to be Less Egocentric
Dr. Ben Kim
approach the last few years of my fourth decade on planet earth, I
find myself feeling grateful for some of the conclusions that I've
been able to draw from all of my life experiences. One in particular
that I try to hold close to my heart, especially in times of triumph
and disaster, is this:
more we detach from our egos, the greater potential we have to experience
from being an expert on varying schools of psychology, so please excuse
me if any of the following thoughts don't jive with what you might
find in the original works of Freud, Jung, or Adler.
some of what detaching from ego means to me:
means when someone intentionally or unintentionally criticizes or
insults me, deep down, I don't feel terribly wounded because everyone
is entitled to an opinion, and at the end of the day, I have my
conscience to tell me how I'm doing.
means that I walk with gratitude for all that I have right now,
regardless of what others around me have. All of us are living out
miraculously unique journeys, so to compare what we're doing, where
we've been, and what we have in the name of sizing each other up
is a waste of time.
means that I know that it is wrong to try to gain social mileage
out of the accomplishments, behavior, or appearance of my children,
life partner, and anyone else that I am linked to.
means that I don't gain or lose emotional strength from external
markers of success like the amount of money I make or the score
of a tennis match.
of tennis, being a huge fan of the game and an active player, I can
tell you that this relationship between degree of attachment to one's
ego and level of inner peace is easy to observe on the tennis court.
with a number of people of different ages and backgrounds, I've observed
that tennis players whose egos aren't overly uplifted or crushed by
what happens on the tennis court seem to be doing pretty well in other
areas of life, especially in their closest relationships (life partner,
parents, children, colleagues, etc.).
there seem to be a few players here and there whose egos are too fragile
to handle the labels of winning and losing. One such player that I
know is so tortured that it's uncomfortable to be on the court with
him. Worse than the temper tantrums is the seemingly endless stream
of excuses to account for his miserable circumstances, which, coincidentally
or not, include difficulties with making a living and connecting with
his spouse and children.
been said that playing sports can help build character. I'd agree
with this notion, especially as it pertains to youngsters who are
rapidly growing into themselves and figuring out what they want from
their lives. But for older adults who have been through major life
experiences like working at a career, having a long term relationship,
and raising children, I'd say that while playing sports can certainly
help build character, moreso, it reveals character. Ditto
for all life challenges.
you know if you can use a little detaching from your ego to enhance
the quality of your health and life? Some clues are frequent agitation,
complaining, excuse-making, and frustration in your closest relationships.
If you're relatively free of these unhealthy states most of the time,
you're probably secure in your intentions and how you're going about
your life. This isn't to say that any of us can be totally free of
moments that we're not proud of. The idea is to ensure that a fragile
ego and over-attachment to what others think about us do not prevent
us from accessing our potential as human beings.
does unhealthy attachment to ego come from? I imagine that it comes
from many years of being told that we're not good enough unless we
look a certain way and accomplish certain things. Once we adopt these
beliefs, we live with some degree of fear, fear of having others think
that we're nothing but big losers. I think it's this fear that drives
chronic angst in most of its disguised and undisguised forms.
recognizing this, how do we find a healthy balance of being authentic
to our emotions while maintaining reasonable detachment from our egos?
the answer is in the moments that make up each day. In particular,
those moments when I am acutely aware that I have one of two choices:
to act in an effort to protect my ego, or to put my focus on those
around me and the principles that I want to live by.
when someone attacks my character, if I'm in the mode of trying to
protect my ego, my natural reaction will be to defend my behavior
and attack back. But if I'm able to catch myself and widen the space
that exists between stimulus and response, I stand a greater chance
of experiencing peace by striving to help the other person feel understood
- through empathy, a sincere apology, or any other means necessary.
takes practice. It's an art, really, to widen the space between stimulus
and response, and to consistently choose thoughtful behavior that's
about the greater good rather than flipping the finger to someone
who we feel is being nasty. And I can say from experience that each
time I widen this space, each time I choose a kind and gentle response
rather than a proverbial or literal middle finger, I feel a sense
of victory within. In my book, this is real life detachment from ego,
and few other experiences are as deeply satisfying.
example would be when we feel the need to talk up something we've
done or accomplished to make sure that others know that we measure
up. For me this urge usually comes up in the face of someone boasting
for attention. To recognize the silliness of joining this game and
to consciously choose not to take part is another inner victory that
helps me feel like I've strengthened my character and loosened the
grip of my ego.
ways of overcoming attachment to ego and crippling pride, I don't
think we can overlook the importance of feeling like we're doing something
valuable with our lives. As Anne Frank put it, "laziness may seem
attractive, but work gives satisfaction." I would add to this that
engaging in work that is personally meaningful is essential to developing
and maintaining healthy self esteem, which I believe is needed to
rise above the constant stream of opportunities to display poor behavior.
I'm treading somewhat above my pay grade when I make observations
about ego, pride, and how problems with either can affect performance
and quality of life. But then, I generally trust my instincts about
people, and a life that is being crippled by a fragile ego isn't hard
to notice, especially when it's mine. It's disturbing to look at,
not unlike coming across a gruesome car accident (lots of double negatives
in today's post, which means that I'm feeling it).
be clear that I'm not referring to a situation where a person feels
incapable. Like the case of one client I will never forget, who, with
tears in his eyes, confessed that he simply felt like he was too emotionally
damaged to function at an adequate level in our society. I will always
have warm feelings about this particular client and others like him,
because in my book, to so vulnerably profess doubt in one's capacities
is a mark of extraordinary decency.
there is enough emotional strength to evaluate and recognize one's
shortcomings, I believe there is immense potential to experience personal
growth and truly intimate and satisfying relationships filled with
respect and even reverence. Humility and genuineness breed fondness,
pride and ego don't allow honest self examination or the ability to
share existing vulnerabilities, I just don't see how there can be
hope for a life without major regrets.
for life-crippling, easily devastated egos might be above average
in sensitivity because I come from a family and culture that practically
invented the idea of starving to death rather than wash dishes for
food money. My parents are good-hearted people who wouldn't cheat
another soul for a penny, but in all the time that I've known them,
not once do I remember them proactively apologizing for something.
I think for many of their generation and old school Korean culture,
apologizing is viewed as a grossly shameful act and perhaps an invitation
to be ridiculed.
without seeing what a mature apology looked like, as young adults,
I think my sisters and I were emotionally handicapped, not unlike
my parents. I'm grateful that somehow, perhaps through a combination
of good fortune and hard knocks from the school of learning how to
survive on our own, for the most part, we turned out to be adults
who aren't handicapped by overly fragile egos and all of the disadvantages
that come with.
is not to say that I don't have moments when my pride makes me behave
in a way that I regret. Twinges of envy, defeat, anger, and humiliation
regularly run through my heart, and with each twinge, my ego feels
the urge to embrace itself. These are moments when, in trying to save
face, I am most capable of hurting myself and those around me, sometimes
with thoughts that have no ill intention, and sometimes with insults
disguised as compliments. The goal in these moments is to slow my
thoughts down and to behave in a way that leaves me feeling good tomorrow.
bring this to a close for now, my two strategies for detaching from
my ego and striving to be a clear-thinking, productive, responsible,
and compassionate person in all of my capacities:
I feel tempted to defend myself, boast, or attack out of hurt,
I try to stop my runaway train of thoughts on a dime, widen the
space between stimulus and response, and choose behavior that
nourishes the other party.
strive to make good use of my time and talents every day, and
to take good care of my health, because these actions build and
maintain real self esteem.
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