Awesome Kim asks: “Though I know logically that none of the things I am pretending to be afraid of will actually happen, I still feel this fear and powerlessness as I imagine these improbable events. And I wonder – is this some sort of backlash against my progress by my ego? Is my ego fighting back against these positive changes I’ve been creating?”
Dear Awesome Kim,
This is a question I get A LOT and one I’ve been itching to answer for quite some time. In the personal development world, there’s a lot of talk about the Ego. It’s usually described as the enemy, this evil little gremlin part of ourselves that likes to sabotage us. It’s the selfish part of us, the fearful part of us, the greedy part of us. Pretty much all the negative qualities we don’t like about ourselves get attributed to our ego. “I want to change”, we say, “but my stupid ego keeps getting in the way.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to listen to people at spiritual retreats go on and on about the evils of the ego and how it’s basically our main purpose in life to either squash it, kick it out, transcend it or release it.
Well, Kim and everyone else, I’m going to tell you a little secret: There’s no gremlin. The Ego, in the form that many like to talk about it, doesn’t exist. In other words, I’m calling Bullshit.
There is no damn Ego
Now, I know that this is a controversial statement. After all, if there is no ego, then who or what can we blame for all the sabotage? What exactly is the cause of all our greed and selfishness and evildoing? Of course the term Ego is simply a way of describing a phenomenon or set of behaviors and reactions that do exist, but I find this explanation outdated, misleading and quite destructive in many ways. The way that most people define and look at the ego usually leaves them feeling powerless (my ego keeps sabotaging me!). It’s also a bit of a throwback to the good vs. evil paradigm (the ego is often seen as our more evil side). Ego can be used to describe our “human” attributes, versus our “soul” attributes, with our human side being the broken, sinful one and our soul being virtuous and clean. To put it another way, there’s a lot of judgment in the way that most people look at the concept of the ego. And that, boys and girls, just won’t fly here, because judgment ultimately doesn’t serve us.
I’d like to offer a different explanation:
What the Ego actually is
In the post Why Do Our Brains Accept False Beliefs As Truth?, I explained how our brains are really kind of stupid, willing to accept whatever input we give them (a bit like computers). If we make a decision, they will accept this as true, and will just assume that this decision serves us. These decisions then become our beliefs, and our brains will filter all the information they get bombarded with every day using these beliefs. If the decisions we made no longer serve us, we can change them, but until we do so, our miraculous head computers will simply follow whatever programming was installed.
This part of our brains (or our minds), is what people often refer to as the Ego (notice that I’m talking about how ego is talked about in personal development circles. In colloquial terms, ego usually refers to arrogance, which is nothing more than a defensive mechanism born of insecurity). The reason that I really don’t like the ego paradigm is because this explanation attributes negative intent to the ego, as if it’s purposefully trying to keep us from being happy. There is no such intent. There is no judgment. There is only input and output.
Our brains are designed to keep us alive. There are the parts that keep us breathing and our hearts pumping. Yep, that all gets regulated in the brain, and it’s very hard to mess with that basic part of the operating system. Sure, Yogis have proven that they can slow down and even stop their hearts with tons of concentration, but for most of us, it’s just kind of an automated function we never have to think about.
If you go up a layer, you get to what is often called the subconscious mind. This is where all those decisions we’ve made throughout our lives reside. They are also designed to run automatically, so we don’t have to make all those decisions over and over again. There’s a reason for this design – we’d have a very hard time functioning without it. Once you know how to drive a car, for example, you don’t have to think about it anymore. You drive automatically – your subconscious does a lot of the heavy lifting, leaving your conscious mind free to keep an eye out for danger as well as possible opportunities for awesomeness. Just about any thought process, action or response can be automated, often without our even having to consciously decide to do so. If you take the same route to work every day, this will become part of your morning routine. You can probably perform that routine, including shower, teeth brushing, makeup and breakfast in your sleep.
But the subconscious isn’t just there to help you drive a car or drink your OJ before you’re fully awake. This is the mechanism that takes the millions of bits of information that bombard you every day of your life, filters them according to the priorities you’ve installed (yes, you. And your parents. And society), and automatically reacts to the “important” triggers in whatever way you’ve decided it should.
If you have a belief of unworthiness, you decided at some point that you were not worthy. If you have a belief that all men are douchebags, then you made that decision, as well. Even if a belief was handed down to you by your parents or society, on some level, you decided to trust those around you enough to simply adopt their criteria and priorities as valid and true without questioning them first.
