Dropping the ego is the most effective way to cultivate personal well-being, have a balanced self-esteem, be more productive and enjoy a fuller life. An unbridled and artificially elevated ego, on the contrary, is often a source of problems and conflicts.
Our ego is very noisy, it imposes itself too much and often drives us to engage in futile discussions with the only goal of winning, that our ideas prevail, whether we have reason or not. That attitude takes away mental balance and inner peace, although we are not always aware of it. Something Albert Einstein sensed when he said: “The more you know, the less your ego is. The less you know, the greater your ego.”
What is the ego?
“The Ego, however, is not who you really are. The ego is your self-image; it is your social mask; it is the role you are playing. Your social mask thrives on approval. It wants control, and it is sustained by power, because it lives in fear”, wrote Deepak Chopra.
Alan Watts draws a similar view of the ego: “It is a social institution, not a physical reality. The ego is simply the symbol of yourself. Just as the word “water” is a sound that symbolizes a certain liquid, but it is not, the idea of the ego represents the role you play, who you are, but it is not the same as you as a person”.
The ego, therefore, is a construction with a strong social imprint that experiences an inexhaustible need to see itself in a positive light since it implies the roles we represent before the others. That is why we can get to confuse the ego with our authentic “self”. Wayne Dyer alerted us to this danger: “The ego is only an illusion, but a very powerful illusion, if you allow that the illusion of the ego becomes your identity you will not be able to know your true self”.
There is no doubt that our self-awareness, self-reflection and self-control are essential to achieve the goals we set for ourselves. But if we don’t pay attention, those same psychological processes will turn against us because the ego will do anything so as not to look bad, which means that it can put in place defense mechanisms that prevent us from recognizing our mistakes and the pitfalls that we tend to ourselves.
A noisy ego, too imbued in itself, spends a lot of time defending itself, and does whatever it takes to reaffirm itself, so it is not unusual for it to become an obstacle to achieving the goals we have set. The pride and stubbornness that prevent us from apologizing when we are wrong, for example, are the expression of that ego. And those attitudes can make us lose great things or valuable people in life.
The silent ego
In recent years a group of psychologists from the University of Northern Arizona have been developing a research program called “silent ego” based on the principles of humanistic psychology and Buddhist philosophy. They discovered something paradoxical: dropping the ego is much more effective to cultivate well-being, growth, health, productivity and a balanced self-esteem that focus only on personal improvement.
In their studies it is appreciated that a quiet ego really contributes to balance the needs of the self and the others, so that the dichotomy between the personal and other needs that so many conflicts usually cause, is broken. A calm ego is associated with self-transcendent values, such as universality and benevolence, as well as self-direction and achievement. However, it does not bear any relation to conformism.
This means that soothing the ego does not imply crushing it but only getting it to speak down so that we can listen to other things beyond its voice and take on a more balanced perspective. In fact, the more silent the ego, the stronger the “self” emerges.
The main objective of calming the ego is to develop a less defensive posture, not to deny it but to cultivate an authentic identity that incorporates the others without losing the “self”, abandoning that imperious need to win in a kind of narcissistic competition.
A calm ego is a sign of a balanced and solid self-esteem, which recognizes its own limitations, so it does not need to resort constantly to the defensive attitude that is activated when a weak and frightened ego feels threatened. After all, we must not forget that a disproportionate ego is the shield behind which we try to protect our weaknesses.
How to drop the ego?
Psychologists Bauer and Wayment consider that to drop the ego it is necessary to cultivate these four facets: detached conscience, inclusive identity, perspective change and growth mentality, which help us develop a balanced posture that allows the “self” to grow in communion with the rest.
– Detached conscience. To calm the ego it is important to develop a detached conscience, which implies not clinging to anything, neither to the circumstances nor to our thoughts or emotions. This mental detachment will allow us to see reality from a clearer and more global perspective, while helping us to analyze our past reactions in a more objective way, in order to learn from those experiences.
– Inclusive identity. To calm the ego it is important to develop a balanced interpretation of the “self” and the “others”, integrating those two seemingly dichotomous worlds. That means we need to understand other perspectives and identify with the experiences of the others. It is about developing an inclusive identity in which also the others contribute with their grain of sand.
– Perspective change. The ego makes us think that everything that happens to us is something personal. As a result, we take our problems too much to heart and lose our mental balance. Changing perspective and reflecting on other points of view different from ours, allows us to move the attention outside the ego and get out of the vicious circle that we have created.
– Growth mentality. The growth mentality is fundamental to calm the ego because it starts from a basic principle: we are apprentices of life. When we assume that we are continually learning, in a process of constant reconstruction, the ego is minimized because we do not give it the opportunity to grow out of excess thinking that it owns the absolute truth.
Wayment, H. A. & Bauer, J. J. (2018) The Quiet Ego: Motives for Self-Other Balance and Growth in Relation to Well-Being. Journal of Happiness Studies; 19(3): 881–896. Kesebir, P. (2014) A quiet ego quiets death anxiety: humility as an existential anxiety buffer. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; 106: 610–623. Wayment, H. A. & Bauer, J. J. (2008) Transcending self-interest: Psychological explorations of the quiet ego. Washington, DC: APA Books.