Our minds are where our ego often raises concerns that might not be in our best interest. It keeps us focused on what others are doing, rather than on what we’re doing. It tells us that we must keep others happy in order to feel safe and loved. It’s the instigator of our actions where we give up the care and desires we have for ourselves in order to serve the often unhealthy demands of others.
Yet, our ego also has its rightful place in our being. If it didn’t God wouldn’t have created us with one.
The difference lies between an unhealthy ego and a healthy one.
Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D., a Professor Emerita in the Department of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame, says, “If you don’t have a strong ego, you will be a sheet the wind and could be used by others to do a lot of damage in the world.”
A healthy ego is born from a healthy childhood, and many of us have not been gifted with parents who were conscious of their parenting skills and how that might affect all of the ways we interact with the world. I know I did a fair amount of damage to my own children given the lack of role modeling and awareness that I had early in their lives.
Narvaez says that to develop a healthy ego we must have had “mutual recognition” experiences with our parents, particularly our mothers.
“A vibrant, true self develops within relationships of mutuality that ‘affirm, validate, acknowledge, know, accept, understand, empathize, take in, tolerate, appreciate, see, identify with, find familiar …love …’” she shares in “Self Transformation: Step 1: Building the Ego,” written for Psychology Today.
Before we go off and damn our parents (blaming others just doesn’t work) — ourselves — let us be reminded that everyone is always doing the best they can at the time with the skills and knowledge they have. And as Oprah says, “When you know better, you do better.”
And so it’s our time to do better — beginning with ourselves.
Psychologist Gemma Stone of Stone Psychology provides a wonderful list of the difference between an unhealthy ego and a healthy one, in “Is Your Ego Healthy or Unhealthy? Here’s How to Tell.” I’ll share just a few of her ideas.
The unhealthy ego:
- is chameleon-like; changing to fit in or fulfill a role
- feels not good enough
- personalizes what others say and do
- expects perfection (and here I’ll add especially of oneself)
On the flip side, a healthy ego:
- Is reflective, responsive, and resourceful
- constantly growing in strength, confidence, and ability to handle triggering situations (I’m working on this one!)
- takes ownership of problems; let’s other people be responsible for themselves
- feels worthy and deserving of good things
Take a few moments to breathe. Remember, we are all works-in-progress, and life is a practice.
We get to practice being more reflective, feeling worthy, and doing only what is ours to do. If we embrace this place of pondering with the mindset of curiosity, we can learn so much about ourselves and be open to possibilities that we might not otherwise dream possible.
Places of Pondering
I invite you to read the article by Gemma Stone before moving forward. Then go through each list and check off the ones that apply to you. Then ask yourself:
- What have I discovered in assessing the state of my ego?
- What is one area where I’m willing to practice, in Oprah’s words, “to do it better” for the next ten days?
Caveat: While writing is a healing tool, if you find yourself triggered and in need of emotional support, be sure to reach out to your support system or seek professional assistance.
Enjoy your practice!