This post is for you if you…
- wish to accelerate your personal growth
- desire a better relationship with yourself and others
- want to know the difference between the ego self, the shadow self and the authentic self
The Purpose of this Post
I like to think people can change. Always giving others the benefit of the doubt, I have consistently throughout my life given people in my life more chances than they probably deserve to find the desire to discover the good in themselves that I see.
At least that is what I tell myself.
Currently years into my self-development journey, I ponder this question of whether a leopard can change it’s spots and whether I truly give others the benefit of the doubt or it is just a belief I have formed out of fear. Fear of abandonment, fear of not being loved, fear of rejection. If I don’t give the people I think I need in my life a chance, where does that leave me? For a long time, alone and unhappy.
Now, I am able to see how that fear ruled my life in the form of my ego. I can recognize with clarity that the choices I made were a direct result of wanting to fit in and simply be accepted. Understanding and befriending my ego was one of the most important decisions I have made, resulting in an improvement in my relationships with others and most importantly with myself. The purpose of this post is to walk you through how to make friends with your own ego so that you, too, can experience a paradigm shift.
What is an Ego?
I think the easiest way to explain this to you is to define ego, shadow self and authentic self so you can distinguish the differences.
Ego = The Conformist/The Defender/The Protector
The part of you that is on high alert at all times, your ego’s main goal in life is to keep you safe from perceived danger. Loud, defensive, reactive and extremely rigid, your ego believes you would die if it weren’t for the work it does. The ego is how you view yourself, the masks you put on, your persona. It’s the identity you have built in order to be accepted but often disconnects us from our true self. The ego’s main mode of operation is fear.
Shadow Self = The Hider/The Blamer/The Jealous One
All the parts of yourself that you are ashamed of make up your shadow self. Formed at an early age, your shadow hides in the dark corners refusing to acknowledge itself but easily sees it’s qualities in others. Quick to point fingers, judge, obsess, admire, get jealous and irritated, your shadow self doesn’t understand that the world is a mirror: what it sees in others, it possesses in itself. Your shadow embodies emotion: rage, anger, guilt, shame, anxiety, etc. It defines itself by good vs. bad, unable to see that these labels are merely opinions, not fact.
Authentic Self = Your Intuition/The Genuine One/The Soul
The Authentic Self is often overlooked because it is so quiet and unobtrusive. Unlike your ego, it is the voice of reason and calm. You have to practice recognizing when your true self is speaking and when you do, you know you are hearing from the true you, the one without the masks. Your authentic self encompasses both your ego and your shadow self.
Why There Will Never Be an Ego Death
Spend any time in the spiritual world and you are sure to come across discussions of killing the ego to reach enlightenment. Not only is this impossible, taking the time to destroy your ego wastes so much energy that could be put towards simply learning how to integrate it effectively into your everyday life.
You ego roots you in reality, helps form your identity and prevents you from acting on basic, primal urges. For instance, if someone cuts you in line, your ego stops you from stabbing them in anger. Therefore, your ego does serve a purpose which is to react in socially acceptable ways and keep you safe. The key is to find and maintain a balance between your ego overreacting and looking for the good it provides you. In other words, you must know how to ask your ego to step aside when it causes more harm than good. Once you know how to do this, everything shifts. Consider Deepak Chopra’s explanation:
The ego in itself is not the villain. Once self-realization occurs, the ego’s misappropriation of identity dissolves and its simple function of providing individuality to experience will remain even after enlightenment.
Related Reading: 8 Ways to Identify Your Shadow and Why It’s Important
Why Do Ego Work?
Your ego will rule your life if you let it. It refuses to recognize your shadow self and talks over your authentic self. The goal of ego work is to find harmony between these three aspects of yourself so they work with each other instead of clashing.
An uncontrolled ego wreaks havoc in your relationships, with others and your relationship with yourself. It affects your outlook on life and determines your reality. If you feel your life is devoid of meaning, find yourself in toxic relationships and have a very black and white view of life, chances are your ego is in charge.
Ego work is the process of understanding and befriending your ego so that you can increase your confidence, express yourself authentically, experience better relationships and find inner peace.
How to Work with Your Ego
First, you must accept you have an ego. Funnily enough, your ego doesn’t want to admit it can be a problem, insisting instead that it knows best. In our society, the word ego carries a negative connotation and because of this, it doesn’t acknowledge its existence but still carries on business as usual. When you make friends with your ego and understand what it is telling you, you can then break down the walls and work together.
