"There are few things as fetching as a bruised ego on a beautiful angel… - Grindhouse: Death Proof (2007)"
The concept of ego has always had a bad reputation.
Since the beginning we are taught that it is the high horse in which we regard ourselves, and for some reason having high self-worth is seen as a negative thing. That is my early experience of the word, at least. To be told that you have a huge ego was equivalent or on par with being told that you were a nasty bitch.
I can recall a time when I was in my early teens and boys had just become a thing. My world was framed by a social construct which was set out to impress the opposite sex and be put on a perfect pedestal like the trophies on the top shelf on their bedroom cupboard. I was old enough to be let out by myself but naive enough to listen and take into account every word that escaped a boys mouth. This one guy, who wouldn’t have been old enough to have learned the pressing content of compound interest and pythagorus theorem, had just discovered the word “ego”, no doubt regurgitating a phrase he had heard in his household. He was running around talking about girls my age and their HUGE egos. This was my first encounter with that three letter word.
Rather than looking up the definition, being; “a portion of the human personality which is experienced as the self”, I decided to blend in, be submissive, a “yes” woman, and taught myself that having a voice was not on-trend – all to avoid being slapped with this label.
Throughout the rest of my teen years, I feared men like that boy categorising me as egotistical. As an over-achiever, I learned to play dumb around my peers in school and talked down my successes in order to not seem vain. I told myself that my thoughts and opinions were not as valid as the person next to me to avoid being considered presumptuous. I dressed, spoke and shared similar hobbies as the people around me to fit in and not be labeled as arrogant. My resulting sense of self was as simply developed as the female body diagram hanging on the door of the biology science room.
It has taken me twenty-three years to understand the role of the ego, and that rather an insult, having a HUGE ego is an absolute compliment, if said in the right context.
Having an ego is nothing to be ashamed of. It is the voice of an older sister, constantly in our ear telling us what is right from wrong. She paints a clearer picture into our decision making, giving us continuity and consistency to our behaviour. She is the warning signs of things that have caused us pain in the past. She takes note of every trip, every fall, every heartbreak, every failure and will do her best to avoid putting us back in a similar circumstance. She recognises safe spaces, times of achievement, successes and moments of poignant happiness and pushes us to re-live experiences like this. She is the brains to our heart, our stomach and our nervous system. The voice that speaks up to defend us from feeling the things that had once hurt us so bad. She serves to protect, to validate and to make clear of the notions of ones ‘self’. She speaks individually for each and every person. A dictionary into emotions, reactions, actions and causes. We must thank her for always serving to protect us.
That said, I have also come to realise that there are circumstances where I must let my guard down and turn my back on everything she tells me. This has been particularly obvious when inviting relationships into my world, whether with partners, friends, family or those in-between. It requires an overbearing amount of vulnerability to do this, to kick down the walls my ego and I have built, in order to let others in. It’s obviously easier said than done – a true test of my own strength.
Ironically, it took a partner at the time to point out I was ego driven. As you could imagine, I didn’t take this so graciously. My teenybopper past-self resurfaced filled with outlawed rage as I systematically felt categorised. Defence-mode kicked in, and I became tunnel-visioned by the complexity of the words spoken to me. Of course, he meant no harm in saying so. His intentions were not ill, rather a mere suggestion to step back and interpret the situation from a different lens. But I, too bruised, struggled to not take it personally.
I guess we have to find a balance whereby we can allow our ego to factor into our decision making yet be conscious enough to not let her rule. She is not our enemy, nor is she our best friend. Separating her from our overall sense of self is definitely a challenging and scary notion, but once achieved can be a progressive step into the realm of transformation, acceptance and understanding our sense of self.