tell me my new wardrobe is rad when I am really walking around naked. I have to also be willing to ventilate myself. Asking for others opinions is important and vital but I also have to walk this world alone. We all do. No one can come into our mind and help us ferret out our thoughts without us first inviting them in. (at least for now, someday there may be thought police - I just hope I am dead by then because I will be in jail for some of the shit I think).
For me, I start with this most basic premise that I am naturally going to have thoughts that are not based on any kind of objective reality. Knowing this, creates a kind of laughable new reality in living my life. Everything I think is suspect. When I am really, really fucking sure about something, that is usually when I am in the most danger. When I see this part of myself come in direct conflict with my objective experience, I can stop and watch the struggle instead of giving way and acting like all of those freeways drivers who lack understanding about the whole yield and merge concept. I do not have to rush headlong into the whatever crap my head just told me. I can see that when this inner resistance comes to the forefront, this is cause for alarm and I should slow the fuck down and take a step back. What I know for sure is that reality is always going to win. Every. Single. Time. The only thing up for grabs is how long I resist, how much I resist and how much undue suffering I level upon myself and others. In Freud’s theory I have the super ego to counter balance my ego. In my reality, I have all of you to help keep me in check and this new hard default where I am very cautious and curious about my mind's manifestations. Most of the time, now, when I am resisting, I can pause and breathe and remember that resisting is just my ego's way of telling me she is still in charge. Once I see this, I can laugh and accept reality as it is. Not the way I want it, desire it or need it to be. It is major psychic shift - pausing in the heat of thoughts that resist. The struggle is real. But I get to a place of equanimity and peace when I stop resisting my need to resist. And I have to do this all the time, forever. Kind of an exhausting effort, but I think today I am going to take my ego out for coffee - she just told me she has this fantastic outfit I can wear!