Like a dog with a stick
If your subconscious mind didn’t do this filtering and prioritizing, you’d go absolutely ape shit crazy. Your conscious mind cannot handle all the input and stimuli that your subconscious can. You’d be totally overwhelmed. If your brain didn’t have the ability to filter all the sights and sounds around you, for example, you’d suffer from sensory overload. People with brain injuries often have this problem – they can no longer filter and busy places with too much noise cause nausea and panic attacks. People having anxiety attacks often also lose the ability to filter to some degree. They become hyper aware of all sounds, sights and smells (a survival mechanism), making the whole experience so much worse. The point is, this filtering process is a really, really good thing and actually necessary to our survival and continued evolution. There is no way we could be as technologically advanced as we are without the ability to sort through vast amounts of information and quickly filter out only what’s important to us. Our minds can and do perform this function for us. In other words, if it wasn’t for the ego, you’d be a drooling, anxiety riddled mess.
Now, granted, some of the criteria and rules that have been programmed into your subconscious no longer serve you. But that that’s not your mind’s fault! It has no ability to judge the programming. It will blindly accept whatever you’ve told it to. There is no intent other than to serve you. Your mind assumes that if you’ve gone ahead and made a decision about yourself and the world at large, that you gave it some thought. It assumes that you know what you’re doing.
Your mind is trying to keep you alive and happy. It makes no judgment on HOW that has to happen. If you tell your mind that something is important, it believes you. If you tell your mind that something is bad or scary, it believes that, too. If you tell your mind to look for something and present it to you whenever possible, it does so. It’s a bit like a dog fetching a stick. It will happily bring you whatever it’s been trained to.
Our wondrous mind: Friend of Foe?
Now, let’s say that you have some beliefs that aren’t serving you anymore (and possibly never did). Your mind will not argue with you. It will faithfully continue to follow the directions it was given until you tell it otherwise.
If you then try to contradict that programming without changing the instructions, your mind will fight you. It’s not doing this to try and sabotage you, it’s trying to keep you alive and happy!
Let’s say that you want to get a promotion at work. You decided, at one point in your life, that you don’t deserve to succeed. So, your mind has been looking for evidence that supports this failure mentality and has been presenting it to you at every opportunity. Any evidence that didn’t match this belief was filtered out. Now, let’s say that you decide to work on a big, high profile project. Your boss gives you explicit instructions and includes one big caveat. If you mess up this important directive, you’ll surely fail. Well, since you’ve programmed your mind with the instruction that you MUST fail, it will make sure that you do. So, when your boss gives you the important instructions, your mind simply filters them out. You’ll later swear up and down that you didn’t hear him say it. Not only that, but your mind will filter out all kinds of other bits of info that could’ve made success an absolute certainty. It might even cause you to oversleep on the day of the big presentation. The problem here is not your mind or ego, but the programming that was installed, which told the mind that failure was the preferred and expected outcome.
Or, let’s say that you get into an argument with your partner. You immediately go into defensive mode and bring up every little thing he’s ever done wrong. This is behavior that’s often attributed to the evil ego. But if we look deeper, we’ll find some programming, some decisions that were made long ago. There’s an insecurity in there. So when your boyfriend accuses you of overreacting, what you hear is “You’re not ok. You’re broken in some way.” And so you defend yourself even more vehemently.
At some point in your life, you made the decision that you are broken in some way. Only, Who You Really Are knows better and disagrees. So, the BASE programming (WYRA is the base programming. Read this post to find out more) is saying: “You are whole”, and your mind is saying “No you’re not”, which creates massive conflict (like two conflicting computer programs causing all kinds of errors). Whenever your mind decides that something or someone has so much as inferred that you’re not ok (and it will look for any evidence that triggers this conflict, because it must look for evidence that proves your belief to be true), it will defend its position. You’ll basically begin to defend yourself against your own belief, while ensuring that the false belief stays true. Sound ridiculous? Well it is. And it happens all the time. Let me give you an example.
