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Ego: Friend or Foe

By Arlene Arnold

Recently, I went through a time of fear as I came to the completion of a project I had worked on for a long time. I thought I would feel excitement and relief to have it finished. My response surprised me so much that my mentor suggested that I journal about it. I found that my ego was concerned about criticism that might come about my completed project. As a result of this journaling I discovered something new to me about the ego. Perhaps you will find this interesting and helpful as well.

Society believes that it is the responsibility of parents, teachers, police officers and all other parent figures to keep children and out-of-control adults from developing too large an ego. The accepted way of doing this is to be sure the child or adult-child ego is deflated to a reasonable size by pointing out its faults, what it did wrong, and how it is less than perfect. As the reasoning goes, the ego will then toe the line and learn what its place is.

In my experience, the result is just the opposite of what was hoped for. When the ego hears criticism, it moves into a defensive posture. Its survival instincts move into full gear. It may toe the line momentarily in order to survive, but the fear it feels will be expressed in anger. It will lash out at its controller as a way to convince itself that it still exists. It will look for any opportunity to escape the control of the parental figure. Or the ego may go into a hibernation of fear. It interprets the criticism to mean it has no worth, so it feels its only means of survival is to be perfect. It pulls in all its energy, watches and listens for any clues about how it can behave in order to avoid more hurt. It seeks information that will tell it how to be, what to say, what to believe. It believes that everyone else is right and it has no truth to offer.

In this mode, it will endure untold abuse because it now believes it deserves this treatment because it is so bad or imperfect. In the end, both the abuser and the abused suffer from egos that are trying to survive. They are doing the best they can, given their current understanding. Our lives may not reflect the extreme of what I have described, but to some extent our self-talk will reflect these two modes. Instead of acting out the fear and anger inside, we may stuff it in our bodies where it comes out in illness or stuff it in our emotional bodies where it results in depression and despair.

So if society has been mistaken, what is the way to balanced, healthy egos? Through my own healing process, I have found that a healthy ego comes from the nurturing parent outside us and inside us. This nurturing parent loves our ego unconditionally. That means that our ego is accepted and cared for and cared about in all its incompleteness and in all its desires and in all its abilities. I call this "massaging" the ego.

Our patterns are set by those who raised us so that if we hear and experience affirming and loving words and actions from the time we are born, we are likely to have a well developed, balanced ego that accepts and cares about others' egos. But, if we were raised by a parent whose ego was in survival, we probably ended up to some degree in a survival mode ourselves. If we are in the survival mode inside, then we must find that archetype of the nurturing parent inside ourselves. This parent knows exactly what to say and how to act in order to massage our ego. Of course that critical parent we inherited in the process must be led to understand that its role has changed. Otherwise, anything the nurturing parent does will be under suspicion from the critical parent and the ego will question the validity of the nurturing parent.

Now, the ego can begin to let go of the fear. It can move out of survival mode. It can begin to relax. It doesn't have to stay puffed up to be sure it's big enough to be noticed. It doesn't have to talk loud or long in order to be heard. It doesn't have to find all the faults in others in order to feel that it has a place. It can now be just the right size because the inner parent is assuring it of its place. It can now hear and attend to other egos because it knows its own survival is assured.

So I honor the ego within you. I honor the nurturing parent within you. May your path be one of appreciation for the ego that is your human expression. When the ego is healthy and is merged with the Divine Self, the awakening to your full reality may proceed.

Arlene Arnold is a counselor and runs the Transformational Tools Made Simple site.
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