Ego: The Block to Happiness

We’ve all likely heard of the word “ego”. In the mainstream, it is used to describe inflated self-confidence. However, the origin of the concept founded in psychology was proposed by Freud, and defined as the sense of self or what you consciously define as “you”. Ego is essentially what you show to the world – the surface personality you’ve acquired while you were surviving your formative years.

As we walk through the difficulties of life, we pick up perceptions and beliefs about ourselves  and attach them  to our sense of identity like a tin robot finding pieces of scrap metal. We deem some of these traits more acceptable than others, but the purpose of everything we acquire is to psychologically help us survive.

For example, when our caregivers make us feel unloved as children, we believe we are not good enough. This false belief serves to protect the attachment to our caregivers, which we need to survive. When hurtful things repeatedly happen, we begin to believe that we must not deserve happiness because it’s safer to exist in a world that functions predictably rather than in a world where your survival or source of love is constantly threatened.

These false beliefs we acquire about ourselves become entangled with what we think is our identity, our ego. They can take the form of simple statements that subsist in our subconscious for years and sabotage us. These are called limiting beliefs. 

I am someone who is bad.

I am someone who always fails. 

I am someone who is not good enough.

I am someone who suffers.

Sometimes, we can associate so closely with these false beliefs that we merge our identity with the statement itself.

I am Shame.

I am Failure.

I am Inadequacy.

I am Suffering.

False beliefs like these stem from the ego. Each one serves as a protective layer. The ego uses these beliefs to validate its identity and will therefore hold onto them because it is crucial for its survival. It will retaliate against any threats to its existence.

A person with a victim complex may find it difficult to take responsibility for harming others because it threatens their perceived identity as a perpetual victim, not an abuser. A person who believes they are unlovable may subconsciously avoid healthy partners and instead seek out partners who mistreat them. It reinforces their belief and, in turn, enforces this part of their ego.

A person who is plagued by a chronic illness for years can eventually believe it is part of their identity to be sick. They may subconsciously hold onto the illness and unknowingly be reluctant to recover because they don’t know who they are if they are not sick.

We often hear the phrase “you are your own worst enemy.” These examples show how our false identities can hold us back from happiness. A person who hasn’t felt love since childhood will be subconsciously afraid of an unconditionally loving relationship because it’s an unknown quantity. What is familiar is knowable and therefore safe. What is new is unknowable and unsafe.This, the ego fears above all things. This is why, when presented with the opportunity to change life for the better, people often run in the opposite direction.

To overcome this, we must actively work towards the death of these ego layers. Ego death can be a painful but transformative experience. It can lead you to a new life closer to your true self with none of the harrows of limiting, false beliefs. To start the journey, we must undo these limiting beliefs.

1. Spoken affirmations

It may seem that repeating simple sentences may not have much of an effect on your life, but you’d be surprised to see how the mind can shift.

Phrases like “I deserve happiness” or “I am worthy of love” can be so vastly different from what your ego has been telling you for years, that it can open your mind to possibilities you did not even let yourself think about before. This, in turn, can help you make positive shifts in your life. 

There are scientific studies that show how affirmations can reduce the effect of negative thoughts and make people more open to changing their behavior.

2. Visualization

Imagine what life would be like if the opposite of your limiting beliefs were true. What would it be like if you were always blessed? Always healthy? If you deserved a great family and partner?

Indulge yourself – close your eyes and slowly walk yourself through a day in that life. Savor it. This can have a similar effect on the brain as spoken affirmations. By exposing your mind to an alternative reality where you thrive in the unknown, in absence of your limiting beliefs, you will directly challenge them.

3. Accept all emotions through mindfulness

When you inevitably decide to change your life for the better, the ego may do all sorts of things to convince you not to. If you make the decision to quit that job or leave that partner, you may feel like the world is ending. Fear, anger, apprehension, panic spirals, a flurry of emotions can arise within you in these drastic moments. The ego conjures a hurricane because it cannot reconcile its identity with the decision you’ve made.

Like anything that is dying, it will attack and panic and bargain and plead to grapple for its survival. This can be attributed to cognitive dissonance, or the mental discomfort that arises from having beliefs that contradict with your actions or behavior. The friction between old, limiting beliefs and new behavior that challenge these beliefs is one of the reasons why it can be difficult to change and accept new ways of thinking. However, by working through this friction, we can create new pathways in the mind and long standing, positive shifts in our self perception. 

I once believed that my identity was an unhappy person. I didn’t know who I would be if I was happy. A day without misery was not even a concept I could understand because it meant the death of what I knew about myself. Once I recognized this belief and began making changes in my life, like moving houses, spending time on things I enjoy, looking for a job that will make me happier, my mind went into a frenzy. I felt an incredible reluctance with each activity I did, an apprehension, even a mental bargaining with myself to not do these things as if some impending destruction will be brought upon me. It felt like I was dying.

The key is to sit through these emotions. Accept everything without judgment and let them go. Meditation and mindfulness help. It is similar to how you would deal with a child throwing a tantrum – don’t meet them at their level. Keep a calm mind and ride the waves until it’s over.

Eventually, the ego realizes you are not engaging with it anymore, likely for the first time in your life, and a layer of it will die. The storm passes and all will go quiet. You’ll find yourself feeling like a new person leading a new life. 

After enough mindful awareness and acceptance of difficult emotions, I felt much, much lighter. My mind felt less reluctant to be happy. Doing things that make me happy was not as big of a struggle. Without this false shell, I felt closer to my true self, no longer afraid I wouldn’t survive.

Engaging in this bitter battle with every limiting belief can be tiring, but by finding acceptance over and over again, you can find your way to the freest version of your true self.

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