Live Meaningfully – By Ayesha G. Shenk, M.A.
Let’s talk about ego for a second. Not the colloquial usage that we throw around as though it’s synonymous with arrogance (ie: “he has a big ego”) but the actual psychological understanding of ego.
Historically, we tend to associate the ego with Freud’s work as it’s often the underlying foundation of psychoanalytic theory. But ego is pretty pervasively found throughout much of psychology and is a bit esoteric, despite being so widely discussed.
As this isn’t an academic journal, and you probably aren’t interested in a deep dive into the history of psychodynamics, let’s just try to oversimplify. Let’s call ego the way we show up in the world and the conceptualization of the force that allows us to mediate between our most basic unconscious needs and selves and our higher order considerations of morality, society, expectations, self awareness, etc.
(The reason I even set this whole infrastructure up, is so we have some commonality of meaning as we navigate the rest of my meanderings herein. Apologies for the ‘nerding out’ and thanks for sticking with me.)
So… I’ve been doing this for quite a while now and I’ve seen a significant number of people/concerns/pains/issues/presenting problems/etc. I think I’m a pretty adept witness and, though I have observed and accompanied my clients on many different journeys, there are a few things that stand out to me in terms of absolute commonalities, no matter the person or the circumstances.
These include: our basic flawed humanity, our own powerful ability for self-deception, our desperate desire for connection, our deep need for love and belonging, our best efforts toward survival and adaptation (even if those adaptations don’t always serve us), and our search for whatever may make us feel worthy and ‘good enough,’ to name a few.
(If none of these resonate at all with you, either you are far more enlightened than I am, you’ve not done much introspection or personal work, you’re magically unharmed by the world and your experiences, you have some level of pathology… or, I really need to meet you to learn what your parents did to make you so inherently fulfilled and at peace, because I’d love to offer that sort of gift to my own children.)
Nonetheless, let’s assume that you have had at least a little bit of struggle and you’ve been blessed with the opportunity to build grit and resilience. Let’s also assume that by this point in time you’ve been knocked down at least once or twice and are now trying to build back a healthier and more aware version of yourself. (This may be self-congratulatory, but I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be reading my column or this far along in the article if this weren’t the case.)
So, now what… here you are, aware of your own humanity, maybe working on making amends for some of the choices you’ve made, maybe not altogether pleased with the version of yourself and your life that you’ve created. Here you are, presenting this identity to the world that has been moved and shaped and adapted by what the people and the circumstances in your life needed (almost from infancy) you to be… And here you are, with your ego operating in the best way it knows how to be appealing and accepted. But yet, here you are, still not feeling entirely comfortable in your own skin or satisfied with the depth of relationship and circumstance in your life.
So now what?
(Here comes the good part… hopefully.)
I have this working theory that, outside of specific hurts/pains/abuses/losses, the greatest source of our existential pain is the distance between our true/authentic/vulnerable self and the self/ego-identity that we present to the world. I believe there is a direct correlation between how lonely we are and how acute our pain is, and how great the misalignment is between our true selves and our presented selves. If we can close the gap and create less disparity between the two… If we can begin bringing them closer and closer to one another (almost in the way our brain and eyes work together to adjust when looking through binoculars to make one image)… If we can draw them together enough so at least they partially overlap, if not begin to eclipse one another with their complete alignment… then we can feel some relief from the pain and loneliness.
When our true selves and our presented selves are in alignment and begin to overlap, we are showing up with a level of emotional integrity that is hard not to celebrate and impossible not to provide existential freedom.
…I get that this is a giant undertaking to have bitten off in under 1000 words, but I am hopeful at least it will possibly sow a seed for you. Consider taking inventory of the ego. Consider looking deep within yourself and being honest about how great the distance between what you present to the world and what you truly feel/believe/experience is. Consider the possibility of drawing those two things closer together – even if only in your closest relationships. Consider risking vulnerability and exposing who you really are behind the mask that you have come to wear. What might it be like to be truly seen and loved as that version of yourself? What might it provide in the way of freedom, belonging, fulfillment, self-worth? Is it worth a shot?
‘til the next time,
Be Well; Live Meaningfully.
Ayesha G. Shenk, M.A. practices at 2150 Park Avenue North as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and can be reached at www.livemeaningfully.net or 407-796-2959.