Set an Intention and Know Your Why
As with everything, I feel it’s so important to know why you want to engage in this work and how you want to feel as you do so. It provides structure and direction, making ego work so much easier to navigate. By taking the time to really think about what you wish to accomplish and setting an intention each time you start this work, you will experience exponential growth.
Your Why: I wish to work with my ego because I want to improve my relationship with my partner.
Your Intention: Today, I intend to show myself compassion as I work. No matter what I uncover, I will be gentle with myself.
Identify the Noise
As I mentioned earlier, you have three distinct parts of yourself that are hard to distinguish unless you pay attention to the qualities of each. Take a look at the usual traits and how they present themselves so you know who is talking to you.
Black and White
Adopt a Healthy Sense of Humor
Ego work, like shadow work, is confusing and hard. You can easily get swept away by overwhelm so it’s important to be kind to yourself and try and adopt a healthy sense of humor. If you develop the practice of looking for the fun, you will find yourself looking forward to putting in the effort. Laugh with your ego as you would a friend – with it, not at it. Avoid derisive behavior and you will experience a healthy relationship with your ego sooner than later.
Embrace an observer demeanor as you explore your ego and get to know how it operates. This means staying curious without judgement. By observing your ego as you would a stranger on the street, you give it room to be itself without coloring it with your own perception. Allowing your ego to be fully and completely itself will give you the insight you need to move forward towards understanding. Make notes of your observations as a scientist would an experiment: without emotion and simply stating the facts.
What the Ego Hears
A triggered ego is a loud one. It drowns out the voice of your intuition and takes over, prompting you to react and get defensive. As I am sure you are aware, this rarely is a constructive form of behavior and is the cause of a lot of problems that could have easily been avoided. By paying attention to your reactions to situations, you are given a goldmine of information. When you are able to identify a pattern in how you respond to the same types of situations, you can then move on to the next step, which is uncovering the story your ego is telling you.
Remembering that your ego is trying to protect you, it’s easy to see that sometimes it exaggerates what is actually happening. It’s up to you to believe the story it’s telling you or not. The choice you make determines your response which in turn creates the energy of the situation you find yourself in. Your choice can diffuse the situation or completely blow it up. The key is to uncover the made up stories and calmly make a decision as to how to react.
Trigger: Your partner didn’t call you back like he said he would.
What the Ego Hears: I am not good enough for him.
What the Shadow Hears: He is cheating on me.
What the Authentic Self Hears: I know where his heart lies. He is busy and lost track of time.
How the Ego Reacts: With anger, lashing out and creating an argument when he finally calls.
How the Shadow Self Reacts: With jealousy, falling into victim mode and asking “why does this always happen to me?”
How the Authentic Self Reacts: With compassion and peaceful understanding.
Related Reading: How to Develop Your Intuition and Why It’s Important
Release the Energy
This work can stir up a lot of repressed energy so it’s important to release it from your body. Find a way to move it out through creative expression or exercise. Dance, punch a pillow, practice yoga, do some crossfit, paint, etc. By doing so, you will make room to process more emotions as they arise, allowing yourself to progress on your mission.
Give Your Ego a Name
As you start to understand your ego, a very distinct personality will emerge. Once you understand the way it operates and how it reacts in certain situations, it can be fun and cathartic to give your ego a name. This will also help you see it as a distinctly separate part of your being. When your ego shows up, you can view it as an old friend and call it by your chosen name, then proceed to have a conversation. I often thank my ego for alerting me to danger but ask it to step aside because I have the situation under control. You will be surprised how just by recognizing and appreciating your ego calms it down. As with all of us, your ego just wants to be seen, heard and loved. When you do this, you will experience a dramatic shift in how your new friend shows up.
Probably the most important thing to remember on this list is to practice. The more you do, the easier it gets and the more noticeable the changes will be. Befriending your ego is an extremely important part of your self-growth but you have to take the time to learn how to do so. Listen to your body and take breaks when you need them but don’t run away when the work gets difficult. Take small steps forward and celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small. Before you know it, you will have developed a relationship with your ego and will see your world in an entirely new light.
I believe in you.
Proud introvert, intuitive entrepreneur, and spiritual activist. On a mission to embolden my fellow introverts to quietly change the world.