“Ego is simply an idea of who you are that you carry around with you.” — Wayne Dyer, psychologist and best-selling author
“Did you see Delbert?”
Though stated as a question, I knew it was really a statement — an expression of shock. I hadn’t seen Delbert for some time and the change in his appearance was indeed shocking. He looked to have aged more than 10 years in the past two years since losing his job.
Delbert had worked for the same company for many years.
When the economic downturn struck, he — along with passel of other men — was walked unceremoniously to the curb. Already in his 50s, Delbert had been one of the older staffers to be let go — seniority notwithstanding.
Delbert found it difficult to find new employment. Yes, there were jobs out there, but most paid only a fraction of Delbert’s previous job. As the weeks marched past, Delbert began to realize he could no longer sustain his current lifestyle.
He reluctantly sold off his toys: the boat, the holiday trailer, the quad. With each transaction, Delbert felt his value as a human begin diminish.
Delbert had defined himself by his job. By that I mean, if you asked Delbert who he was, he would invariably answer with what he did — his occupation.
Before his termination, most people probably viewed Delbert as someone with great self-esteem. Certainly, he appeared happy; he was outgoing and generous with his time and resources.
Actually, what often passes for self-esteem and confidence is merely the ego.
Definitions abound, but for the sake of this piece, let’s agree that the ego is linked to our personality; it is the face that we show the world.
When we’re born, we have no ego. Over time, an ego, a conceptualization of self, develops (based upon early programming, influences of family, culture and experience). Over time, this conceptualization of self solidifies.
So is ego a component of healthy self-esteem?
Not really. But first, let’s define what it means to have good self-esteem: a balanced and grounded self-respect and self-love that manifests itself in a healthy regard and respect for self and others.
Let’s add to that definition the element of self-awareness that allows us to transcend pre-conceived notions of self.
Outwardly, it appears that on one end of the scale we have the person with poor self-esteem and no apparent ego — the eternal doormat.
At the extreme end we have the bully — the self-centered individual with the big ego who considers himself superior to others.
Are the people on either end of this scale possessed of healthy self-esteem? No.
Somewhere in the middle we have the individual with healthy self-esteem and an ego that appears to be in check, the person who values himself and others — who is open-minded and able to build successful relationships.
Healthy self-esteem is frequently expressed by showing genuine interest in others and a willingness to consider other viewpoints.
A person with healthy self-esteem does not need to be the centre of attention at all times.
He can enjoy relationships without being codependent (unable to set appropriate boundaries, that is the people pleaser).
When we’re coming from a place of healthy self-esteem, we are more patient with others and will look for the life lessons in every experience. We are also eager to evolve and willing to challenge our perceptions.
I read once that ego is a one-note song, “mi, mi, mi”.
Without self-awareness, the ego can certainly prompt us to believe that who we are — our value as a human being — is defined by what we do, what we have or what others think of us.
That’s not self-esteem and that’s where the problem lies: as with Delbert and his sudden unemployment, if we can no longer do what we once did or have what we once possessed, or if those whose opinion we hold in high regard think less of us, we risk losing our sense of personal value — we can lose our self.
Of ego, best-selling author Deepak Chopra writes, “If you want to reach a state of bliss then go beyond your ego and the internal dialogue. Make a decision to relinquish the need to control, the need to be approved, and the need to judge.
Those are the three things the ego is doing all the time. It’s very important to be aware of them every time they come up.”
When you transcend the ego — that is, move beyond the initial concept of self — you soon discover what Delbert did: beliefs that define our value as human beings must be challenged and re-examined often.
Following an intervening period of anger, regret, sadness and depression, Delbert did eventually find gainful employment.
If you were to ask him today who he is, he may very likely say that he is a valuable human being with a greater understanding of self.
Murray Fuhrer is a local self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.