Jenny believes that she’s not worthy of love. Sam, her hubby, loves her dearly. One day, he forgets to take out the trash, causing Jenny to lose her shit. Her mind has locked on to the “evidence” that supports that he doesn’t love her. He has forgotten to do something that she has requested he do. The “I’m not worthy” program running in Jenny’s brain kicks into action and screams “See? This proves that he doesn’t love me!”, while Who Jenny Really Is jumps up and proclaims “bullshit!”. Jenny wants to be loved, but won’t allow herself to be. So, while the part of her that wants love and knows it’s possible is asking Sam to prove his love, her mind will always look for any evidence that he does not, no matter how small or ridiculous it seems. Essentially, she’s demanding that Sam prove that he loves her, but will never allow him to actually succeed.
One could say that Jenny’s ego is sabotaging her, but really, it’s just her faithful mind holding onto and carrying out a set of beliefs that aren’t serving her. And these beliefs can be changed.
Now, the good news is that if you install new beliefs, ones that serve you, ones that agree with and support what you want and Who You Really Are, your mind will filter for those, instead. Instead of your “ego” being your worst enemy, it’ll become your best friend. Instead of looking for signs of failure, your mind will show you gobs of evidence of success. Instead of sabotaging you, your mind will support you. Success will become effortless, with your subconscious doing all the heavy lifting, just like when you’re driving a car.
Think of your ego like a loyal servant or even a dog. Don’t blame the employee for your failure to provide clear instructions and don’t blame the dog for your failure to train it properly. If you tell your dog to fetch and it’s been trained to fetch a stick, but you really wanted a beer, you don’t get to chastise the dog for bringing a stick. The beauty of this metaphor is that you can retrain your dog to fetch you a beer when you give the command. You can give your servant better instructions. And you can reprogram your ego to help you get what you want instead of getting in your way. So let’s stop banging on about how horrible our egos are, shall we? You are not powerless against your ego, you’re the master of it, whether you know it or not. So, the only question that remains is: Are you a good master or are you being a douchebag boss who likes to blame his own mistakes on his underlings? Go on, be honest. Your ego won’t judge…
Ego is one thing that has its own advantage and disadvantage. Ego is something that reminds us to give respect to ourselves. But at times, this rules over our every decision which becomes a disadvantage to us.
Thank you for a great post. I have to say that the self-help and spiritually industries make me feel powerless at times because of my “ego” and it’s interesting that it makes me feel guilty for being proud of myself because that’s just my ego. I remember leaving an Aya ceremony feeling incredibly powerful, not in a “I want to rule over everyone and be queen”, but in a personal “I believe in myself” power kind of way. On the drive home, I mentioned to my friend who was with me, that, “Wow! I am really powerful” and his response was “That’s just your ego and you better watch out because the paradigm is going to challenge you to try to destroy you.” Now, I realize that is his own personal belief and I don’t believe that at all. For the most part, I am loveable and tend to attract good people to me and recognize his limited beliefs. But, I do feel that sometimes I can’t win with the “ego” speak – If I mention that I volunteer with the homeless, then that is just my ego needing to be stroked for my generosity, when I’m just very passionate about helping the homeless or if I write a good story and want to share it, then that’s my ego wanting to be praised when I just want to share my creativity with others. It’s funny because just yesterday, I decided that it’s ok for me to be proud of who I am and my accomplishments and it’s ok to share myself and be authentic without worrying that “Oh, here goes my ego again.” I am dropping that line of thinking because it’s not really serving me. The truth is that it pulls me away from being joyful and makes me feel bad about myself and frankly, that is just not something I am willing to live with anymore. I want joy, joy and more joy and big shiny happy puppy hugs.
Elizabeth, you should feel good about, say, helping the homeless. I think the message is to not let the fact that you do help the homeless, make you feel more important than anyone else. I think that when you do something just for the sake of helping someone else it is good, but when you do it for some other reason then the ego gets in the way.
There might be something else at play (I’m thinking of my sister here – and this is not directed at you) some people do good things not neccessarily only because that is who they are, but also because it makes them feel good about themselves. That self-worth has to come from within and not from the external. After all, take away the charity work, does that mean you are / should feel bad about yourself? Of course not.
Personally I haven’t made up my mind yet as to whether the ego is just part of the brain that needs reprogramming – or if it is something else. But I do see all negative emotions / actions stemming from the ego. I guess it all depends on your religious / spiritual beliefs.
Another excellent post from Melody that explains how we are “programmed” from birth:
I love this post! I have so many of these “programs” running that don’t serve me…I’ve become more aware of them in the past year or so. My question is, HOW does one retrain or reprogram the ego and these thought processes?
