“I am so confused! My wife tells me, that I’ve got an ego bigger than Dallas, like. Then today she told me my ego strength is below ground zero … and the two needed to flip-flop! WTH?!”
I had to laugh, because the way people throw around the word “ego” in pop psychology is indeed confusing! All of us struggle at moments to walk that line between confidence and arrogance.
We all know what arrogance (inflated ego) looks like and sounds like. But being in a state of confidence (strong ego strength) is the side of that fine line we all want to know and walk in.
My goal through these blogs is show you the ‘balance’ that Champions use tonavigate that line! As someone has said, “Life is really a struggle for just ONE thing-balance!”
I asked, “Would you mind sharing with me the reason behind her comment? What was occurring at the moment?”
“Oh, we were in one of our moments when she was probably trying to share something in the right way, and she said I was acting like a child with all my explaining/justifying…but she blurted out that comment when I’d said to her, ‘Well…you do the same thing!’”
I nodded and chuckled because those kinds of conversations happen in my office often.
Ego strength (or lack thereof) is an active (all be it a bit of paradox at times) part of our life. They’re our “I-can’s” and without them, the blessings we take for granted (many if not all created by ego strength) wouldn’t exist. Why? They all started with enough ego strength to pull and a move by us. It says, “I can do this! I need to do this!”
“So, I’m pretty sure I’m here so you can deflate my ego and pump my healthy ego strength up. So how do you measure this stuff? Am I going to have to give blood or pee in a cup?”
After sharing a good laugh and assuring him that there would be no needles or cups, we began. However, I did not say it would be painless, because I knew if her evaluations were correct, he might have to examine some tough things.
“Let’s start with what ego strength is. And what I believe she means when she says your ego is bigger than Dallas.”
So, I shared, “Ego strength is a ‘psychobabble’ phrase we use to describe a person’s ability to withstand any psychological stress, emotional tension, or other uncomfortable issues or moments. All without regressing to earlier developmental stages (or less mature) … all while maintaining emotional balance, healthy communications styles, and wholesome decision making.”
I continued by explaining to him that usually when people use the word “ego” in a statement like his wife’s comment (“your ego is bigger than Dallas”) they’re referring to a sense of inflated self-value.
However, often when someone describes a sense of inflated value, it means that one is projecting a sense of some level of grandiosity, in order to cover deep insecurities and fears.
He threw his hands up to his heart and said, “Ouch! That hurt! And so now you’re going to deflate me? Surely there’s a needle involved.”
Delighted by his humor I smiled then responded, “Usually, if one develops a healthy ego strength, any inflation of ego normalizes.”
He seemed relieved.
“Ego is to the true self what a flashlight is to a spotlight.”
Dr. John Bradshaw
Due to trauma, past hurtful events, or even developmental delay due to early experiences, our ego fails to develop properly. Then, when confronted with difficult moments, we will regress to earlier levels of functioning, often very childlike ones. Then it’s pity party time. And the guest list consists of you/me/us/we… “Party of one!”
(Note…my dear AA friend shared this very powerful insight from, AA Daily Reflections, regarding what happens to those who suffer from the need in early childhood, to create what Dr. John Bradshaw calls ‘the dark ego’ or a false/inflated self. And in order to cope many wallow in self-pity and develop an addiction to alcohol (or some other substance or process) just to survive the self-absorbing ego noise in their head…AsBill W. founder of AA shared in Daily Reflections…
“Self-pity is one of the most unhappy and all-consuming defects that we know. It is a wall to all spiritual progress and can cut off all effective communication with our fellows/friends because of its inordinate demands, for attention, control, and sympathy. It is a maudlin form of martyrdom, which we or anyone can ill afford.”)
This is such a critical topic and so important to Champions that I want to spend several weeks on the topic. This week I’ll focus on what is ‘ego strength’. And why it’s so important to Champions…What does is look like when it’s healthy…What does it look like if it is not?
(And next week I’ll continue with HOW to build healthy ego strength…so here we go!) …
1. What’s ‘ego strength’ and why’s it soooo important to Champions?
As I began this conversation with my client, he asked with childlike curiosity, “But what if I’m not a Champion?”
