Five Signs Your Ego May Be Holding You Back

Five Signs Your Ego May Be Holding You Back

If you’ve ever been annoyed with yourself then there’s a good chance you ego is playing a game against you. We have to ask, who is the “I” that is annoyed, and who is the “myself” that I’m annoyed with. There’s clearly something going on inside that we’re not fully aware of. Hi, I’m Stuart Carter and in today’s video we’ll look at what the ego is, how it gets constructed, five of the signs that it may be holding us back, and what we can do to get more balance in our lives.

What is the ego?

So what, exactly, is the ego? We humans exist on many different levels, if you look at maps of the brain, you’ll see the ‘lizard’ brain, the ‘chimp’ brain and the ‘human’ brain… over time we’ve added layer upon layer, not only in our physical brains, but in how we process the world around us. In terms of consciousness we’re looking at the thinking and material levels on the surface (this is where the ego lives), then depending how far down the rabbit-hole we want to go, there’s the emotional level, the spiritual level and the vibrational level. We don’t even have to believe all that stuff about vibrations to identify and work on the issues we see showing up in our lives from an unhelpfully constructed ego.

The ego deals with labels. It deals with black and white. It deals with right and wrong. It deals with good and bad. It labels and judges ourselves and those around us and decides how smart, good and worthy they are.

How does it get constructed?

When we’re born, we have no ego. We have no personality. We are a perfect being; no anxiety, no worries, no thoughts of whether we’re fitting in, or pleasing people. Over time, our ego gets constructed by the conditioning of what’s going on around us. We model our parents’ behaviours, we get shaped by school, by society, by our peers.

We begin to worry that we’re not doing things right. We begin to think we’ll be shunned if we step out of line. We build a set of invisible walls around us, limiting us from our true selves so that we don’t get ‘found out’. We bury our true selves in shame, guilt and fear. We stop trying, and sink into apathy, or we get ambitious to prove our worth, which comes out as desire, anger or pride.

There are parts of our true selves that we are led to believe are taboo or unwelcome in society. These are our ‘shadow selves’, and its this burying of our ‘shadow selves’ that the ego is constructed to protect us.

Benefits of Ego Awareness

Let’s not pretend… the ego is helpful as a tool. When we are consciously aware of how our ego operates, we can use it to get things done. We can use it to build a strong and helpful self-image. If we construct our ego carefully and with higher goals in mind, we can create beliefs, thoughts and feelings that support us in our lives. And so the first step is awareness… let’s talk about five of the signs that our ego is not helping us…

Sign 1. Perfectionism and control.

The first sign is perfectionism and control. Something in our conditioning has made us feel that we are not enough, and that projects out to the world around us. We expend so much energy trying to make everything just right. And by doing so, we deny the fact that the world isn’t perfect and can’t be perfect.

And in trying to be perfect, we begin to alienate those around us. We can’t trust them to do things as well as we would do them ourselves. But it’s not even about how well we do things… as a perfectionist, we set ourselves and others impossibly high standards.

You see, the ego always has to be right, and our perfectionism comes from a feeling of guilt and shame of not being ‘enough’. So it sets standards for us that are impossible to meet, and in that way it fulfils its wish for us to never feel like enough. I’ll go into some general steps for overcoming an unhelpful ego after the five signs, but the first step to overcoming perfectionism and control is to let small bad things happen. And realise that the world doesn’t end.

Let go a little, and trust others. Even if they don’t come up to your standards, recognise that ‘good’ is good enough.

Sign 2. Pleasing others.

The second sign of an unhelpful ego is the need to please others. If we say “yes” when we mean “no” or “no” when we mean “yes”, there’s a good chance we’re experiencing this issue. We are all searching for unconditional love, and if that was not delivered in the way we expected when we were younger, we may have built a habit of trying to be ‘good’ and do the ‘right thing’ so that we could finally receive it.

What we find, though, is that in a one-to-one relationship, we lose so much of ourselves when we please others, that our unique genius gets buried into our shadow self, and even our simplest needs are no longer met. And trying to please a group is the epitome of frustration. We will never please everyone, and we’ll drive ourselves mad if we try.

And so the first step of overcoming the need to please others is to tap into our own truth. To set our own boundaries and honour them. We fear that we’ll turn people away and suffer rejection, but there’s a good chance we’ll find others will respect us more, when we know who we are and honour our boundaries.

Sign 3. Impatience.

A third sign that could indicate an unhelpful ego is impatience – when we try to force things to happen quicker than their natural rhythm.

Lao Tzu said that “Nature doesn’t hurry, yet everything is accomplished”

This isn’t about apathy, and not trying; but a strong ego may try to achieve things in a timeframe that’s frankly unreasonable. This problem comes from always living in the future. We say to ourselves “I’ll be happy if I can just… get the fancy car, if I can just… get that big client, if I can just… get this or that finished.”

