How to Break Up with your Controlling Ego
(Photo: Guy Roberts on Unsplash)
One soggy morning in Spring, I pestered my kids for what seemed an eternity to get themselves dressed and ready to go out for the day. As the minutes flew by without any signs of progress, I felt myself becoming increasingly tense…and more and more intense. Suddenly my eight-year old daughter blurted out: “Mommy, you are aggressive. You have bad energy!” She was right…as she often is.
On this dreary day, when my frenzied energy was popping like firecrackers, my child’s no-nonsense comment snapped me out of my ego trance. My drill sergeant ego — the harsh commander who barks orders — had taken over. And my kids, not surprisingly, were not cool with my controlling vibes. Not cool at all. With a few simple words, my brave little girl was telling me to get my ego in check and open my heart.
Many years ago, I used to think that the ego was the enemy and that the best way to deal with it is to tackle the evil bugger like a pro NFL player and tear it to bits. (The funny thing is that these very thoughts themselves are rooted in our fear-based ego.) I have since learned that it’s ineffective to despise the ego or to perceive it as a deranged monster that needs to be taken out with a full-force swat team. This only adds ammunition to the self-criticizing, me-against-myself inner battle. A war in which nobody wins.
(Photo: Henry Hustava on Unsplash)
Our egos behave in a variety of icky ways: manipulative, condescending, resentful, controlling, jealous, distant, critical, helpless victim and so forth. But regardless of these behaviours, berating our ego is not the solution. When it comes to our ego, it’s less about conquering and more about compassion.
Ego is the part of our personality that reacts based on past hurt and fear. It is the part that inflates itself to protect us from experiencing sadness, shame and pain. It is a master defense mechanism that we ourselves unconsciously created earlier in our lives. Like a dark, heavy, over-sized coat that we don to protect ourselves from the biting harshness of life, the ego is not who we really are. It is not our authentic self.
Just as we created this fear-based aspect of ourselves, we can also take our power away from the ego. We can choose to unplug from the ego. We can choose to give our authentic self more space to shine. We have the choice to align with love or to align with fear. To open our heart and live in harmony with our soul or to let our fear-rooted self dictate how we experience life. The choice is ours.
All these years, our ego has been working over time on an unwavering mission to protect us. Putting on its scariest shows, lashing out and judging others, guarding our stored emotional pain and defending our heart. An undying quest to prevent us from feeling sadness, disappointment and other uncomfortable emotions. In other words, the ego has been an awesomely loyal fire-breathing dragon, searing anyone or anything that triggers us or threatens our “illusion” of emotional well-being. (Extra emphasis on the word “illusion”!)
The problem with this arrangement is that we ourselves do not win. We lose because we miss out on experiencing a life in which our authentic self takes centre stage. In an ego-driven life, we keep our true essence hidden deep within. We trade joy and pure love for a false sense of safety and security. When we live from our ego, there is a level of discomfort and insecurity that we can only superficially soothe. Genuine happiness does not stem from experiencing life through the ego.
When we live from our ego, we place filters and shields between us and others, making deep connections fleeting. On the contrary, when we connect with others with an open heart and on a soul level, our relationships deepen. Our friendships are bathed in unconditional love. When we align with our true essence, we see life as an adventure in learning, expansion and joy. We stop taking life so seriously. (Hallelujah!)
(Photo: Ian Dooley on Unsplash)
Let’s come back to the control-freak ego. It’s easy to spot controlling egos at work in many different situations and relationships. But perhaps the most glaring example of the controlling ego is that between parent and child.
Let’s face it. Our kids are not going to do as we say all the time. They are not robots whom we can program to march when we say so. They are not soldiers who are trained to follow orders without questioning. Children don’t respond well to feeling controlled. Instead, they block out our incessant nagging. They act out, talk back, resent us or rebel. (Or eventually all the above.)
Most parents want their children to grow into adults who are independent and strong. We want them to excel in life , which ultimately requires that they think for themselves and don’t easily sway to follow the herd. But when it comes to us parenting our kids, we often expect them to do as we say and when we say it. And if they don’t, we are quickly triggered to feel that they are not showing us respect. But are they really being disrespectful? Or are they trying to escape the suffocating grips of a parent’s controlling ego?
In order to unplug from the ego, we need to face the fears that are driving the ego. It’s important to uncover and release the underlying fears that are closing the heart and keeping the ego inflated. For many people, there is a fear that if we are not always in control of our external environments, someone or something will bump up against our stored pain; the same buried pain that we try so hard to not feel or see. A more rewarding way of living is to treat every trigger as an opportunity to heal and grow. In other words, face the unresolved emotions and fears inside of us that are aching to be acknowledged…and let them go.
In my own meditation, I became aware that my controlling ego was rooted in the underlying fear that my life will fall apart unless I am in control of all aspects of it, including the people in it. A fear that unless everything unfolds as scared little me feels is best, life will go to shit.
When I looked right at my fear, I saw an image of myself as a small child, nervously trying to hold it all together for those around me. (As a little girl, I took it upon myself to energetically hold my mom’s stuff — a futile attempt to make life better for my beautiful mother, who was overwhelmed with her own fears.) With my eyes closed, I sat with these childhood emotions, giving them space to be seen and felt. Softening and allowing, I observed this old, stored energy moving up and out.
Meditation is an excellent way to help us disconnect from the ego and align with our true essence. As our awareness grows, we begin to notice how frequently we try to protect ourselves, guarding our closed heart and avoiding our buried sadness, loneliness, disappointment and fear. The path to freedom includes facing and letting go of our stored pain, rather than avoiding it.
Unplugging from the ego and living with an open heart requires much awareness and committed practice. It’s especially challenging to keep our heart open during those moments that are uncomfortable or upsetting to us. Our tendency is to quickly close and to harden. To resist life and defend ourselves. In other words, our knee-jerk response is to react to life from the ego. In my personal life, I try to practice keeping my heart open when my kids are screaming or fighting. When I do manage to keep my heart open, emotions like anger and frustration flow through me like a river. This feels healthier and kinder than being the explosive volcano that splatters everyone with fiery lava.
Everyday, in every moment, we have a choice. A choice to choose love or to choose fear. By repeatedly choosing love, we unplug from the ego and say yes to the radiant light within us. This is the greatest gift we may give ourselves. It is also the most wonderful gift we may give our children, as well as our world as a whole.
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