On one hand, we hear about practicing concepts like healthy relationship boundaries as an act of self-love. On the other hand, we talk about selflessness in the spiritual journey. For the longest time, I was conflicted between the two schools of thought and now, often get questions about this from my readers. So today, let’s talk about Ego Work, and clear this up once and for all.
I want to answer a set of questions in order to enter into the subject of ego work more tactfully.
First, what IS the Ego?
It is the sense of “I”.
The part of us that experiences duality because it acknowledges the difference between two paths – always labelling one as “this is me” and the other as “this could never be me”.
So, in effect, the ego is what creates diversity in the human experience, allowing us to make a permutation and combination of choices that we feel are in alignment with us.
How Ego Develops, In Metaphysical Terms
Speaking metaphysically, ego is nothing but our karmic blueprint. We can extend it into saying, that the ego-mind is also an accumulation of our past lives.
Whatever karmic debts we’ve paid, have shaped our sense of right and wrong. Sometimes we become overly righteous and rigid because of this ego, because of these experiences.
At other times, we are able to see the ego mind at play in another person, because we’ve already overcome those spiritual lessons and cleared the karma.
Ego versus self-respect
When someone rejects your offer for a date, but you keep chasing them, you might hear one of your friends say, “have some self respect man!”.
In other words, remember who YOU are in all of this. Don’t let someone take your peace away.
The idea of self-respect is about realizing one’s needs and walking away from that which doesn’t fulfill us. Which is in alignment with healthy relationship boundaries and learning to not love too much.
But it also goes against the idea of unconditional love; the philosophy that there’s no you or me, it’s just divine love. That in the grand scheme of things, duality isn’t even real.
So, in a way, are we saying that self-respect is ego?
This leads me to my next question.
Is the Ego really our ENEMY?
When you read a compelling book on the very subject, and you have countless spiritual teachers advising you to overcome the ego, you’ll think, OF COURSE! Your ego is your enemy.
But I want to offer a different perspective. Let’s look at this in a laymen way.
The ego has developed over many years of conditioning of the mind, and for this reason is also referred to as the ego-mind.
This conditioning comes from our experiences with parents, teachers, peers and strangers. It also comes from the information we consume, like movies, music and the daily news.
When we look around and see the things that cause us pain, we register these events into our subconscious as ‘bad for me’. Then, when something familiar brews again, our so called ego reminds us to beware, suspecting potential pain.
Thus, the ego-mind is like a big brother that doesn’t know when to stop caring and shielding his younger sibling. It doesn’t know when the very protection it uses to make our growth easier, becomes the protection that hampers our growth altogether.
How I see it, is that the ego mind is really just a disaster management system in our head that sometimes goes overboard!
Most of us begin to go at war with ourselves when we realize this big brother is causing us more pain than the actual events around us. We’re busy fighting the ego-mind, telling it not to get in the way.
As a consequence, we’re mentally drained and exhausted.
We are inconsistent in our actions because at times we follow the big brother, and at times, we act like rebels. The inner conflict drives us crazy, almost to the point of an identity crisis.
And there begins a downward spiral.
The ego not only gets in our way, it leads to resistance, suffering and at times, the dark night of the soul. That’s probably why it feels like an enemy.
But instead of resisting something that’s so inevitably part of the human experience, what if we embrace and respect it? What if we move from the mindset of overcoming the ego, to working with it?
Through this angle of healing, called ego work, let’s step into a different approach of being.
5 Solid Tips for Healthy Ego Work
As you try out of the following tips, you will not only find more ways to be in-tune with your true self, you will be aware of what led you to the limiting beliefs.
I would encourage you to try these tips out over a couple of weeks, over different situations, to get true benefit. Remember, internalization is the only way to get results – so before you hop to the next healing technique, let this one brew and do something good for you!
Tip #1 – Make the Ego Mind More Relatable, Don’t Banish It.
Some psychologists and life coaches recommend giving your ego a name and separate identity from who you are.
The way we’re doing in this post, by calling the ego mind our big brother.
That is one method to deal with it, and the benefits are that you get to treat your ego in a more tangible (though still not visible) way. It’s the same as why idol worship works for some people – they have something more concrete to work with.
However, if you are choosing a separate identity, beware of the following tendencies.
- Don’t treat the ego mind as inferior, ‘dumb’ or unworthy of your compassion. It is still YOU, you are only giving it a face to make it more relatable. Continue being patient and good to yourself as you work through the inner turmoil.
- Don’t let this identity give you a multiple personality disorder. In other words, don’t use this as an excuse to be nasty at times and get away with it!
- Don’t inherently hate other people that have the same name as this identity. 🙂
Tip #2 – Talk to your Ego Mind.
You’ve been doing this already, but you haven’t been doing it consciously. And as we’ve discovered, most of the talking is either arguing or conceding to its wishes.
