What Is Ego?
All this week, one word has been lingering at the forefront of my mind. That word is Ego.
Early this week, I finally polished up the first draft of my manuscript
What My Mother Never Taught Me - The 7 Things I Wished I Had Known About Finding Happiness and sent it off to a panel for review and comment.
I had thought that the prevailing emotion that I would feel was that of joy seeing that the manuscript is now finally complete and ready for public viewing. Instead, after I hit the 'Send' button on my email, I was filled with an emotion that I couldn't quite articulate. It was a mix between fear and anxiety. It was an emotion I didn't expect and wasn't prepared for.
That afternoon, I tried to distract myself by tucking into a Cathy Kelly volume at a local café but while my eyes were focused on the words on the page, all I could feel was the slight tremble in my hands and my knees, feeling the hollow and emptiness in my quivering heart. I will be honest in saying that I was scared shitless. It was a combination of feeling like I had stripped myself bare, standing stark naked in public for all eyes to see, and also an anxiety at how the public would react to what they have seen. When I finally gave up on my attempt at reading the Cathy Kelly book, I got up and walked home.
It was on my way home, walking down the quiet street lined with Victorian terraces that I started to talk to myself out loud (which I often do when I'm alone). It was one of the number of ways I use to find that voice in me that is my true self, separate from that part of me that is the ego—the false sense of self. In my head, both voices sounded the same. It was hard to distinguish the true self from the ego based on my internal monologue, so I had to do a dialogue with myself to get it out of my head into the open space.
I knew that unsettling feeling came from the ego because it ultimately led back to the underlying need to please, the need for other people's approval. I had sent off the manuscript for critique as part of the process to improve it, not realizing that underneath it lay the tacit need for external validation. That was why I was fearful—I was fearful that the manuscript wasn't good enough, and because it was an extension of me, I was fearful that I wasn't good enough.
In the first week of Oprah's Life Class, Eckhart Tolle had talked about the ego—the false sense of self being what the mind accepts as its identity based on other people's perception and expectations. He had cited a number of Asian countries like China, Japan and South Korea where young people commit suicide because of the pressure and the need to meet parents' and elders' expectations as an example of the ego at work.
Hearing him say that struck a chord within me. Growing up in an Asian household where children are constantly being compared against others and told that they need to do better all the time, I know exactly what it feels like to constantly have to do and achieve before I would be considered 'good enough'. There was a reward tied to meeting my parents' expectations and there was also punishment tied to not meeting my parents' expectations. It is under these conditioning that I often feel that what I was worth was contingent upon how other people view me. Even after I had that awareness that all that was just fiction, there were still moments when I was dominated by my ego.
Eckhart Tolle talked about the two modalities of ego. The first being the need to use other people to increase our worth, an example being trophy wives (or husbands) who use their spouse's image to increase their own worth. The second being the feeling that someone else's success or happiness takes something away from us, in other words, the feeling of envy.
The need to use others and the feeling of envy are both the ego—the false sense of self—at work. The ego operates on the basis that our worth is determined by external perception—the clothes that we wear, the size of our house, the number of digits on our pay cheques etc. While enjoying these things are fine, being dependent on them for our self-worth is not. Having been through my own suffering for a number of years, being completely lost and confused about who I was, I have personally experienced that all that 'stuff' means nothing when it comes to asserting my self-worth.
Oprah gave very sage advice when it came to identifying the voice of the ego. She said that the voice of the ego often comes in the form of the question—What do you think? It's when we are unsure of who we are and what we are doing that we often ask others, “What do you think I should do?” hoping that their answers would satisfy us. It gave me a different perspective on what I have always believed to be true—that all the answers to my questions are already inside me, I just need to peel away all the layers that are masking them. These layers could be past programming, old conditioning, beliefs and expectations—both my own and others.
I'm not saying that the ego is my enemy, what I'm saying is that not being aware of the ego and not controlling the ego is my enemy.
One of the most important things that I value in life is my right to be my authentic self. I truly believe that distinguishing who I am authentically and naturally from who I think people expect me to be is the real key to uncovering my purpose in life.
Ultimately the most important question is this — Are you happy? Are you truly happy with your life? If you are, it would be safe to say that you are living in your true self, because your true self knows that you matter, that you are here on purpose. Your true self knows that exactly who you are is good enough.
Copyright © 2011 Chiao Kee Lim
Chiao Kee Lim is the owner of the copyright to this work. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any for or by any means without the prior written permission of the author, nor be otherwise circulated in any form other than that in which it is published. Any reproduction, amendments, edits and/or re-posting on any other medium apart from those authorized by the author will be dealt with under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Chiao Kee is a three-time award-winning author who won her first award at the age of 16. She is the President and Founder of The Dirty 30s Club - a blog that promotes self awareness and personal empowerment through stories and personal reflection, packed with a generous dose of humor and fun. Since its launch in September 2010, the Club has had visitors from 111 countries, with its popularity on the rise due to the high quality of its content.
She is a passionate student of personal development who started her journey in 2007 learning from world experts such as Tony Robbins, Bob Proctor, T. Harv Eker and Blair Singer in the areas of personal growth and the psychology of peak potentials. She has recently completed work on her book "What My Mother Never Taught Me -The 7 Things I Wish I Had Known About Finding Happiness."
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