Ego Trip #2: The Ego Illusion

Saturday, October 22, 2016 0 Comments A+ a-

Hello, friends...welcome to another crisp, clear autumn day in the Cafe. It's incredibly beautiful outside this morning. The sun is shining, leaves are turning gold and crimson, and I'm enjoying it all through the windows of my favorite coffeehouse (while sipping cinnamon tea...yum!). I definitely plan on spending some quality time in nature today.

But first, I'm going to cover the next phase of our Ego Trip series. If you read my last post, you know that the ego is basically the conscious, self-preserving part of your personality. Developed in childhood, its two primary goals are to identify you as separate from the external world and to maintain a proper balance between the id and the superego.

The first goal evolves naturally. Through experience and observation, you learn that you are a distinct organism. The ball you play with isn't you. The family cat isn't you. Your parents aren't you. These things are all separate from you and have unique labels. You have a label as well...more than one, actually, and you learn from your caregivers just what those labels are.

The second goal is a little more complicated. As a unique being, you know what pleases you and what doesn't. These are purely instinctive desires (id) and not always good for you, so it's up to your caregivers to teach you how to manage them. As you learn this, usually through a system of rewards and discipline, you begin to recognize the behaviors that lead to even greater rewards. These behaviors are morally superior (superego) to your instinctive ones, and--because they're often in direct conflict with your instincts--are more challenging to pursue.

The result? You end up with a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other...with your poor ego squished in between them, trying to keep the peace.

It's hard listening to them at first. That devil's pretty manipulative, and the angel makes a lot of lofty promises. But after while, you get a handle on the negotiations. You eventually forge a path of that brings you the most pleasure with the least amount of pain. The person walking this path is who you determine yourself to be.

And yet, it's not always accurate. Remember the labels I mentioned in goal number one? They start out innocently enough: girl, sister, daughter. Then they morph: brown-eyed girl, older sister, sweet daughter. You enter the educational system: skinny girl, smart girl, quiet girl. Are they always this benign? Nope. Keep going and you'll run into nerd, loser, snot, brown-noser, and jinx. I'm being nice here, actually, because I can recall some pretty nasty ones from my own childhood.

The problem with these labels is that the ego, in its never-ending attempt to sculpt you into a unique identity, latches onto them like freaking super glue. You have to be somebody, and the ego doesn't really care who that somebody is, as long as it can define you in a way that keeps you on the peaceful path of compromise.

So let's say you're a kid who constantly trips or runs into things. Maybe you're going through an awkward growth spurt or have an eyesight issue that hasn't been caught yet. Someone calls you a klutz. Then another person does, followed by another, and another. They might be teasing or it could be a form of bullying. Over time, your ego adopts that label, because it represents your uniqueness in the external world. You start to compromise, apologizing for "being such a klutz" when you run into someone. You even start expecting to run into people.

And that's when the ego knows it has you. Your expectations fuel your decision-making. If you expect to be clumsy, you might not join the ballet class. You might avoid school dances. In your mind, you've adopted the "klutz" label and believe it to be true. And every time you accidentally trip over something, you reinforce it. See, I knew I was a klutz.

This is just one small example. Over the course of your life, your ego is exposed to dozens of labels. Each one is examined before being accepted or rejected as a part of your identity. The way other people treat you can either help or hinder the process, but once your ego decides to accept a label, it's chiseled into your belief system...whether it's true or not.

In other words, your ego can create a "false" identity for you. An alter ego, if you will. It's one that happily walks that path of compromise, working to please both the devil and the angel, presenting you as a socially acceptable member of society. But it might not be the person you really are. It could, in fact, be a complete illusion.

You might accept this illusion as truth and be okay with it. If you're not, though, it can lead to increasingly uncomfortable levels of pain, self-doubt, and depression.

My main point here is this: your ego doesn't care if what it believes is true or not. It doesn't care if the way you perceive yourself lines up with reality or is completely off the mark. Neither is it an evil process that's deliberately trying to sabotage you. Your ego has a job to do. It helps form your identity, and through that identity, it helps you forge a socially acceptable path. Once it has accomplished that, it will fight tooth and nail to keep the status quo.

And if you think your status quo might be more illusion than reality, you're not alone. I believe INFJs are particularly vulnerable to the ego illusion. I'll be covering that in the next post. :)

Until then, blessings to all! <3

Image Credit: Autumn ParkConfused Kronk, Coffee Trip, Alter Ego