The ego plays a big part in all of our lives. And it is a huge advantage to understand it better. This is the stuff we don’t talk about much, for a very good reason. By and large, it shows up as an unconscious reaction, when we get triggered. Since relationships can do that from time to time (haha), let's take a deeper look at what can help.
First of all, what is the ego? We are not born with an ego – it develops to help support/protect you when your reality is challenging, confusing, giving you mixed messages. There are stories and habits your ego has created over time with the intention of protecting you. As children, we all need love in order to be taken care of, to literally survive, and naturally, to thrive.
Imagine a little kid saying, “Mom or dad loses their temper a lot; I better lay low so they don’t take it out on me.” Or, “mom is always sad. If I make her laugh, or help her, she’ll cuddle with me.” Holistic Psychologist Nicole LaPera, an expert in this field explains,
“Your ego develops to protect you from your reality. It creates an identity for you to cope with any confusion, disconnection, and loss of love that you experienced. It strengthens an identity to ensure to the best of your ability that we can still receive whatever love is available.”
Sounds good right – the ego is protecting us, with stories and beliefs that had been designed to help. You keep it in or blow up because you are replaying an old ego-related story (I feel diminished -people don't value me, I'll never be enough...) Your ego/protector feels rises up to defend its territory – you.
In schools and often in life, we have not learned how to skillfully express our emotions, so we throw them at someone else, or turn them inward blaming ourselves. The good news is that we can learn how to work with our emotions instead of being triggered by them. I go into this deeply in my latest book Emotional Advantage, Embracing All Your Feelings to Create a Life You Love. This is a huge topic.
For today, let’s concentrate on What happens when you start to change, and the old stories and beliefs which once protected you, are now keeping you from growing into who you are becoming. What are the clues to whether your relationship is expressing Ego Love or Authentic Love? Ask yourself, how can you move into these 3 zones?
Be Yourself Zone: If someone loves you with ego love, it’s based on how you make them feel. You satisfy their needs, so they love you. You make them feel good, look good, laugh… It might be a start, but not the whole potential. Authentic love honors that both your jobs is to discover who you are as human beings. It appreciates that you both need to make choices that help you get past the stories your ego has created. It knows it’s a process and supports you both in meeting your needs. What is a situation when you and your partner have met both your needs?
No Fix Zone: If someone is trying to control or “fix” you, or if you are trying to change them, that’s ego love. In contrast, authentic love honors their or your quirks, authentic expression and freedom. Your partner is not trying to mold you, and you are not trying to change them. You can celebrate your differences, and live and let live. Do you know any partners that have different political views? Entering a "no fix zone" is perfect for that situation.
No Tantrum zone: If someone is projecting their unhealed traumas and fears on you, and taking tantrums, that’s ego love. They run away from difficult conversations because that challenges the ego. Authentic love allows people to own their crap, be big enough to recognize their stories, talk about it and create healthy boundaries. It’s OK to express about how you’re feeling, but not OK to try to force your point of view, or yell or throw things around. Boundaries needed now! Authentic love blossoms when it feels safe to be vulnerable with one another, and to have real conversations. What is one boundary you would like to make to improve your relationship?
From protector to encourager: This a process of waking up to the influence that the ego’s stories have had, and an opportunity to look at relationships through a new lens. Is that a childhood story that’s making my partner respond so weirdly? Am I being trapped by my own ego story, (not enough, etc.) when the truth is I can take a step? The ego is not your enemy; observe it without judgment - it has served you well.
But as you are becoming more aware, you can ask your ego to grow with you: instead of being a protector, invite it to become your encourager. Then you can use that potent energy to propel you forward. Consider how amazing that might be as it plays out in your next chapter?
Q – What is your best tip when relationship tension (which is often ego-related) arises? What helps you move forward?
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