Colloquially, the term ‘ego’ is used to refer to a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-worth. To put it simply, it is a person’s self-image – who they think they are and who they would like others to think they are. It is the part of us that drives us to dress, speak, walk and act a certain way, because we want to project a certain image of ourselves. We want other people to accept this image, and by extension, accept us. By this definition, it is clear to see that the ego, actively and constantly seeks and thrives on the approval of others.
The problem with the ego’s need for approval is that there’s always the possibility that people will disapprove, and the ego is deathly afraid of this. The ego constantly lives in fear of disapproval. Due to this fear, the ego tries to negate any possibility of disapproval by trying to control people and situations. People driven by ego are people driven by fear, and fearful people are controlling people.
Think of a supervisor at work who constantly looks over the shoulders of his team even though they are all competent at their work. He will typically dominate meetings, allowing no one else to speak. When faced with conflict, he will take an extreme stance, refusing to compromise and even using the threat of disciplinary action to induce fear in his opponent. His need to exert himself in this way might stem from a deeper fear that he himself is incompetent, a fear that is greatly damaging to his self-image and self-esteem.
In our own lives, certain behaviors we exhibit can tell us whether our egos are running the show. You know you have let your ego take over when:
You put others down
It makes you feel better about yourself to point out or gossip about other people’s flaws and failures. You are likely to be extremely critical, and the type of person who puts others down.
You must always be right
In a discussion, you are unable to disagree without being disagreeable. You are fixated on coming out on top and having the last word. Every conversation becomes an opportunity for you to prove that you are right, or know better, but more importantly, that the other person is wrong. Thus, you will likely stick to one perspective on a subject with multiple dimensions, which makes you narrow-minded.
You continually compare yourself to others
You constantly compare yourself to others in order to get a sense of your own worth, which leaves you feeling either superior or inferior to them.
You are bothered by other people’s successes
Other people’s successes make you jealous – you may find yourself trying to minimize or invalidate them. For example, if a female colleague progresses at work, you make comments suggesting that she slept her way to the top.
You takes things too personally
You take things too personally. Small occurrences hurt your pride. You are overly sensitive to other people’s comments, even if they are not a reflection of what they think about you as a person. For instance, when someone corrects your work, you make an archenemy out of them.
In the case of the supervisor, any employee who attempts to come up with a better or different idea is viewed as a threat to the supervisor’s ego, and an ego facing the threat of disapproval lashes out. New ideas will be shut down promptly and not necessarily in an objective or professional manner. If the employee continues to pose this threat, the supervisor’s ego will drive him to want to control the situation by eliminating the threat once and for all, causing the supervisor to go to such lengths as getting the employee fired or transferred. This is because, when we are driven by ego and fear, our natural disposition is to seek control over people and situations.
Opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge… is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world. It requires profound purpose larger than the self kind of understanding.
― Bill Bullard
Read on to find out the 5 Ways to Conquer your Ego’s Fear and Need for Control.