Today I am excited to share with you why you should pick up your ego, dust it off, and give it a boost, rather than trying to eliminate it (as many spiritual traditions suggest).
We have to start by defining ego, which is where all the confusion begins anyhow. I’ll save you the trouble of googling the definition – here’s what you’ll find:
1. a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance.
synonyms: self-esteem, self-importance, self-worth, self-respect, self-image, self-confidence
Before we take that deep dive, allow me to explain where & why I decided to champion the fight of the ego. While I was working in a clinic with high risk teens, one of our CONSTANT goals was often to increase ego strength. Looking at these teens lives and challenges, it was clear that it would be helpful to them to build a solid sense of self, to increase self-confidence, self-worth and self-respect, in order to prevent them from becoming manipulated, exploited, or pulled into negative circumstances. When they had a strong, positive sense of themselves, it was easier for them to make choices that were good for them in the long term.
The same is true for you. When you have a strong, positive sense of yourself, it is easier to bounce back from life’s challenges. It won’t necessarily make life magical, but it is a clear spark of resilience to know who you are and think positively about yourself.
Lets look again at those synonyms and consider why a bigger, better, stronger ego is a good thing: self-esteem, self-importance, self-worth, self-respect, self-image, self-confidence. These are crucial components of a healthy emotional life. You may have a hard time with the term self-importance, as it tends to have the negative connotations of what we typically think of as egotistical, or valuing ones’ self more than others. I vote that even self-importance can stay in the mix – because you ARE important! In fact, there is nothing wrong with wanting to increase your self-importance – as long as you increase the importance of everyone else at the same time. 😀
The beautiful thing is that someone who identifies with their deepest sense of self no longer has anything to prove, and doesn’t need someone to put down so they can feel better. As many of us know, people who are “egotistical” (defined as excessively conceited or absorbed in oneself; self-centered) are often seeking to mask a small, injured sense of self underneath the bravado. So even they can use some compassion, and would benefit from true ego strength.
In the midst of building ego strength with teens, I found myself in spiritual circles seeking to break down the ego, and was puzzled by this paradox. Why break down something that can be so helpful in facing life’s challenges?
I learned that some spiritual traditions see the ego as a threat because the ego tells us we are separate and different from others. Well, in many senses, WE ARE. I can have a feeling you don’t have, I can have a thought you disagree with. We have had different life experiences and wake up to different realities each day. Some traditions seek to shatter, to shake, to dispel our self-importance, which, unfortunately, even when well-intentioned, can manifest as an attack or a form of violence. What if, instead of needing to break yourself down, you integrated your sense of self into your understanding of the web of life? What if you could see and value the part, the whole, and their relationship to one another, holding all in high esteem?
Yes, you can have ego strength AND see, feel and participate in the oneness and interrelations of our human experience. It is better for everyone involved if you truly, deeply, know and like yourself. It makes you more likely to confidently share your gifts with the world.
Last dive off the deep end here, so stay with me! I believe spiritual traditions seeking to break through the ego’s sense of separation have the good intention of helping us build the capacity to connect with and understand others. However, like any pendulum, once we swing past the bounds of ego and out into the ether, we must be able to swing back to the recognition of our one-ness, our single being, even as we see our oneness, our connection with all that is. Both are true and there are challenges that come with being stuck on either end of the spectrum. Even the aphorism, we are one, can both mean that we are unique individuals, and that we are interconnected. We can read it both ways (its like the face vase!).
The fact is, when you truly, DEEPLY have a positive sense of yourself, everyone around you wins. When your one-ness and oneness combine and that deep true sense of self and your human identity meet, compassion and love win. You’ll see yourself in every person you meet, have more understanding, compassion for and value of each part of this complex whole we create together.
Still with me? Here are some simple, deep questions to ask yourself:
- Who are you? How do you define yourself based on your experience in the world?
- What parts of your ego, your sense of yourself, could use some more strength?
- How will people benefit from you TRULY, DEEPLY liking yourself?
This is such a rich topic! I would love to hear your comments and answers to these questions. Here is a challenge: If you could use ONE WORD ONLY to define yourself, what would it be? Don’t be shy, and don’t think that it being a positive word makes you full of yourself. Share your answer in the comments below!
With much ego-boosting love,