The Ego’s Role in Trauma Response II

What is ego? Does it need to be destroyed? | Isha Sadhguru

When I reach into myself, there is no confidence at all. Can you imagine living your life as such? Probably not, which Is why this whole measure of confidence is misleading at best, and dangerous if not acknowledged by professional counselors. There exists a vast cavern of emptiness for me and those like me when I reach inside to find help under stress. It’s just not there. It was never allowed to develop due to childhood trauma. Therefore, I’ve lived my life with ego confidence instead of self confidence, and it is this revelation I wish most to share with the world.

Here are a couple of key paragraphs from part I of this series:

The ego is a part of the self but not the self. When all needs are met, the ego and the self work together efficiently to take us through our lives. Ego is not inherently evil, although it can become very much so with the right set of circumstances. For example, where there is trauma, the ego rises in defense and seizes the opportunity to lead the damaged self. But, as the ego continues in this position, it becomes stronger in representing the self’s identity, one that is often fallacious and harmful to the self’s wellbeing.

…The character of the ego, post-trauma, is described in Eric Bernes’ Transactional Analysis in a juvenile ego state known as The Little Professor, which is why some trauma responses are often viewed as foolish and childish behaviors. The Little Professor is smart, creative, and obsessed with protecting the self. Unfortunately, however, protecting the self includes living the life that the self knows should be hers, and in order to stay in charge, the ego then works to continue the pain that keeps the self bound in what feels like complete helplessness. This is often where the patient’s damages surface in what is often addictive behavior. Quieting the voice of the ego becomes the self’s obsession, which addictions provide for a season. A nervous breakdown of some sort will occur when the patient’s ego/self runs completely off the rails, for example, through an arrest, an outburst at work, or some other form of self-destruction, including suicide.

Ego confidence is developed over years as “victories” over the weak self in all things human development and relationships. The most common weaponry here is in the ability to gather insight from others while providing little in ammunition that could be used against the ego. Those deep into their egos, for example, will rarely remember the names of people to whom they’ve just been introduced, because they are too busy at the moment of such an introduction trying to figure out how to take advantage of the moment to sell themselves or otherwise manipulate the new face. Ego confidence, therefore, is a series of behaviors and beliefs that boost the ego’s hold over the self.

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A story of this from my own life comes from the constant obsessions to be noticed for outer expressions of talent. When I was in early high school, I spent one entire summer teaching myself how to play the 5‑string banjo. I bought cheap albums and slowed them down to half speed in order to study the notes and figure out the finger work. The banjo was one of my most important ways to show off without letting anybody get close to me. I couldn’t “take” lessons, because I had to do it on my own. I got my wish and became known for playing bluegrass music in Michigan. I was on TV every week with my brothers. I’d get invited to all the parties, but nobody wanted me for me, just to entertain their guests with my banjo. This is the cruel fruit of ego confidence. His ambitions are different than mine, and so it goes.

This is why Craig Nakken in The Addictive Personality writes that suicide is actually an act of homicide in which the self finally kills the ego. Before trauma, the ego and the self work together to create a growing girl or boy with all the attributes available to well-adjusted children. We call this “sanity”. Enter trauma, and the Little Professor rises to protect the self and slowing begins the job of doing the living for the self, which is destined for total failure resulting in even the death of the patient. Confidence exists only in the form of the personality that the ego creates, so there Is zero actual self-confidence. Therefore, when in situations as an adult that require a modicum of self-confidence, the response is defensive, loud, and generally filled with rage.

And, this is what we must overcome in order to find sanity in the here and now.

This is complicated by what I view as an ego-driven wish among people to place their agency (self-determined) over human nature. In recovery, we call this “terminal uniqueness”, because people will chase their own vision for themselves rather than admit they are just like everybody else. Partly, this is due to a lack of agreement over what exactly constitutes human nature. This is directly due to the ego’s attempt to present itself as somehow different than everybody else. This allows them to sidestep similarities in nature by saying they don’t apply. This is the greatest lie in the history of humanity, for we are truly all the same as human beings. We respond to stimuli in the same ways even though we may be different in the ways we think. Like snowflakes are all snowflakes even though they’re all different. Turn up the heat, and they melt. As humans, we “melt” in a similar fashion.

I believe our only real task in life is to become more human. This is the only logical conclusion, given that we are spiritual beings on a human journey, not the other way around. Despite centuries of teachings by “holy” people, we cannot possibly ever become MORE spiritual than we already are. What we can, however, become is more human. Moreover, it makes common sense, too, because what else could God possibly want from us? To conquer each other? To destroy in order to gain? Why? As my friend Doc Searls says, “Life is a death sentence for us all.” How true, and he goes on to tell us that the only difference between us is that some have more comfortable accommodations along the way.

Can we share our comforts to make the journey easier for others? Of course, but there’s that self-centeredness we’re famous for, so we don’t. I got mine on my own, so you can get yours, too. You just need God, a little faith, and you’ll feel so much better when you do it for yourself. It is a personal, oftentimes lonely calling, for we are corrupt at core, and the truth is that we get uncomfortable, because who wants to believe this of themselves? This is why people get angry when their sense of agency is discovered to be bullshit. Today, we emphasize how different we all are, but a great many of our societal problems could be overcome if we’d only agree that human nature trumps agency every time.

When God created humans (in whichever way you choose to believe), he put us in a garden that was watered by a mist. We can safely conclude then that this is where and how we were intended to live together. Unfortunately, we chose to believe the lie of the ego that our own guilt and shame made us feel unwelcome, and so we left. Joni Mitchell was right; we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden. And, we can only do this on our own by giving up our ego-driven, self-centered lives. Only then will the devil be defeated. This must be an internal governor, for all external controls will end in bloodshed. They always do.

So, the real question is can we ever get back to the garden? Again, this is the only goal that accomplishes the original task of the Creator of the Universe. Think of it as a cosmic “let’s see if they can dig themselves out of it.” By now, you likely feel that I’ve gone off the deep end, but it needs to be taken seriously, because the future of our planet is at stake.

Are we going to continue to twirl our fingers and whistle in the dark until Jesus comes to take us home? If these same people ignore the mercy side of our witness, then all has been lost, and God has no reason to keep us around.

People, He wants US to figure it out. How can I “make” you love my neighbor, if you won’t do it on your own?

Can humans unite as one without the constant presence of self-centeredness?

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