/ Happiness

Has Your Ego Co-Opted Your Growth Work?


As a self-proclaimed self-help junkie, I can attest that it can get confusing.

  • Am I becoming happier or learning more ways to name my unhappiness?
  • Am I becoming more open-hearted and curious, or learning more clever ways to act wise and knowing?
  • Am I working on myself to awaken to my true nature and release suffering, or as a standard of perfection I am striving to accomplish?
  • Do I want to help others out of love for my fellow creatures, or to prove my worth?
  • Am I becoming more relaxed and trusting about money and abundance, or am I so focused on it that I feel strained and tight around it?
  • Is my work helping me be more compassionate toward others, or judge them for their lack of growth?

Three Ways the Ego Can Show Up

Striving to Become Better

Personal growth work can be about opening up to our true potential, or it can be a yardstick by which we measure ourselves as never enough. It can be about awakening to the truth of our undeniable lovability, or a strategy to try to become a person who is good enough to deserve love.

If this rings a bell, make self-acceptance a primary part of your work. Learn to feel the fear of abandonment, the fear of being judged–whatever it is in you that has you striving ┬áto be good enough.

Analyzing Instead of Being Present

It’s easier to think up a theory of why you are in pain (and how it relates to your mother), than it is to feel the pain. Always. Being present is hard work, and sometimes analyzing can seem like progress. And I’m not against it–I’ve certainly done my share of explaining myself to myself (and others). It helps us to construct a narrative we find understandable and comforting. But ultimately it can only help us feel a bit less anxious–it does not repair trauma or bring us joy, and it can block these things if we become attached to it and use it to avoid feeling.

If this sounds like you, develop a mindfulness practice of saying “Analyzing” to yourself when you notice yourself doing it. You don’t have to stop, but notice how you feel. Is it helping? What do you need? Was it prompted by something?

Feeling More Enlightened than Others

You visit your Dad and sigh at how stuck he is in his patterns. How can he live this way? You offer sage advice to your co-worker about her communication skills–unbidden. You feel self-satisfied and miss the eye-roll she gives you behind your back.

We’ve all been here (and many of us cycle back through it from time to time!). If you resonate with this description, notice when that urge to feel better comes up. What precedes it? Is there a moment of discomfort when you don’t know what to do, so you offer advice? Is there a tight feeling in your chest of helplessness or fear which you quickly usher away with righteousness? Like all these ego-strategies, judgement or superiority is a strategy that masks less pleasant feelings. Notice the mechanisms by which your strategies get activated and you can gradually change your habits.

The Ego Never Sleeps

The ego is there when you read that book about relationships. It’s there when you attend that workshop. It’s ┬áthere in therapy. It takes in the information you learn and starts to slowly warp it.

I’m not against the ego. It has a function, which is to keep you alive by being afraid and protective. The problem is that it has a very limited perspective, and yet it thinks it knows best. That’s why the game is just to become more aware–when you know what the ego is up to, its perceptions lose their teeth.

There are many more ways the ego can show up. Where do you feel stuck and closed down in your journey or practice?

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