We fail to notice that we’re living now, and that now is the only moment we have. We pin all of our happiness in the future, and never experience our life. The ability of the ego to view the future is extremely helpful, it’s what allows humans to plan and develop and progress… but if it comes at the cost of living, now, then we’re missing out on a hugely rewarding part of our lives.

It may seem strange, but one of the first steps to overcome impatience is to practice gratitude. Perhaps at the end of each day we can write down five things we’re grateful for right now. Without thinking about the future, what’s bringing joy to our life now.

Sign 4. Suppression of Emotion.

A fourth way our ego sometimes shows up is in suppressing emotions – especially if we’ve had an upbringing where showing emotions is seen as a sign of weakness. It’s frowned upon to show our emotions, and we fear the loss of love that we’ll experience if we do show them.

And so we get an unhealthy relationship with our emotions. We begin to believe they’re the enemy and should be suppressed at all costs. And believe me, the costs are huge later in life, because if we don’t process our emotions, they don’t go away… they sit below the surface and keep showing up until we do process them.

We repeat the same unhelpful patterns in our lives over and over again because the emotions are trying to speak to us. They’re trying to get noticed. And we keep suppressing them.

We must recognise that we are not helping anyone by suppressing our emotions. But we must also recognise that emotions are not the enemies we might think they are. They are simply a message; nothing more.

The first step to processing emotions is to simply be with them. We sit quietly, and when an emotion comes up, we just feel it. We don’t label it – that’s a symptom of the ego. We simply feel the emotion… what does it feel like? Where can we feel it? How does the energy move around? And how long does it take to pass? Because it does pass.

And it’s not about having embarrassing outbursts… it’s just about being quiet with ourselves, and non-judgmentally feeling what we’re feeling.

Sign 5. Trying Too Hard

And finally, one more sign that we might have an unhelpful ego is feeling the need to try too hard. Often, during our development, we find that we are rewarded for effort and not necessarily results. Our ego develops the idea that it is in trying that we will receive the unconditional love that we crave.

But when the ego latches on to this idea too strongly, it keeps us trapped in the ‘effort’ cycle. It makes us overcomplicate everything. What should be a simple task becomes so complicated that we never finish. But for the ego, that’s a success because it keeps getting to show how much effort it can make.

For any kind of progress, however, it can be debilitating. And for our self-worth, we wonder why we can never finish anything, without noticing that we’re setting ourselves up for failure.

The magic word for trying too hard is ‘simplicity’. We must detach our sense of self-worth from the effort we’re making and achieve simple things in a timely fashion.

What to do about these signs?

We’ve met five of the signs that our ego is not helping us, there’s perfection and control, the need to please others, impatience, suppression of emotion and trying too hard. But what can we do about them?

1. Awareness.

We’ve just taken the first step. The first step is to become aware of these signs and how they show up in our daily lives. When we notice anger or desire, or pride, or apathy, let’s not “beat ourselves up”, but recognise that they are simply a symptom of the ego. We don’t have to believe the labels we put on ourselves; we don’t have to be “an angry person” or “always this or that”.

Once we’re aware of our ego’s effects, we get to choose which parts of it we’ll keep, and which parts we’ll let go of. It’s not a fight, it’s not a struggle… we just gently acknowledge and release those thoughts, habits and feelings that aren’t helping us.

2. Meditation

The second step to handling our unhelpful ego, is to become more aware of the present moment. The ego traps us in time, it hangs on to the past and it tries to control the future. When we become rooted in the present moment, our ego has no ability to act.

When we do the ‘right’ thing because it’s ‘right’, not because we’re holding on to some past hurt… when we act without worrying about what people will think of us, then we’re acting from our true essence. We can take it a step further and recognise that everything we experience and do is valid. If we react badly to a trigger, and start to berate ourselves, we can stop and recognise that this is simply a message to us… a message to become more present; to become more aware of our egoic reactions.

And the way to build present moment awareness is through stopping, getting quiet in our world and our mind, and just being for a while.

The ego is all about doing. Our emotional and spiritual selves are all about being. The ego tries to fix our erroneous thoughts about who we are, by doing more. By achieving and controlling. It doesn’t realise that we are already whole and perfect. And when we get quiet, and just be, we realise that we are, indeed, whole and perfect.

The common word for stopping and being is meditation. I won’t go into that here, because there are many resources available. I can recommend Eckhart Tolle’s book “The Power of Now”, and if you’re ready for it, Michael Brown’s “The Presence Process”.

But at the simplest level, it’s about stopping, especially when we identify one of the five signs, and taking a single deep breath. Realising that were are here, and now. All of those people, and those things, and those thoughts and those worries are insignificant compared to this, the present.

There’s a reason I ask my viewers to remember to breathe at the end of every video on my YouTube channel. It’s because we so seldom breathe properly. We forget to stop, breathe and recognise that all of our worries and anxieties are in the past or future, and that the present moment — this moment, right here, now — is all we actually have, and that this moment is perfect.

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