The ego has a bad rap — it has become the villain of self-help. We associate it to being entitled or arrogant. That’s why we want to get rid of this enemy.
However, your ego is not the problem, your illusion of self is.
According to psychologists, if we don’t have an ego, we would become mentally ill. We need it to mediate between the unconscious and the conscious. Your relationship with your ego can turn into either an enemy or an ally.
The ego causes most of your suffering, but it can also save you from further pain.
The Ego Is a Fraud
“The ego is the worst confidence trickster we could ever imagine.” — Dr. Yoav Dattilo
Our ego is a curious beast — most of us don’t realize its existence, yet we are under its mercy.
We usually associate the word ‘ego’ with being arrogant, proud, or selfish. However, our ego is a different thing — it magnifies either our best or worst side. That’s why the ego is the worst confidence trickster: we end buying the exaggerated version of ourselves.
The illusory self is a seductive fantasy — that’s why we succumb to our ego. We let it hold the reins of our lives without any resistance.
The ego hides in the last place you will ever look: within itself. Disguised as your thoughts or feelings, your ego tricks you. When you believe you are your ego, you’ll do anything to keep that illusion alive.
When you desire to be perceived as the smartest boss, the beloved mom, the best negotiator, the kindest woman, the funniest guy, the most creative writer — fill in the blanks — you allow your ego to take over. You self-identify with a single aspect of yourself — preserving that perfect image becomes a life-or-death matter.
By wanting to keep our illusory-self happy, not only we place hope on an impossible goal but also harm ourselves and others. People are willing to lie, kill, cheat, hide, or steal to protect their ego boundaries. If someone criticizes that ‘perfect side,’ they take it personally — they feel their entire identity is at risk.
Why is this happening to me? Everyone wants to be with me. Why is this person attacking me? Nobody listens to me!
We are self-absorbed — we make everything about “me-me-me!” We believe that everything revolves around us. We judge what happens through a self-centered filter.
The paradox of the unhealthy ego is that, though it seems like a confidence-booster, it creates more harm. By comparing ourselves to others, we create self-doubt. By pursuing endless ambitions, we end disappointed. By pretending things always to go our way, we become bitter and frustrated.
The unhealthy ego is a fraud — don’t believe your illusory-self is true.
We Don’t Need Another Ego
“The bigger a man’s head gets, the easier it is to fill his shoes.” — Henry A. Courtney
Most people believe they know themselves, but less than 15% are truly self-aware. Being self-centered or having a distortion of who we are, turns us into a victim of the illusory-self.
The ego is you ‘I-ness’ — it captures your thoughts, beliefs, memories, and emotions regardless if they are good or bad. However, the problem is not the beast itself, but the role it plays.
Having no ego would be a disaster — we need something to mediate between our desires and our beliefs and values. Without it, we would become helpless or mentally ill.
The ego’s relentless pursuit of attention and power undermines the goal we want to achieve.
Dealing with an unhealthy ego is exhausting.
As we aspire to be bigger, richer, smarter, better, stronger or more attractive than others, we are shadowed by a persistent sense of weariness and self-doubt. You don’t need another ego; you just need to be you.
Our ego likes security, certainty, and repetition. It makes us feel comfortable by reinforcing an idealized version of ourselves. If people threaten that illusion, we turn them into an enemy. That’s why ego-driven people engage in constant battles — they want to protect the fragile fantasy of who they are.
The funny part is that we fight to keep an image of ourselves that no one buys into, except us.
Your greatest enemy is your inner perception, not your ego.
An Ego Is Born
“The ego is a way of organizing oneself; it comes from the intellect as the mind starts to click in.” — Mark Epstein
You exist; therefore, I exist — that’s how the ego is born.
French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan developed the concept of the ‘Mirror Stage’ to describe the phenomenon when a child begins to distinguish the ‘self’ and others — encountering one’s image in the mirror makes us realize we are autonomous.
The ego is born out of fear and isolation. It creates our identity and separates us from those around us when we were a child.
The birth of ego, according to Chögyam Trungpa, is the process of identifying the self in term of opposing ourselves to others. Before we recognize our own existence, we begin to see others strongly. We want to conquer others, creating a snowballing effect that feeds passion, aggression, and ignorance.
Our ego not only blinds us but also makes others blind. We want to impose our possibilities over other people — whatever we see, we want others to see too. We believe our vision of the world is the world.
The illusion of self goes beyond having an unrealistic vision of who we are. We want to stick to that image forever.
We want to the illusion that our self is permanent, but life is fluid, not rigid. We are continually changing — our sense of existence is not permanent. We can’t carry our personality to the next life.