Even using visualization and positive thinking, the issues always come up in real Life and then the thought processes start again!
Hmm, wonder if that is your ego talking so you defend it and make it look good. KIDDING. Agree with what you say. The ego has become the scapegoat, the enemy within, the devil, the evil that must be overcome. Kind of like blaming you engine for failing when you never bothered to change the oil. I also believe that ego has a very basic role: without it, ‘you’ wouldn’t be here. Ego is the perception of individuation that allows ‘you’ to experience the manifest world. The ‘I” that enables the whole its infinite experiences of life. Yes, we are fond of putting the focus on the actual experience at the expense of the idea of where the experience is supposed to take us. We forget the idea that we are taking a vacation and instead concentrate on how long it is, where will we go, how much will it cost, will the kids be okay, did the neighbor water the pets, will the weather cooperate….Enjoy the journey, but you do need the ego to do that.
You know, I never really gave much thought to the ego concept before. I’m not sure it would have ever occured to me to try and separate or “transcend” it. Is that even possible? Our concept of self and who we are is so intricately tied up in our experience here, that I’m not sure that soul/ego/concsiousness/mind could actually be considered discrete entities. To me, they’re just different aspects of, or different ways of looking at, the same thing. I understand that breaking up these facets and looking at them individually can help people understand particular experiences better (and I love the computer program analogy… that really clarifies a lot!), but I don’t think I would consider them to be completely different things.
P.S. Carole, I love the idea of being “deliberately alive”! What a wonderful way of looking at things! 🙂
Great article with great examples and comments! So, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks! Even the word “impossible” spells “I”m possible”. We need to keep our eyes and heart open to that. LOA is great in that respect. Oh man, we just have to not focus on the dog and focus on the clarity of our orders, so to speak. It’s all on the focus.
I do not think that the ego itself is the bad guy here but the perception of the ego that many people have. I personally see the ego in close alignment with the emotional guiding system as a force that helps us (as the human race) to incarnate and adjust to the existence in the material world. It is a helpful tool, originally neutral, that completely depends on what we (or our ancestors or surroundings) program it with, as you say. This is an ongoing process and there might be a period when we have programmed so much negative stuff into it that it becomes capable of overpowering us. In biblical terms, the slavery in Egypt. However these experiences will in the end wake us up and we will start feeding the ego other, positive information because of it, which you might also call crucifixion of the ego. The deeper meaning of this is not putting yourself through more painful experiences but digesting and balancing the difficult experiences you have already had and as such make a turn upwards, called resurrection. After that the ego will be a wonderful instrument that helps you regain your higher awareness.
In the earlier stages it might still bother you however (it still does me) but that is only a sign that there is some more deprogramming to do and more feeding of positive information, like appreciation etc.
Why do Melody’s posts always seem to arrive at the exact right time. Very interesting and a complete different take on the ego (a.k.a. enemy No.1) that I was thinking about today. Yay! I don’t have a terrorist lurking in my brain. 🙂 Well explained, yet again, miss Melody.
I’ve disagreed for a long time with the notion of attempting to eliminate the ego, but for a slightly different reason (maybe?). I figure we’re here to experience. There’s plenty of time to be pure spirit again after we’re dead. The goal in life may be to unite with our souls, and getting closer certainly is a happier way to live, but the good old whatever-you-want-to-call-it getting in the way is part of the pleasure of being alive. Maybe what we’re really aiming for is to be Deliberately Alive. Woohoo!
Huge hugs, happy dancing around the room,
Thank you for this comment. I have found myself challenged quite a bit by the stuff I have been reading and hearing around this issue. I would like to be more in touch with my soul and of course I would like to stop suffering, but I do feel that fully experiencing every part of being human is what I need to do. Some of the stuff I have come across seems to imply that our goal should be to ‘transcend’ all of what we are, including our personality and our ego and that just doesn’t feel totally right.
I guess the bit I am still really struggling with is how to focus on upping my vibration and focus on feeling good, when I am also working through lots of stuff trying to identify the old beliefs and programming and let it go. And some of that letting go is painful, which is the opposite of focussing on feeling good.
‘Deliberately alive’ is a fantastic way to look at it!
So, thank you!!
Thank you. I’m glad my words were helpful.
