By Carla Giglio, LMSW

We often hear a lot of talk about the ego. Once known as a foundational and integral piece of the human psyche, the ego has come to be known as an internal dragon that needs to be slayed at all costs. Death of the ego is often the ultimate goal for serious spiritual seekers looking to breakthrough to their divine, authentic self.

For every day folks who may not want to embark on a disciplined meditation practice or to ingest ayahuasca in the Amazon to (temporarily) slay their ego, we still have to contend with our ego at every step of our lives. How we decide to interact with our ego and how much power we give our it is the real objective.

Good or bad? 

Instead of looking at ego as a noun, and something that is, it may be helpful to look at the ego as a verb, and the function it performs in our life. Ego can serve as a protector, negotiator, mediator and an insulator. The way we need to look at ego is, “Is my ego helping or hurting me?” “Is my ego serving me or am I serving my ego?”

Learning to discern the ego is the first step. You can begin to identify when ego is in the driver’s seat by being aware of certain feelings that arise when it  is threatened or doesn’t get its way — just like a bratty little two-year-old that wants what he wants when he wants it.

When you feel like you are being made to be “wrong” in a situation, you will get angry, feel belittled or feel like you don’t deserve being treated a certain way, the ego’s hackles immediately go up and goes into fight mode. You will either want to retaliate with words, actions or getting “even.” Even if this is not a conscious dialogue in your head, your behavior will be taken over by a sense of inner justice for your “self” versus the other.

The ego always wants to see itself as “good” — having done, looked and acted good, yet that’s not always the case. The ego has a hard time admitting it has done something “bad” — especially in relation to hurting others.

Ego doesn’t like looking bad, it can justify its actions as a way to keep up our facade of looking and feeling good. When we truly learn to identify our ego and challenge its ways, we begin to live more of an authentic life. A life inspired by our authentic self.

In recovery we have to contend with all the wrong, shameful and hurtful things we did in the throes of addiction. Acknowledging and owning it all is not an easy task, but it is critical to the health of ego and the growth of “self.”

Shame and disappointment need to be allowed to seep into your ego, rather than your ego repelling shame because it is too painful to face. We learn from owning our shameful moments and move on.

You don’t need to stay in shame, but you will if you don’t contend with it properly. Just because we do “bad” doesn’t mean we are “bad.”

A transaction with an unhealthy ego may sound like this: “It’s no big deal that I stole his liquor, he wasn’t drinking it anyway. What does it matter?”

A healthy ego may sound like this, “Stealing is wrong, and I don’t condone it for any reason. I was in a bad place at the time and need to apologize to him.”

When your ego accompanies you during the recovery process, it is helpful to realize it may not always be rooting for YOUR best interest. It is important to learn to discern between your ego’s voice and your true, inner voice. How? By sharpening the skills of learning healthy introspection. By learning to distinguish between the ego and its need to be good and of the inner self, who possesses a clearer, truer, compass for your well-being.

When your ego gets “checked” you may feel belittled, angry, humiliated or threatened and ego’s reflex may be to attack back and lash out. Instead, when you feel like your ego is being checked, run the scenario through the lens of your inner self, and ask yourself:

  • Does what this person is saying have any validity? Why? Why not?
  • What about what they said is making me so ——-?
  • What about this statement is triggering me to feel this way?
  • What can I learn from this?

Learning to keep ego in check means the ability to realize the lens in which you may be looking at a situation may be tainted by ego’s needs, and not what’s best for YOU, the person. An unhealthy ego does not like to take in new information because that means ego was lacking, and it does not like to feel inadequate.

Learning to discern the ego’s voice from your true, inner voice or authentic self is a skill. But learning to check your ego can make a very significant difference in your life. When led by your ego, new information can be easily shut out, and opportunity for real growth missed. When you soften your ego or push it aside, new perspectives can be seen, and new choices can be made. A healthy ego should be fluid and ever changing. Ego should be adjusted to be a framework, not a shield.
Ego work is a lifelong journey that requires mindfulness, being in the present and aware. By being conscious, you can empower yourself to turn the ego dragon into an ally and friend.

Carla Giglio, MSW, is a counselor turned Recovery Coach, NLP and Hypnotherapy trained, an advocate and pre-coach for entheogenic life healing and Associate Adjunct Professor at Grand Canyon University. 

Her practice is in Scottsdale and she can be reached at [email protected] and 718-710-9890.