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That Evil Ego

That evil ego
That evil ego

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to explain and reveal the ways that ego is not a dirty word.

First a quick update:

“Another guru scam artist?”
Mahendra Trivedi claims to have the ability to change cancerous cells, stating that he has had “success with advanced cancer” and his marketing materials compare him to Einstein and Jesus Christ. Now people close to Trivedi claim he is a scam artist, a cult leader and a fraud. Penn State University, the only US institution to research Trivedi’s alleged gift and ability found no substance to his claims. “Mahendra Trivedi was tested extensively at the Penn State University’s Materials Research Laboratory on several occasions from June – September 2009, and we did not observe any changes in materials or their properties as a result of his ‘blessings’” wrote Dr. Tania Slawecki. Learn more – including why women form the majority of victims of gurus – by listening to the controversial interview I give to Michele Morrisette from about Trivedi and other gurus

Now, let’s talk about ego and whether or not it is evil.

Recently, I gave an interview to a television special for A & E’s Biography Channel “Why Powerful Men Cheat.” One of the questions posed to me relates to ego and whether or not ego, and specifically overinflated ego, is a primary motivation for cheating.

Ego comes from the Latin word for “I” and thus refers to the sum total of everything that you are that separates and distinguishes you from everyone else. We also think of ego as conceit, arrogance and pride.

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis believed that the psyche is made up of three constructs:

  1. Id is our selfish urges: emotional and primitive urges, instant gratification. The Id looks outward, ignores consequences and just wants to feel good.
  2. Ego is the ideal: an individual’s view of the kind of person one should strive to become; the conscious mind; the Ego experiences the outside world and reacts to it.
  3. Superego is our conscience: our sense of right and wrong; responding to the demands of the social environment, Superego looks inwards.

The New Age movement believes that ego is the primary cause of our unhappiness because it drives us to be different, to separate ourselves from everyone else and thus leads to isolation, feelings of being disconnected,  separate and alone in the world.

But is that true? Is ego such an evil thing? Is it wrong to be different and have your own identity?

In the 1970s, Australian band, Skyhooks, had a hit with a song “Ego Is A Not A Dirty Word”

If I did not have an ego I would not be here tonight
If I did not have an ego I might not think that I was right
If you did not have an ego you might not care the way you dressed
If you did not have an ego you’d just be like the rest

A key part of teenage emotional and psychological development is “ego identity development” which refers to a teenager evolving to form his/her own identity and place in the world which, in turn, explains why teenagers struggle with the question “who am I?” and go through many phases as they search for their own identity, self-image and self-worth.

Buddhism and other Eastern religions believe that the Ego leads to attachment, desire, ignorance, greed, and hatred. Accordingly, such religions and philosophies teach and strive for Ego Death – to kill off our ego.

But is it truly destructive to have a desire to be different or separate?

When we are in love and when we feel loved and express love we feel a connection and bond with others that creates extraordinary security and a feeling of warmth and exhilaration. And when we feel we have much in common with another person or group of people, we also feel alive and secure. In fact, we unknowingly seek out those people who have much in common with us, sharing the same ideals, morals, values and beliefs. We often feel uncomfortable and even disconnected when we are surrounded by people whom feel too different from us. And when we are in a large group of people who all share the same beliefs or simply a shared emotional experience (a musical concert, sporting event, religious service), we lose our own identity temporarily and we form a mass identity with the group, feeling like we are all connected and we are all one with each other.

So why do we also place on pedestals those people who are different from the crowd, those who stand out like tall poppies?

First, we need ego to affect change. Mahatma Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world via his civil disobedience. Of course, he did not display pride or vanity but he, like all great leaders and achievers, required a sense of self-worth to act differently from everyone else and to recognize that his message is significant. Another example is the “Unknown Rebel” or “Tank Man” who on June 5, 1989, stood in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square China as a protest against suppression, dictatorship and violence; he continued to defiantly leap in front of the tank each time it moved around him and finally he climbed on top of its hull and spoke with its driver. Without an ego, this man would have acted just like the rest of the people and would not have believed that he is right in his actions.

Second, our appreciation and value of beauty also lies in the ability to recognize its uniqueness. Without ego, we would all dress and act the same – we would become robots. When we love and fall in love with another person, we also love the unique aspects and features of that person.

Third, we all need to feel significant, and this can only be realized by recognizing our achievements and uniqueness. (See also my Newsletter from June 30, 2010: “Getting your six needs”).

When we suffer from a low ego – a poor sense of self – we conclude we are unworthy and unlovable. And when we have an overinflated ego, we want the world to recognize that we are so different and therefore superior.

As I explained in the TV interview I gave about ego and cheating, ego becomes a bad and dirty word when we feel so separate from everyone else and our love for self becomes so excessive that we lose compassion for others, we become greedy, hateful, aggressive, and our desire for instant and self-gratification overpowers us and we think only of pleasing ourselves regardless of the effect and pain we might cause others.

The key is to find balance: to recognize what is common in all of us (the things we share inside that make us all the same – our humanness, vulnerability, fears, aspirations, our desire to give and receive love) and to recognize what it is about each one of us that makes us unique, valuable and special. In other words, we can celebrate our similarities while embracing each other’s differences. (Also read my newsletter “We are not the same”).

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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist

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