I think the notion of working through old beliefs and programming as a way to raise our vibration may be about to go the way of the ego. Bye Bye! A different paradigm I’m experimenting with is to just think about what your Soul wants. When you align with your Soul, you’re happy. Period. The notion of resistance is a form of self-blame, and we don’t need it! Dissolve into your Soul, and recognize how perfect you are!
Wow, that is beautiful, thank you!
But how do we retrain our subconscience/ego?
This is what my ENTIRE site is about. Every blog post features how to retrain your beliefs in a different area.
These posts may be helpful to start with:
What she said! Thank you Melody.
LOL. Thanks Amber! 🙂
All is perception. However, in that all is perception, if you perceive ego, there it is. If you do not, there it isn’t, but then, there is some awareness there. If that awareness is cosmic, then you are set. If it is not, then you are fragmented. The fragmented state gets the name ego, although technically no such label exists. Burned in fragmentation especially gets the label ego, because it sets up camp stubbornly.
The majority of humanity, I dare say, is fragmented to varying levels–otherwise we’d likely float off into the universe somewhere. It’s really, really hard to maintain awareness at a cosmic level for any length of time, but some achieve it. So, I guess I agree with you in a sense, and disagree in another. There is no hierarchy, but human psychology effectively tends to MAKE a hierarchy anyway.
Hi Melody – I love your blog posts and I hear what you’re saying. The ego per se doesn’t really exist. It’s our subconscious mind that causes the trouble. I think of the ego as our individual, disconnected self. It’s represented by the bottom half of the Emotional Guidance Scale. From the bottom rung up to about contentment is where the ego lives. From hopefulness on up is when we’re in alignment with Source. I really liked the part about how if we can instill positive beliefs, then the sub-conscious mind will do the heavy lifting in our areas of our life, just like now how it does most of the driving for us 🙂 I think that anytime we are feeling yucky (in our so-called ego/lower part of the emo scale), we can bet there is a hidden belief that is being brought up for us to look at, evaluate and heal. So instead of saying “my ego made me do it,” we should say “my self-sabotaging belief system made me do it.”
How do we change beliefs: repetition and emotion. When you took on a belief you can almost bet that some adult was standing over you wagging a finger and shouting. You felt the full force of their anger and decided, I’m no good. It’s my fault. I don’t deserve good things. Who do I think I am? I’m not lovable. I’m basically as f-ed up as a four dollar bill. There was a lot of force and emotion behind their words. Our subconscious mind believed what they said and took it on board as truth, never to be questioned again. The only thing is that sometimes you notice that you feel like crap and this is actually a good thing. It’s your emotional guidance system telling you that you’ve separated from the awesome wonderfulness of who you really are. You have believed a lie about yourself. These bad feelings are your opportunity to question what it is that you’re believing here. What is behind this emotion? What was going on when you first felt this way? As an adult you can do this detective work and make a more conscious, life-affirming decision about what to believe. Affirmations can be really helpful here. Especially if they’re said repetitively and with emotion. I myself have a repertoire that I say first thing every morning: I love myself. I really, really love myself. I love life. Thank you, Universe, for this life and all the abundance in it. Thank you for loving me. All is well. (Huge thanks to Louise Hay for these).
Very perfect! Once again you explain perfectly the cycle of blame and helplessness while also explaining how niether are true and both can be changed! The habits we have are based on the choices we’ve made due to our own or someone elses experiences, and these so often determine the beliefs we have about ourselves and the world and people around us.
Learning and truly accepting this is a huge step towards getting past the cycle of helplessness, because it suddenly becomes clear that we can change things! Changing our habits of thought can take a little time, but it does get easier once you see it happen a couple times, because then you can see the truth of your own power. And practicing a new thought, a new way of focusing so that it becomes more predominant than the old, is the only way.
And I had almost completely forgotten about my ‘ego’ because it no longer applied. Just like I no longer truly accept that there is ‘evil’ that is out there waiting to pounce. It no longer exists because I know everything out there comes from in ‘here.’ Which I guess means, thankfully, that I’ve never seen myself as evil! 😆
I know and accept that any sabotage I see in my efforts is nothing more than a belief or thought that is no longer serving me. Sometimes it’s not easy to ferret out or even figure out…but it doesn’t matter because I can always figure out what I want instead of what I’m getting, and focus there.
Thanks as always you wonderful you!