If you understand that the ego is more than just pride, you know more than most.
And if that makes you feel good, I’ve just activated your ego…
Don’t worry, though. The ego is something we all have, and it’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of.
The ego is a complicated thing, but its ultimate goal is to keep you safe. And this is somewhat ironic when you realize how much harm the ego can cause in your life.
In this post, I’m going to cover the basics of the ego and how it might be problematic in your life.
To gain a full understanding, we first need to touch on Freud’s work.
The basics of Freud’s ego model
The most commonly accepted definition of the ego comes from Sigmund Freud’s id-ego-superego model of the mind. And in this model, the ego’s main function is to distinguish reality from fantasy.
In Freud’s model, the ego stems from the id, which is the only part of your personality that’s present from birth. It is the source of all psychic energy. In spirituality, you might consider the id as the spirit or true self.
Within Freud’s model, the id needs a damper. And that damper is the ego.
If we let our unconscious desires run unchecked, we could run into some trouble. And while that’s true, it’s also true that we need a balance. We could get into as much or more trouble by letting the ego run unchecked.
The ego is responsible for the thoughts that keep us from making moves that might seem irrational in society. This is the part of us that wants to “fit in” and not rock the boat. It’s a necessary component because, without some rational thought, we might not survive very long.
So the ego remains a balance between holding us back from danger and holding us back from living our true authentic selves.
Now, you can probably understand why it can be problematic to let your ego run the show. With an unchecked ego, you can never be true to yourself.
The superego contains all the moral standards we learn from childhood and beyond. This is our learned sense of what’s right and wrong.
Interestingly, I believe we’re all born with an innate sense of right and wrong, but I agree that there is a learned component.
For example, in some parts of the world, people eat horse meat. For us, that seems wrong and borderline immoral. Yet many of the same people who are outraged at the thought of eating horse are happy to eat cow meat. And eating cow meat is considered wrong or immoral in other cultures.
So which is right?
In both cases, we’re talking about a learned sense of morality based on cultural standards. Most people who have adopted one of these positions can thank their superego. It’s a way of taking on the morality of the masses in order to fit in.
The superego can be helpful and it can also be problematic.
If you believe that you can blindly use social norms as a compass of what’s right and wrong, the superego would be very helpful.
But I doubt you actually feel that way.
And even if you did, we’re living in a time when societal norms are shifting and often reside at polar opposite ends of the spectrum (think about polarizing topics that relate to morality, like abortion, religion and sexuality). Blind acceptance is no longer even an option.
Could this be why so many people suddenly seem to be looking for answers?
Why is the ego problematic?
We’ve already touched on some of the problems the ego can cause, but we’re not quite done with this topic. Ego work is deep, transformative and takes a lifetime of practice.
This post isn’t meant to help you shed your ego. It’s meant to help you understand why ego work is essential to your personal growth. Maybe this person is even you.
The best examples of how the ego is problematic is the person who always has great ideas but doesn’t follow through.
It’s never the right time. There’s always something else you should be doing. It’s too much of a risk.
All these thoughts are coming from the ego.
Another example of the problematic ego is the person who avoids relationships because they’ve been hurt before.
Here are some examples of how the ego can be problematic:
Holding you back
When you’re giving your ego too much control, it will undoubtedly hold you back.
Whether it’s from love, friendship, financial success or something else, the ego will remind you of all the reasons you shouldn’t take a risk — even one that could really pay off.
Keeping you in the past
When you’re giving your ego too much control, you’ll find yourself dwelling on the past. This can be alluring, but it’s extremely damaging.
If you believe the idea that “thoughts become things,” dwelling on past pain will undoubtedly cause you to experience more of the same hurt. The ego will tell you that you must dwell on the past to learn lessons and avoid reliving it, but this is an illusion.
Feel the hurt, learn the lesson and move on.
Keeping you in the future
On some level, you know that the only moment we have is this one. But the ego probably has you believing that happiness is a future event.
You’ll be happy when you get the job, relationship or material possession.
But deep down, you know that’s a lie.
You’ve had many successes in your life, and while they felt good, happiness was fleeting. You quickly moved on to the next yearning.
The only way to be happy is to feel it right now.
Making you judgmental
Judgment is a function of the ego, and for many people, this is a major problem.
At its core, judgment is meant to keep you safe.
When you’re walking down a dark road and you see a group of people in your path, you might need to make a judgment call. Do you cross the street or stay the course?
It’s an important judgment that could mean the difference between life and death in the most extreme case.
But when your ego is too strong, you’ll find yourself judging everyone you see. Yo might label someone as stupid, mean, ugly or something else. And you can do this with very little external input.
I want to dig deep into this topic in another post, so I’m just going to touch on it here. The idea that you need a romantic partner or anyone else to complete you is ego driven. But the ego can keep you in a damaging partnership because you fear the unknown.
These are just a few of many common examples of how the ego can be problematic. But you’re probably getting the idea.
The ego and spiritual awakening
I don’t remember exactly when I first learned about the ego (probably college psychology?), but I recently became acutely aware of its problematic nature. And for this, I can thank an emotionally abusive ex.
Nothing triggers a person to evaluate the ego quite like an experience with a narcissist…
But you don’t need to be a target of emotional abuse to get your ego under control. As we’ve just explored, we’re living at a time when society is rapidly changing, and this alone can cause people to question things they thought they knew.
With most people, spiritual awakening seems to come as a result of a trigger event. It’s something that causes you to look inward for answers. For me, it was emotional abuse. For others, it could be a devastating loss or an event that changes your perception of yourself.
But you don’t actually need a trigger event to have a spiritual awakening. You may just be noticing uncanny synchronicities in your life (if that resonates, you need to read this post).
Regardless of the whys, you must be ready to do the work. This process demands deep self-reflection and discovery, and it can be very emotional.
This is why I believe it’s so often prompted by a trigger event. When something shakes you to your core, you’re in a place where you need to rebuild. And that’s the perfect time to let some light shine in.