Sigmund Freud, the famous psychoanalyst, split the personality into three parts: the id, the ego, and the superego. Whether I agree with him on this is immaterial for the purposes of this post; I’m simply going to identify these characteristics within myself, specifically regarding my ego.
The id and superego are relatively easily explained. Id is comprised of my base instincts. It’s the “animal” part of me that just wants to eat, sleep, and ef. My superego is basically my moral structure; that which I think I should be.
And my ego is me. It’s influenced by both id and superego, but my ego is what walks and talks and what you know when you think of me.
These are very rudimentary explanations of Freud’s principles, and are only intended as an introduction to this discussion. For a more detailed discusson, click here. From here on out, I’ll basically be talking about my ego in the regular vernacular sense that most people use the word. The above is partly me showing off that I took intro to psych in undergrad, but it’s also meant to give some background of what I’m thinking when I talk about my “ego”.
My ego is an attribute and a detriment. When I feed it too much, it gets unwieldy and I have trouble paying attention to anything else. If I beat it up too much or don’t feed it at least a little, I feel like crap. My self-esteem goes down the tubes and I become hesitant about everything – like I’m a walking raw nerve.
Let’s look at my ego in three senses: inflated, deflated, and right-sized.
When my ego is inflated – meaning I’m thinking highly of myself – I tend to continue inflating it because it feels good to think highly of myself. I’m constantly looking for situations in which I can be a hero or a star. I try to dominate conversations, even when I have nothing productive to add. Attention from other people feeds my ego.
Inflation of my ego tends to perpetuate itself, by which I mean that increasing the state or level of inflation becomes all-important. I don’t pay attention to anything but those things that will further inflate my ego. For example, if I write an article that gets published on a work-related blog or website, I will begin to avoid my daily chores at work and spend time submitting the article to other sites. I’ll get frustrated when my co-workers ask me to do something that is well within the realm of my work responsibilities.
When my ego is inflated, I only pay attention to me and either forget about or actively ignore thoughts of others. This leads to me hurting others – whether intentionally or not. I say things I don’t mean or do things I shouldn’t because I think these will lead to me feeling better about myself. That they will reinforce my superiority.
When my ego is deflated, my attitude towards everything is in a downward spiral. In a similar fashion to my ego-inflated state, I’m only focused on myself. Only in this state, I’m never good enough. I think that everything I say and do is somehow wrong. I’m constantly thinking that I’m hurting others, when in fact I’m not. Again, I’m not paying attention to how others around me are feeling, but only to my perceptions thereof. Perceptions that are darkly colored by my own lack of self-esteem.
I tend to be very hesitant and untrusting of my own actions and motives when my ego is deflated. Having conversations with pretty girls is particularly hard in this state. I get embarrassed easily over nothing. I often tend towards isolation when in this state. This tendency, again, only serves to reinforce the deflated-ego state. I sit on the pity-pot and focus on the things I think are wrong with me. I’m not good enough and never will be, etc.
When my ego is right-sized, I have some degree of humility – which is to say that I’m able to evaluate my thoughts, actions, and feelings in a (relatively, always relatively) objective manner. In this state, I am not constantly thinking of myself and how the world relates to me. I can act “naturally” and not be over-proud or ashamed of my actions and perception of the world.
Analogy: first-person shooter games. In FPS games, one generally has a choice of views: the screen either displays the full figure of one’s character in the center of the screen, or the screen displays what would be seen through the eyes of the character. If my ego is inflated or deflated, I’m looking at the world in the former sense – as if I’m a third person watching everything that’s going on. I see myself as one of the characters in the overall field of battle. I watch myself carefully and think how cool/uncool I look.
If my ego is right-sized, I’m the character. I’m just me, looking out of my own eyes at the world. I’m not paying attention to what I’m wearing or how I’m holding my gun. When my ego is right-sized, I’m not too concerned with me and how I fit into the whole picture, I’m just paying attention to what’s in front of me and taking care of the task at hand. I tend to “forget” myself.
This is the state in which I am most productive at work and most able to be a benefit to those around me – a good friend, etc. – because all my attention isn’t focused on me. My attention is focused outside of me. People can say “you effed that up” and I’ll be able to say “ooh, yeah, sorry about that, how can I fix it?” or “no, I’m pretty sure I got it right” without worrying about how the situation makes me feel. By the same token, I’m also able to feel something without only thinking about how it’s going to make me look. If I like the pretty girl, I talk to her and not worry about whether she’ll think I’m a tool or if everyone around will think I’m out of my league or obviously making a pass.
At these times, when my ego is right-sized and I’m not “inside my head”, things run smoothly. In a similar fashion to FPS games, I will often pop out of “eyes-only” mode and into “third-person” mode and see myself in an objective manner (and judge myself). And this is where the analogy breaks down to a certain extent. But I trust, dear reader, that you will forgive me this – there really aren’t any perfect analogies anyhow.
The key is to keep my ego right-sized. I accomplish this by counteracting inflation with humility and deflation with affirmation. If I realize I’m paying too much attention to myself in either a positive or negative way, I try the harder to focus on the task at hand – whatever that may be. These states are in a constant flux, and thankfully “right-sized” isn’t too much of a razor-edge for me. That said, it can still be somewhat of a balancing act.
As I said above, my ego can be both an attribute and a detriment. In tough situations, my ego can help me be a leader, it heals my hurts and serves as my armour. And my ego can also keep me up at night, get me in trouble, and cause me to hurt others – whether I mean to or not. Keeping it right-sized is preferable, but if I spend too much time trying to do so, I’m probably only going in one direction or the other – towards over-inflation or total deflation. Balance is something that happens, I have to forget about me and just be.