Steve Peterson’s belief is that whole person health includes mindfulness, diet, exercise, stress-management and an understanding of the mental and physiological processes that can inspire or drain wellness. Steve has taught in nursing, pharmacy and integrative health care programs for more than a few years. Additionally, he has served as the dean of education for two proprietary schools during his career.
There is a negative social connotation associated with the word “ego.”
“Well THAT person sure does have a big ego!”
“Walk behind him because his EGO has to fit through the door first!”
We tend to associate ego with a personal superiority complex or inflated sense of self-esteem. There is a sense of judgment that we often pass onto the reference of someone’s ego, and we compartmentalize that judgment into a place that we do not necessarily want to visit. We may label it as an unpleasant personality trait and disassociate ourselves from that person.
Often overlooked is the presence of low or undeveloped ego strength, which results in a lack of confidence in one’s personality, thinking and motive in life; herein lies the possibility for long-term self-esteem issues, depression and failure to connect and develop positive and healthy relationships.
It is unfortunate that the term “ego” has gone largely socially misrepresented and its true personal development value is often underestimated. Its role in our overall health and mental well-being is often seriously underrepresented. It is important that ego development is seen for its true purpose and that it is understood that one is not born with their ego intact: Ego is a learned and developed characteristic of the psyche that can be easily modified and brought into a healthy state of being.
So, let’s dial in on the ego, understand how it is developed, respect its role in our daily lives and learn how to align it for health and happiness.
What is Ego?
Ego is the organized mediator between the person and their perception of, and adaptation to, reality. The ego is responsible for reality testing and one’s sense of personal identity. The ego is molded and groomed by our emotional responses (tacit and explicit) to social-environmental events we are exposed to. I like to think of it as the psychological coping mechanism to situations and events that manifests itself as a physiological reaction. Most often at the root of an unhealthy ego (unusually high or excessively low) are unresolved emotional issues.
Let’s look at a few examples throughout different stages of the lifespan of how the disconnect between psychological coping and physiological reaction (an unhealthy ego) can play a part in certain behaviors.
Bullying: Outward harassment and belittling of another, denoting repressed feelings of insecurity and lack of a healthy interactive social acceptance.
Abusive relationships: Anger and physical/emotional torment stemming from lack of personal control and failure in nurturing past relationships. On the part of the victim, blind acceptance and making excuses because of low self-esteem, feelings of guilt and fear of being alone.
Elderly depression: Feelings of loneliness and lack of self-worth because of personal/social changes and fear of death.
The manifestation of an unhealthy ego arises when our emotions direct and manipulate its ability to provide a healthy response.
For one’s health and wellness, it is important to redefine the social construct of ego and start developing it into a mindful ego. And this is accomplished by harnessing our emotions in a responsive, not reactive, way.
Understanding the Mindful Ego
A mindful ego employs the strategies of mindfulness to restructure the emotional impact on our ego. It essentially requires the employment of basic tenants of mindfulness in our daily lives to affect our psychological coping mechanisms. This results in a proactive, positive response to potential stressors and perceptions to reality that ultimately elicit our responses toward ourselves and others.
Put into practice, every day and with everybody, the mindful ego embodies these 13 basic tenets:
- Be in the here and now. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow.
- Practice nonjudgmental acceptance. Of yourself. And others.
- Pay attention. To the small, unexciting details of everyday experience and interaction.
- Have a clear conscience. It’s over. Move on.
- If you are feeling depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.
- Focus all of your attention in the present moment.
- Have clarity and focus in your immediate task at hand. Try not to multitask.
- Avoid vanity in yourself and criticism of others.
- Laugh and cry and dance and mope around as if no one cares.
- Love unconditionally.
- Forgive without looking back. Yourself and others.
- Minimize your expectations of others. Appreciate worth for worth’s sake.
- Be genuine and honest with yourself. Only then can you be genuine and honest with others.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a practice that has been employed for over the past two decades to assist healthy individuals in improving their coping abilities with the stresses of daily life. Mindful awareness is neither esoteric nor religious in nature; rather it is a “dispassionate, non-evaluative and sustained moment-to-moment awareness” of a perceived mental state. It is non-deliberative and pulls one away from the daily “autopilot” of social-behavioral interaction.
For the individual, a mindful ego affords a more accurate perception of one’s own mental responses to stimuli (both internal and external) and leads to a more prominent sense of control.
It can be argued that a high level of self-esteem (positive ego) presents a greater level of personal health and efficacy than a disproportionately low level of self-esteem. But, all too often, either spectrum of self-esteem remains untethered by a level of mindfulness. Individuals that practice and present an elevated level of mindfulness possess an elevated level of self-esteem that is secure rather than fragile. Fragile levels of self-esteem are indicated by unusually high or excessively low egos, as they are directed by a lack of emotional control.
A mindful ego puts one’s self first in the moment of personal solitude, yet affords others undivided and nonjudgmental attention first when in their company. This is a disciplined level of intrinsic and extrinsic control.
And, it is so easy to accomplish!
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