When speaking casually, the term “ego” gets thrown around mostly in a negative way. “Wow, the ego on that guy,” or “His ego will never let him admit failure,” etc. While these statements might technically be using the term ego correctly, it does tend to conflate the ego with self-aggrandizing or pomposity.
That’s not all it is.
The ego is a person’s sense of self-esteem. Those with overinflated self-esteem might have an ego which feeds that sense, but those with low self-esteem also have an ego. In both cases, the ego may not be doing this person any favors. The ego can cut in both directions and whether it’s pumping you up to believe you are more important than you are, or squashing you down to make you believe you amount to nothing, it can make you a very difficult person to be around.
Let’s look at what’s happening here.
Shame, Guilt, and the Ego
in my work with sex and porn addicts, a lot of guys talk about shame and guilt. Sometimes these feelings get so intense that suicidal ideation comes into the picture. Obviously that’s a very serious situation, and one that needs some intense work.
But where are those feelings coming from in the first place?
It’s the ego. The men I work with have a negative voice in their head telling them that they are worthless, unlovable, and should be ashamed of their actions. This voice is full of anger and hatred, yet the men I work with are listening to it, sometimes intently. They hang on to this voice because, believe it or not, they get something out of it. There’s a chaotic energy associated with a negative ego, and this dangerous spiral effect starts happening. The more you listen to the voice, the more negative you feel, and that negativity in turn feeds the negative voice. You feel worse, it grows stronger.
Part of my job is to help these men begin focusing on this basic truth: we are either feeding our egos or we are feeding ourselves. We can’t do both. One thrives, the other shrivels, and it’s up to us to decide which way that goes.
A person with a negative ego will say that they are hearing a voice telling them “you’re bad,” but if you step back and think about it, that’s really a person saying to themselves “I’m bad.” The voice originates from within them, and the only reason it’s there is because they have been giving it an audience.
They’ve been feeding it.
It’s Not Just a Matter of Ignoring It
For a lot of sex and porn addicts, once they grasp the idea that their ego is sort of like a separate entity talking down to them, they begin to think “Okay, so I’ll just ignore it.” But that’s not enough. The reason that voice has been so loud in the first place is because it’s very easy to listen to. It’s inside your head after all.
Instead, you need the tools to learn how to counter that voice. Not only do you stop listening, but you work in ways that prove that voice wrong.
Here’s an analogy I like to use: if you were giving a speech on stage and someone in the crowd began heckling you, you’d never stand for that. You would not simply continue with your presentation as though the heckler wasn’t there. That’s a confusing and chaotic situation. The people in the audience would have trouble focusing on you. You would have trouble focusing on your speech. Thinking about it this way, trying to ignore that heckler, that ego, seems ridiculous.
Instead, you would take some sort of decisive action. Maybe you would turn and address the heckler directly, maybe you would call for security to have that person removed from the audience, maybe once he was gone you would crack a joke or do something else to get the audience refocused on you.
The bottom line is, you can’t just ignore that heckler, and trying to white knuckle against your ego isn’t going to be any more successful. You need a concrete plan of action.
The Ego Is Sneaky
Now, the analogy of a heckler in an otherwise quiet auditorium is a dramatic one, but what if the voice wasn’t so loud, or so obvious? What if, instead of a heckler standing up and shouting, it was more like a few rivals in the audience whispering disparaging things about you?
Sometimes the ego can manifest like that. It’s not so much shouting at you as it is constantly whispering to you.
Here’s an example: I sometimes get phone calls from men who are in situations where they feel triggered to act out sexually. It might be something along the lines of “I was minding my own business, I was in line at the grocery store, and the woman in front of me had this amazing body, and now I’m afraid I’m going to act out.”
My question back to them is “How do you know she has an amazing body?”
Usually there’s a little bit of silence on the line as they try to figure this out. The answer is because their ego, their negative self-image reinforced the idea that they are helpless to avoid objectifying women. Furthermore, they are told by their ego that they are also helpless to avoid acting on the impulses that come along with being triggered.
The simple fact is, those little whispers are all lying. Within these men, there is the ability to exist in society – to make it through a boring grocery store trip – without turning the experience into a compulsion emergency. Again, are they feeding their ego, or are they feeding themselves?
You Have to Combat the Ego on Three Fronts
When you have a negative ego situation, nearly everything it’s saying to you isn’t true. You’re hearing it in the form of “I” statements – “I always get rejected,” or “I am unlovable,” or “I will always be an addict.”
These are very powerful thoughts, but it helps to know that the ego and the self are different. So, there are three different steps to approaching a negative ego
- We choose not to listen to it anymore.
- We choose not to have a conversation with our ego about why we are not listening. We simply stop.
- We make an active choice to move in positive directions instead.
Imagine that you are in an argument with someone who has their mind completely made up on a certain topic. You can sit there and argue with that person for hours, even days, and not get anywhere. You begin to understand that this person has not used logic to arrive at their conclusions, so using logic to talk them out of their conclusions is never going to work.
The ego is your difficult conversation partner in this scenario. There is no logic to the ego, but there is logic in you. Therefore, it isn’t effective to try to turn and face your ego to talk it down. Giving it an audience is what got you into this mess in the first place. There are way more productive avenues you can take to get yourself out of this negative cycle.
You’re going to need a little bit of help with this though. Whether you have an inner voice that is shouting at you like a heckler, or whispering at you like a sneaky classmate, you need to learn how to face down these voices the right way. We can help. You don’t have to listen to that negativity anymore.
There’s a world of positivity out there waiting for you, you just have to tap into it.