As is in the case of any kind of inner work, when you want to heal something, you start by acknowledging it. So the next time you catch yourself in a mental tug of war, instead of getting worked up, get curious.
You can directly ask the ego mind questions to help understand it better, such as,
What are you (ego mind) trying to protect me from?
Your answer could be about escaping from an emotion like sadness or anger, or from a feeling like fear or shame. But it will typically reveal itself as the need to get away from some kind of pain.
When you talk to your ego mind, you can also understand why it came to this solution, by asking,
Have I felt pain in the past, that has led you to this mindset?
Here, maybe a memory or set of experiences arise. Take note of them, and proceed to ask yourself questions, like,
Has your suggestion worked to mitigate my pain in the past?
Even though I was free of pain, were there any consequences of this action?
Then, is there another solution to handle the problem?
With that, you will not outright reject your belief system, but investigate it. I have spent the past couple of months doing weekly silent retreats, where I sit down with my ego and have a no-BS conversation. This has not only helped in reprioritizing my journey, it has helped transform my relationship with this ‘elder brother’.
Step #3- Support the Ego Mind.
What if you actually listened to big brother’s advice and gave it the respect it deserves? Why? Because it isn’t for no reason that the big brother is protecting you – your own reactions in the past have led you to this moment.
Here’s what supporting the ego mind would look like, in the form of questions to ask yourself.
When I’m in pain from such situations, what ends up happening to me?
Maybe you stop trusting people, or you pick up an old bad habit. Or you experience a drop in self-esteem and feel hopeless/lonely.
Become aware of your tendencies when things go wrong, and try to understand how the ego mind is mitigating your pain and actually saving you from spiraling down.
For instance, the ego mind might be stopping you from dating someone, because the last time it didn’t work out, you ended up drinking too much and spending all your savings on alcohol.
Through this, it just wants to protect you from sabotaging your life at the expense of one failed relationship.
But really, its YOU that needs to take actions of higher value. And until you don’t act differently, maybe it makes more sense to listen to the big brother and not date your way into being broke.
When you are aware of this, you can put conscious effort to not let yourself go down that path every time things go south for you.
Why am I not willing to listen to these thoughts? What will I miss out, if I listen to my ego mind?
There’s clearly a part of you that has hope that things can be different. Which is why you’re having an inner conflict and want to do things differently. Acknowledge and address this hope, and see why it is driving you against self-preservation in this situation.
Here are some more solid questions to ask yourself to walk towards egoless functioning.
Tip #4 – Collect evidence of why your ego-mind if the way it is.
Sometimes ego work needs us to go deeper and remove things from their root. Until then, the inner conflict doesn’t subside because we can’t seem to seperate a behavior or thought from ourself.
So, we want to find out what (or who) made the ego mind this way.
This is a challenging tip to follow, because it requires you to remain accountable for yourself, without hating your external environment. So keep that in mind as you assimilate the answers from the following questions.
Do these thoughts remind me of anyone in real life?
Ego work can lead to a new problem – holding grudges against the people that influenced our mindset. This can deepen the duality and make us feel more isolated from others around us when we are on the spiritual journey.
Regardless of who comes up as the influencer behind a thought, just become aware. Any temporary anger or resentment is natural. And it can be pacified by remembering two things.
One, is that we no longer have to make that choice. This helps us take our power back and be more independent of the past. And two, had the influencer known better, they wouldn’t have given us this experience.
Once you know that you aren’t original in thinking these things, it’ll become easier for you to release them from your mindset. Then, ask the next question.
Do I still want to follow so-and-so’s mindset in this situation?
There may have been a time when you had no choice (such as childhood) to follow their advice. But now, you can do things differently. By having that dialogue with yourself, you can logically bring yourself into a new belief system.
Tip #5 – Reach a consensus.
Sometimes, you’ll be able to change an old pattern through the aforementioned dialogues. But at times, you may want to resort to old ways.
Then, the most important aspect of healing through ego work becomes giving yourself time and being patient with yourself, even as you see yourself picking the old patterns.
In such circumstances, don’t beat yourself up or think that the big brother won the fight. As Osho advised, just be aware of what you’re doing, without working on autopilot. Be aware of yourself long enough to transcend behaviors once and for all.
Every time you pick an old pattern, have an inner dialogue that reminds you of why you’re doing this, what you could have done differently, and whether it’s worth being this way again.
Remember that some patterns and belief systems have been around for decades in our life, and can be deeply rooted. The only way out of them is to remain aware and set them free when their time comes.
The ego is merely that aspect of ourselves which keeps the duality alive. It is essential as a part of the human experience, and it adds value to our life because it gives us the uniqueness to our story.
However, at the end of the day, everything that limits us to the duality is a limitation. And so, if we want to move towards oneness and collective consciousness, we must embrace ego work with just as much love as we embrace light work, for example.
You may also find it interesting to read these unique ways to differentiate between your ego mind and intuition.
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