I remember a television commercial for Eggo waffles. The tag line for the ad was “Leggo my Eggo” People aren’t after my Eggo. But, they’re after my ego. A lack of understanding of what the ego has led to a dangerous desire to “kill the ego.”
What Is The Ego?
The word ego in some “spiritual” movements has become a four-letter word. People have turned their egos into the enemy and trying to slay them. I’ve had people brag to me that they are egoless. Ironically, the more someone argues with me that they are egoless, the more I chuckle because it’s a self-defeating argument. An egoless person would not argue at all.
ego noun a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance.
PSYCHOANALYSIS the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity.
The ego is our sense of self. In extreme cases, an out of control ego will lead to an inflated sense of self-importance that is maladaptive. I find it interesting that the standard definition of ego, as a sense of self-esteem is different from the psychoanalytic interpretation. Setting that aside, let’s look at the standard definition for now.
Survival Without The Ego
Without any sense of self-esteem or self-importance, we would not be able to survive. We would put others’ needs ahead of ours, deeming ours to be of no importance. Some with no ego would give away all of their money. They would leave their front doors open and let anyone who wanted to come in and use our homes. At best, this ego-less being would put everyone else’s needs on par with theirs and be taken advantage of. At worst, we’d feel our needs aren’t at all important. We would not protect our bodies or even our property.
This is extreme. But, this is what it means to be genuinely egoless. I think the problem is people have taken a couple of principles to extremes. One is non-duality. The ego gives us a sense of separation. Therefore, they think, it must be bad. We are all aspects of God/Source having a physical existence. In a sense, we are all One. But, it’s important to acknowledge we are having a physical experience. We are both all One and all unique, simultaneously. We have chosen to experience separation. While we are in these bodies, we experience separation, and we need the ego to protect our physical existence.
The other thing people have done is to re-define ego from a healthy sense of self-worth to an overinflated sense of self-worth. I’ve heard ego defined as “edging God out” (cute). A healthy ego is not only desirable, it is necessary. Until, I know my own inherent, immutable self-worth and protect it, I cannot understand your worth. I have worked hard to develop a healthy sense of self.
The Danger Of “Killing The Ego”
Working to kill the ego can lead to a damaged sense of self and even self-hatred since killing the ego is not possible. This misunderstanding is not harmless.