Have you ever been in the situation where someone is helping you, but you don’t feel helped? Did you, instead, feel uncomfortable or even undermined? Or have you ever been the one that is trying to help someone, but the fact that they’re not receiving it makes you feel angry or insecure? The reason for either experience could be that ego mimicry is at play.
Over the years, I have found Lazaris’ conceptual framework for the ego really helpful. Lazaris describes the ego as a necessary part of our consciousness. As human beings we are complex, as is the physical world that we live in. The ego assists us in dealing with this situation. Lazaris differentiates between the ‘ego I’ and the ‘self I’. The ‘ego I’ has the job of relaying information between the physical world and the ‘self I’. The ‘self I’ has the task of taking this information and deciding what to do with it.
A healthy, functioning ego is a marvellous and necessary thing. However, what often happens is that we don’t want to deal with the information that we’ve been given and pass it back to the ego to handle instead. This also happens with information that arises within us that we don’t want to deal with, thoughts, feelings and intuitions that we don’t want to face. Then, the ego is forced to deal with something it isn’t designed to cope with. The ego functions poorly and becomes a ‘negative ego’, it becomes a destructive force. When this happens we also over-identify with our ego, losing sight of our ‘self I’.
We’re all familiar with this type of behaviour when it’s out in the open: the bully who seeks to dominate and undermine another; the person being openly vicious and nasty because someone isn’t fulfilling the function of just being there to give them what they want. These behaviours are underpinned by fear and unresolved issues that the person caught in identifying with their ego doesn’t want or feel able to deal with. However, what can be trickier is when this behaviour is disguised as something else, when the person identifying with their ego is pretending that they aren’t. When the negative ego is mimicking positive behaviour, we can be fooled into thinking that the problem lies elsewhere.
An act of giving in the form of help is a generous, caring and even loving one. In the examples that we started with, however, what’s going on underneath the surface is probably far from that. A common thing that happens with the ‘negative ego’ disguised as giver is that the person is ‘giving’ to feel superior to the person that they’re giving to. To go along with this dynamic, the receiver has to take on the stance of being ‘inferior’ – not a very loving situation at all! The ego thinks in terms of binary opposites and hierarchies, it can’t deal with the complexities and nuances of emotional interaction. So, the rich situation of giving and receiving between equals becomes a crude attempt for the ‘giver’ to feel better at the expense of the ‘receiver’.
But hang on! There’s a danger here in thinking that only the ‘superior’ one is the one acting destructively. If we have taken on an ‘inferior’ position, we are also caught in negative ego. In other words, we are bound into the negative ego’s viewpoint of seeing people as either superior or inferior in relation to one another. We can flip between the two positions. Feeling inferior in relation to the giver and then, when we realise what has happened, superior, because we are ‘above’ that sort of behaviour, for instance.
So, what to do? First of all, if something doesn’t feel right, we need to pay attention to that and step out of the interaction. We can express to the other person what we’re feeling or at least be noncommittal and not go along with what’s happening. Sometimes when we’re caught off balance, this can be hard to do, in which case – and in any case – it’s good to reflect on the interaction and look at what was really going on, afterwards. If this pattern of behaviour is a regular feature of the particular relationship, breaking out of it can allow the other person to break out of it too. There is the potential, then, for the relationship to change for the better. However, there’s no guarantee that the other person will want to break the pattern – some people are very wedded to their ego! In that case, we might want to think about why we’re in a relationship with someone like that. We also need to see the other person as more than just the ego position that they have occupied. This doesn’t condone their behaviour, it just places it in the wider context of their humanity, which includes their unresolved issues and vulnerabilities. If we want to heal our ego, we need to pay attention to what it is we’re not wanting to deal with, what it is we’re handing over to our ego and start taking back responsibility for it. Some of the Lazaris recordings have some excellent processes to bust a negative ego and build a positive one in the broader scope.
Leigh Osborne, Copyright February 2018
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