Many people believe that the ego is just a source of trouble. American Buddhist author Thanissaro Bhikkhu teaches that a healthy, functioning, ego is a crucial tool on the path to awakening.
Western psychology and Buddhism agree that the ego is as a creation — we must get it out our head and learn to tame our mind.
The Illusion of Being You
“You are who you are when nobody’s watching.”
― Stephen Fry
The illusion of self is like a mask — we wear an identity that’s not real.
When we feel under attack or panic, we create a world of duality — Chögyam Trungpa refers to it as ‘the world of ego.’ This duplicitous and unnecessary invention doesn’t allow us to see our true-self clearly.
Buddhists recommend egolessness as the antidote to deal with the illusion of self.
Most people associate egolessness with getting rid of the ego. However, that’s a misconception — the ego is essential to guide our decisions and behavior. “Spiritual Bypassing” is a term coined to describe those who use spiritual ideas and practices to avoid facing unresolved emotional issues. We must confront our ego instead of running away from it.
You must get rid of the illusion of who you are, not of the ego.
Let go of the constructed ideas of who you are. Most of them were created when you were a kid. You turned something very good or bad about you into your identity — balancing your ego is accepting all your sides, rather than exaggerating one.
Egolessness is a healthy state of mind.
The ideas that we’ve constructed about our self are fixed. Most people overreact to criticism because they’ve built their ‘reputation’ on one idealized trait — if people dislike it, they feel their whole identity would collapse.
Most of us will do whatever to protect our illusion of self. When we experience something unpleasant that might hurt our idealized identity, we fight back.
Becoming more mindful is essential. Mindfulness helps us neither to cling to what’s pleasant nor to condemn what’s unpleasant. We don’t buy into the illusion of the ego — we are more than that. You can separate the stimulus from your emotional reaction — you choose how to react, not your ego.
Turn Your Ego into an Ally
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” ― Rumi
Many elements that define our identity were inherited — we can’t do much about them. But, we can change how we deal with them — just like with our ego.
To stop being at war with reality, we must flex our ego.
When we let go of our idealized-self, we become free. Conversely, when the ego runs our lives, we suffer. The “me-me-me” approach is draining — forcing the world to revolve around us is mission impossible.
Psychologists recommend empowering the observing “I” — make room for self-reflection and watch yourself from a distance. Confront all aspects of who you are — especially the uncomfortable ones. Make room for yourself. Observe your thoughts rather than buying into them; let go of perfectionism.
Buddhists invite us to watch our mind — to observe our thoughts without judging. Mindfulness is the ability to be present, to be with what happens in the here and now. It’s a journey to abandon the illusion of self for the sake of well-being and happiness.
Egolessness doesn’t mean to get rid of the ego, but of the illusion self. We must undo habitual patterns that we’ve developed for years.
Egolessness means freedom — we liberate ourselves from the anxiety to defend the illusion of who we are.
The Antidote to Illusion
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection”
Your self is fluid, not fixed.
Our natural tendency is to view, not just ourselves but also others as permanent things. Understanding that everything is interdependent and everything is impermanent is essential.
The illusion of the ego means thinking that our identity is a finished product rather than a work in progress.
Grab some pictures of yourself from different moments. You probably look different now, right? Look at how your personality or lifestyle has changed through those years. Are you still the same? Or have you changed? Fluidity means integrating both that we are different and the same.
Everything changes and nothing stands still. As Heraclitus said, “No person ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and one is not the same person.”
That’s the paradox of understanding impermanence. We, the same people, are not the ones we were in the past — yet, we are still ourselves. The antidote to the illusion is facing your true-self.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. The world doesn’t revolve around you. Don’t be attached to the illusion of self. Embrace well-being and happiness.
You are fluid, not fixed. Don’t stick to an illusionary self — one aspect of you is not you. Avoid being defensive when someone hurts one side of who you are.
People are not your enemies. When you are at peace with who you are, you don’t feel the need to fight others.
Increase self-consciousness. Egolessness is insight gained from meditation — we dive deep into the emptiness or illusoriness of self and habitual patterns.
Love yourself, not your image. Accept your wholeness — both the good and bad. True self-love is appreciating that others feel self-love too.
Stop trying to be perfect. I’m not suggesting you lower your bar — realize you are not a finished person, but a work in progress.
Being vulnerable is being strong. You don’t need to sustain an idealized version of yourself to be accepted by others. Masks are fragile, but nothing can beat your authentic self.
The ego is not the enemy — the idealized image of yourself is. Defending an illusion is a draining and useless battle. Stop pretending and start accepting. This time of the year rather than just reflecting on your achievements, spend some time reflecting on who you are.
Get rid of the illusion of the perfect self.