A Healthy Ego
Updated: Dec 9, 2022
One definition of "maturity" is: fullness of potential. Thus, an immature person has unmet potential. There are many aspects of our lives that we can mature in: e.g., physically, socially, relationally, spiritually, professionally, academically, intellectually, financially. One area that we can also mature in is: developing our "ego".
The phrase having an ego is often used to refer to a person who is arrogant and boastful. I am not using this term in this way for this post. For this post, I am referring to the psychological concept of "ego". The psychological term "ego" refers to a self that is distinct from others and is able to regulate painful emotions that are rooted in anger and fear.
When we are born, we attach to our parents and our primary attachment figures. Over time, children transition from their attachment to their caregivers to develop an individual self, or ego, that is distinct and unique. Children develop their ego in relationship to their primary caregivers. Our ego learns how to deal with stress, and learns how to change and adapt from examples set by our caregivers. Our ego develops when we learn how to face and grow from life's challenges. We can develop an ego that is resilient, strong, and meaningful. As we grow up, we can continue to develop our ego beyond the imprinted models of our childhood by continuing to learn and integrate new ways to change, heal, and grow.
Characteristics of an underdeveloped ego
- Lacks resiliency, gives up easily. Has difficulty coping when they don't get what they want.
- Does what is most comfortable, and avoids discomfort.
- Tends to have unrealistic, rigid expectations.
- Emotionally charged by an easily activated physical stress response rooted in fear and anxiety. They may rely on their anger and rage to test and teach people.
- Unhelpful thinking patterns: e,g., A scarcity mindset, often thinking they lack resources, are too weak and fragile to handle situations.
- Unrealistic core beliefs: e.g., Life should be pain free, I must have constant comfort and assurance. - Brain is constantly in "protective mode", which blocks the brain's "learning mode": Our brain's protective mode is defensive and attacking when they perceive threats.
- Defaults to follow their survival drives and basic impulses of fear, hunger, comfort, safety, sex, and the need for attention. They primarily function out of these instinctual, often aggressive impulses.
- They focus their time and energy fighting reality. Instead of living in reality, they constantly complain about it and seek to escape it.
- They reject and deny their need to face their fears.
- They see their defense mechanisms as their strengths (egosyntonic): e.g., Angry outbursts, avoidance, denial. "That's just the way I am, I am just keeping it real. I am being myself."
- They refuse to address, or even acknowledge, what has happened in their life, and what is happening at present, and can't plan for the future. They are unable to deal with significant life events, their experiences growing up, working through grief and loss, the pain of regrets, and shame and guilt.
Outward appearances can be deceiving. Paradoxically, the ‘bigger the ego’ one has, the weaker their psychological ego. When someone has an underdeveloped ego, they are more rigid and refuse to feel and to process painful feelings, address their beliefs and thoughts, which causes them to be stuck in life.
Characteristics of a well-developed Ego
- Resilient, perseveres in adversity. Has skills to cope when things don't go their way.
- Optimistic, has hope that things will get better.
- Self-confident, has self-efficacy: believes that they are capable of handling challenges.
- Has a curious, learning approach to life: Asks questions, tries to see things from multiple perspectives, is able to consider other people's views different from their own. - Is able to tolerate discomfort. Has skills to regulate their emotions and not be overwhelmed by them.
- Has the awareness of and the skills to address their basic human drives of fear, sex, hunger, safety, and the need for attention. They are able to control and manage these impulses.
- Explores new experiences. Is motivated to experience new things and to learn new ways to coping with life.
- Reflective: Can see beyond a situation, can discern between needs and wants, between what can and cannot be controlled, and how to act productively to resolve stressors.
- Accepts imperfection. Does not take criticism personally.
- Allows people to solve their own problems.
A well-developed ego has an overall confidence in themselves and in others to use their resources to handle and resolve life issues. A healthy ego gives us the courage to be vulnerable and honest with ourselves, to face our fear and anxiety. A well-developed ego is vital in healthy emotional relationships. A well-developed ego can accept ourselves and our partners, and allow each other to make mistakes and grow in their own problem solving abilities. They understand that we learn more effectively by learning from mistakes.
How to develop a healthy ego
1. Be physically active and healthy.
Practice breathing and relaxing your body. Stretch. Engage with cardiovascular exercise activities and weight resistance exercises.
Eat a healthy diet.
Establish a regular sleep.
Developing the self-discipline and lifestyle to be physically healthy can help develop your ego.
2. Break bad habits and form healthy habits.
Some bad habits we tend to have, and new habits to replace them with:
Seeking perfection in everything you do. Instead, set time limits, be able to pause tasks, and say, "that is good enough for now".
Not owning up to your mistakes. Instead, admit fault, communicate remorse and apologize, and take steps to correct your actions.
Overthinking every single thing. Instead, practice contentment, learn mindfulness exercises.
Procrastinating. Instead, initiate tasks when it is time to do them.
3. Face your fears.
Acknowledge and work on overcoming your fears:
Fear of failure.
Fear of rejection.
Fear of dying.
Fear of abandonment.
Fear of success.
Fear of disappointment, disapproval.
Fear of losing.
Fear of pain.
Fear of getting in trouble.
4. Practice self-determination through small and big goals.
Practice your agency by making choices. Develop your own fashion style. Design your living space. Express your opinions and preferences.
5. Choose your relationships intentionally.
Invest in relationships with your time and energy.
6. Increase your distress tolerance.
Develop a thicker skin by accepting reality. Reframe your thoughts and beliefs to tolerate discomfort, stress ,and frustration, so you do not get easily triggered.
7. Be emotionally healthy.
Learn and implement skills to regulate feelings of angry, fear, and anxiety.
Practice contentment, generosity, and gratitude.
8. Build your character.
Honesty. Stop pretending, lying, and hiding. Instead, share openly.
Courage. Push yourself to take risks and and face challenges head on.
Exploration/curiosity. Experiment, try, attempt, step into the unknown, learn by doing and making mistakes.
Service. Help others. Make life better for others. Make people smile.
Discipline. Self-denial. Self-control.
Love. Empathy, encourage, root for, fondness for, show interest in, give to others.
9. Deal with your anger.
Don't deny, ignore, or repress your anger, frustration, irritations, annoyances.
Identify what you are angry about.
We may feel anger for being disrespected, invalidated, misunderstood, wronged, attacked, hurt, discredited, taken advantage of, lied to, unloved, devalued, unappreciated, unacknowledged, not listened to, not paid attention to, yelled at, hit, called names, failing, losing, not getting what you want.
Understand why you are angry. Explain it. Put it into words.
Take steps to express that anger in healthy ways.
Take productive steps to address your anger.
10. Do hard things.
Your ego refers to your ability to be adaptive and resilient in life. When I hear people wanting to po prioritize their "self-care" and practice "self-compassion", I think of it as them working on developing a healthy ego. Spend time reflecting on your self and engage with these skills to develop your ability to live and relate to others in mutual cooperation.