Ever heard someone say ‘He has a big ego’..?
Typically this is said about someone who is annoyingly loud-mouthed, obnoxious, self-absorbed, immature or belligerent.
Fortunately, I have not had people have tell me this about myself, but this ‘big ego’ insult has always fascinated me. For some reason, I never really understood exactly what an ego was, and why it was a bad thing. I never seemed to hear people describe someone as having a ‘small ego’, or talk about someone having a ‘good ego’.
This led me several years ago to try to understand what exactly an ego is, and why people become annoying when it grows too large.
I researched a lot of psychology, neuroscience, TED talks and even asked a few people who are professional therapists. All had varying explanations of the ego, but basically it came down to the same type of thing.
The ego is that part of you that defines itself as a personality, that considers itself a separate entity from the rest of the world. To make it really simple, your ego is the part of you that you feel is talking when you say “I.”
Rather than think the ego as a good or bad thing, I have come to think of it as a software program that runs inside your head.
The main purpose of your ego is protect the identity you have created over many years. If the world around you is giving you signals that you are the person your think you are, the ego is relaxed. However, if you get information that says something isn’t what you expected, then sometimes the ego gets defensive.
This is how you can make the distinction between a weak ego and a strong ego.
In some people, their ego becomes incredibly weak and needs constant reassurance. Sometimes they seek this through achievement or recognition, other times through pushing their point of view onto others. I believe that when someone is described as having a ‘big ego’, this is actually a ‘weak ego’. The person is weak internally, and their identity feels threatened. Thus they need to keep trying to make the outside world match their internal view.
In a person with a strong ego, the reverse happens. If they reach a point of adversity in their life, and the world gives them a different reality than the ego expects, they simply accept it and adapt. They don’t let changes in the outside world injure them or make them feel threatened.
Like so many things, it seems that getting too attached to an ideal is what causes the problem. If you have an identity (a way of thinking about yourself) that is constantly being challenged by the world, then perhaps you need to take on the feedback and adapt.
Now, I want to make one more distinction here. If there is someone who you want to be, a change you want to make, then that will take some self-determination. It will require you to challenge reality in some ways, and stay resolved to your new path.
If you use your identity or persona as a crutch, the ego will start to limit your success.
If you use your ego as a way to learn to be better, it can become a powerful secret weapon.
If you have a weak ego, it means you get upset whenever your identity is challenged. If you have a strong ego, you adapt, adjust and keep moving.
Ego is neither good nor bad, it simply is a part of you.
Just like using a computer, the more you understand about it, the more useful it can be to help you achieve what you want in life.
[Originally published on midsonshort.com]