I smiled with respect for the “wonder” of a child I heard in the question and responded.
“Don’t worry! You’ll be a Champion before we’re finished because that’s what I do…I resurrect Champions!”
You would have thought I had given him a trophy!
Dr. Athena Staik, a great neuropsychologist, says this about ego strength:
“Ego strength refers to a cultivated resiliency or strength of our core sense of self, the extent to which we learn to face and grow from challenging events or persons in our lives in ways that strengthen our relationships with our self and others and enrich our lives with meaning.”
My client responded: “Fancy that! A psychologist who speaks in clear language that even I can understand! So, since I’m not a Champion yet, why is it important for me?”
I shared with him that Champions know many things about the benefits of a healthy ego strength… so I continued: “Specifically in your context, it’s what your wife is really saying to you when she says that you react in childlike ways, yet you present yourself with a ‘big ego’. So, for you, it could be a marriage saver!”
True Champions know how important ego strength (when healthy) is to their relationships. Particularly to their marriages. Research conducted at North Dakota State University found these benefits when partners had ego strength:
- Higher marriage satisfaction
- Deeper commitment
- More devoted to creating ongoing romance
- Ability to share and hear deep emotions
- More likely to take immediate action when relationship challenges arise
- More likely to resolve relationship issues and challenges
- Less likely to practice defensiveness and denial
After hearing the list, my client blurted out, “Oh my gosh…I think my wife would be the happiest woman in the world if I could do that stuff!”
I nodded and said, “As would every wife in the world…husbands too!”
I explained to him that quality of life becomes significantly greater with healthy ego strength.
For example, those with a healthy ego strength know what they believe and are able to speak out in a non-offensive manner when what they believe is being challenged.
Ego strength provides all of us the wisdom to ‘choose our battles’. Champions who live by it, don’t get involved in every little quibble. Instead, they focus on their priorities, their values, their beliefs…and use their energies wisely to focus on those things.
Ego strength also gives us the capacity to remain steady and calm when someone or an event rolls-in, trying to high jack us emotionally.
Ego strength gives us the ability to remain calm in highly stressful situations, and to respond carefully, rather than react or overreact.
Perhaps one of the most important benefits to healthy ego strength is that it allows us the ability and freedom to balance fun and responsibility, focus and spontaneity, dreaming and putting action to those dreams.
“I think I could use a dose of ALL of that,” My client said wistfully.
“We all could,” I confirmed!
What about you?
How could a healthy ego strength enrich your relationships?
Give you a real sense of balance?
Create greater influence?
2. What does it look like and how do Champions know if they need to grow their ego strength?
Champions (though they may not know the ‘psychobabble term’ for it) are so very aware that they always need to be growing their ego strength and… protecting it. When they note things that indicate their ego strength could be slipping, they immediately address that.
(More on how to do that next week)
“Do you think I have a low or unhealthy ego strength,” My client asked?
I told him that I did not have enough history or testing data yet to truly determine that and shared, “But…if I were to take your wife’s comments at face value, I’d say that you’d likely do well to bolster your ego strength.”
He stared out my office window and asked, “So…I guess that means I do have really bad ego strength?”
As he turned and looked me in the eye I said, “Let’s look at the characteristics of low ego strength and I’ll let you self-assess then you can tell me! Deal?”
I handed him a clipboard with paper and a pen and asked that he check any of those that fit him.
Here are some of the things that are characteristic of ‘low’ ego strength:
- Interruptive in conversations
- Underestimations of one’s capabilities
- Less likely to take action to change anything in the face of conflict
- More likely to regress to childish modes in the face of issues or challenges (ex: “Well, you do the same things!”)
- Less motivated
- More negativity
- Live from wishful thinking, accompanied by little action
- Heightened need to be ‘right’
- Low self confidence
- Bent toward addictions
- Dominate conversations
- Poor listeners
- Unable to turn desires into a strategic plan
- Lack resiliency
- Mood swings
“So how many of those do I need to check off to indicate that my ego strength sucks,” My client wondered out loud, almost afraid to ask?
I responded with kindness and empathy.
“Most therapists who use similar lists of 20 characteristics believe that 3 or more checked items indicate low ego strength. I like to see 5 or more checked.”
“So, if I had like 12 or 15 that would be really bad?” He asked as his face went white.
“I wouldn’t call it ‘really bad’. But I would call it a great opportunity to grow your ego strength so you could find more fulfillment and meaning in life.”
What about you? If you could honestly check off 5 or more of those, don’t feel badly at all! Be grateful that you have a great opportunity to grow in a way that will make your life richer and your relationships sweeter!
3. What are the characteristics Champions use to indicate how healthy their ego strength is?
“Well, I guess I need to hear about these to encourage myself since I obviously have a lot of work to do,” My client mumbled.
I reminded him: “This is a great opportunity and I think when you hear these characteristics that indicate a healthy ego strength, you’ll be eager to jump on the train,” I responded.
Truly, I marvel each time I read the list to clients, workshop participants, or Life Coaches in training…what awesome things are available to us, when we have a healthy ego strength.
Here are some of the things that research and studying Champions for years tell us about those with healthy ego strength:
- Ongoing investment in personal development and growth
- Passion about making a difference
- Confidence in dealing with issues and challenges
- High emotional intelligence
- Emotional mastery
- Highly satisfying marriages
- Exude balance in every area of life
- Comfort in “thinking outside the box”
- Commitment to “giving back” or “making a difference”
- More likely to be financially secure
- Highly adaptable
- Positive in attitude and outlook
- Happiness and personal satisfaction
- Healthy communication styles
- Strong long-term friendships and professional relationships
- Highly respected
- Ownership of mistakes or poor decisions
- Celebration of the success of others
- Open minded, open hearted
- Desire to serve
- Recognized as a leader
“Yep! You’re right! Although I’d like to say my wife wants all that stuff from me…the truth is that I want it for myself too,” my client mused.
“The truth is…we all do,” I commented.
“So, if I do this, will I be a Champion,” He asked with his childlike grin?
“No matter why people show up in my office or on my Zoom screen, I’m always hoping to resurrect their Champion!”
Do you see most of these characteristics in yourself? If you see MOST of them…let’s…go for ALL of them!
If you don’t see them…let the fun begin! Let’s roll up our sleeves and get the work done so you can place a check by all those great qualities and characteristics of a strong and healthy ego strength.
I began building my ego strength as a graduate student, thanks to the amazing influence of Dr. Pat Love, my graduate school advisor, lifelong Mentor and cherished friend.
In our Group Psychotherapy class one Friday (yes, it impacted me so much I remember the day, I remember the jeans and soft button-down yellow shirt I had on!), she said we were going to look at how group psychotherapy helped us build ego strength.
She gave the example of the little blow-up toys, usually a clown, that kids had. They were usually about 2-3 feet tall and were weighted heavily at the base, so that the kids could push the clown down and it would pop right back up.
Continuing she said, “People with healthy ego strength would immediately bounce back up.”
I remember getting lost in thought. I wondered back on my past couple of years where I’d gone through some major loss and great disappointment. I was still naïve and had never considered whether my bounce-back (my resiliency) was in good condition or not.
In the moments of wondering, I realized I still had not completely bounced back. I remember vowing to myself to pay close attention to what she said and put it to practice in my life.
My ego strength began to grow.
Healing was occurring.
Confidence was growing.
My outlook on life and on my future, was different.
It took work, but the results came quickly. I made a deep commitment to ongoing awareness and growth of a healthy ego strength.
If you’ll take some time to focus on this over the next couple of weeks, and give your focus to it priority, you will notice some really great benefits and improvements in your life quickly.
No matter how deflated your ‘bounce back inner clown’ may seem. Even if it’s been slashed as mine had been.
My life has been characterized by great resiliency since. I want that same experience for you. If you will follow along, not only might you find a great Champion within, but you can take your life and the quality of your relationships to a whole new level.
The view is breath taking from here!
Let’s do this! Let’s grow your ego strength. You won’t be arrogant, you won’t feel “better than!” You will simply have enough wind in your sails to fly like an eagle, and influence others to do the same!