The human ego = satan’s realm

There’s a disease epidemic sweeping America, one that the Centers for Disease Control doesn’t track, largely because no medicine exists to fight it. That’s because it’s a sickness of the soul, and the mere suggestion that we each have a soul is debated in the halls of science. Those of us who’ve received the blessings of recovery know this disease as “Terminal Uniqueness,” because it involves efforts of human beings to separate themselves from others, to stand out from the crowd, to be known, to wage whatever war seems necessary to secure our unique place within the culture.

It’s everywhere. Instagram, for example, is an excellent example of how far people will go to become influential, because that translates to advertiser dollars. Instagram influencing is a real way for certain people to craft out a living for themselves. Young people used to become suitors on The Bachelor to find love, but that has now become a vehicle for personal branding and adding millions of followers on Instagram. Social media is the place where personal brands are now birthed and grown.

You see Terminal Uniqueness in the trend towards hyphenated names, like those on the backs of football jerseys that force announcers to say both. I know a very successful businessman named Dave Smith, who gave his children unique first names, because “When I was in high school, the teachers didn’t even know I was there for the first six months”. The number of Dave Smiths in the U.S. is staggering, and my Dave — a marketing genius, by the way — found a way to help his children. One’s name, after all, is the foundation of one’s personal brand, and “the brand” is everything in marketing.

One brand that I used to follow was Edge Shaving Gel. Long ago, there was only one form of Edge. It came in a can with a green top. When the company began adding different formulas, the green can was called “Normal” Skin. Today, there’s no normal, because, after all, who wants to be considered normal? Edge Shaving Gel now offers six formulas (it used to be more): Sensitive Skin, Extra Moisturizing. Sensitive Pro Relief, Extra Protection, Soothing Aloe, and Ultra Sensitive.

There’s no such thing as normal skin anymore.

The problem with Terminal Uniqueness is that the concept of being unique is a very lonely calling, for the word itself means, essentially, one of a kind or alone in her field. It badly interferes with our ability to connect with other people, because it’s a false reality, one orchestrated by the often-self-protective shell offered by the human ego. Nobody understands this like Eckhart Tolle, author of A New Earth:

One way to think about ego is as a protective heavy shell, such as the kind some animals have, like a big beetle. This protective shell works like armor to cut you off from other people and the outside world. What I mean by shell is a sense of separation: Here’s me and there’s the rest of the universe and other people. The ego likes to emphasize the “otherness” of others.

…You don’t have thoughts; the thoughts have you—and if you want to be free, you have to understand that the voice in your head has created them and (the) irritation and upset you feel is the emotional response to that voice…The trick, of course, is to work to free ourselves from this armor and from this voice that is dictating reality.

I’ll take it one step further and say that the source of selfishness is our buddy, the ego, for only the authentic self is capable of righteous behavior. Stop here for a moment and read that again. So this business of ego is of vital importance to everybody, but it’s so misunderstood, superstitious, unmeasurable, and downright confusing that most simply gloss over the whole thing for sanity’s sake. Long after I’m gone, I hope that one day people will agree that what we’ve been doing is the real insanity in life.

At least some of my views come from 21 years of sobriety and the many lessons I’ve learned along the way. When writing the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous in the late 1930s, Bill W. identifies the ego as the source of our difficulties. From page 61:

Our actor is self-centered — ego-centric, as people like to call it nowadays. He is like the retired business man who lolls in the Florida sunshine in the winter complaining of the sad state of the nation; the minister who sighs over the sins of the twentieth century; politicians and reformers who are sure all would be Utopia if the rest of the world would only behave; the outlaw safe cracker who thinks society has wronged him; and the alcoholic who has lost all and is locked up. Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?

Selfishness-self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt.

So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so.

Let me repeat that selfishness would not exist absent the ego.

To be certain, I’m not referring to Freud’s differentiation of the three “sides” of the human psyche, the ego, the id, and the superego. I prefer, as do many, the more simple division of the personality into the ego and the self. Freud may have combined the ego and the id to represent what’s known today as the “self,” but I have doubts about the id and the ego working together for good. In fact, there are more definitions of the word “ego” than you can imagine, which is probably why I choose the most simple.

The ego and the self are in a constant struggle for supremacy in the being that is you. The ego rises in times of stress to provide a buffer against potential pain. In the process, however, the ego affirms one’s Terminal Uniqueness by keeping us occupied with the thoughts and circumstances that led to the ego formation in the first place. Let’s say that you were once a victim of a great trauma. The ego would’ve jumped up to handle the situation and provide your response, which is not always so healthy. Your ego can keep you in a state of dis-ease by the constant referral to the event as the source of distress. You grow up a victim, unable to detach yourself from the pain, because your ego keeps reminding you of your wounds. This then validates the belief that you have no choice but to play the victim forever. Most people consider the uniqueness assigned by the ego to involve pride and envy, but shame is a much more powerful motivator. Once one accepts the thinking of the ego, it is VERY hard to break away.

If you believe in the concept of original sin, the psychological underpinnings must come from what we now know to be the ego. Old Testament laws were all built around containment of the ego, and it alone is why humanity needed the redemption of the Christ. Ego is the plaything of evil, and from it spring all sorts of great mischief, including addiction. The stories of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness are attributed to “the devil,” but Jesus was alone at the time, so it’s much more likely that ideas such as turning a rock into a loaf of bread to feed his starving body came from his own hungry ego.

The original sin depicted in the Bible was also likely the doings of Adam’s and Eve’s egos rather than that of a magical serpent who “made” her do it. Questioning God — or life — is a primary function of the ego, so the idea that they could eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge very likely came from within. It’s like, “Why would God stop me? I’m His creation, after all. He can’t be serious, so let’s find out”.

This, of course, sheds a contradictory light on our vast religious beliefs, because we’d rather believe our troubles stem from others (including the devil) than to accept that they all come from within ourselves. But what if the devil IS actually the realm of the ego? An innocent child victimized by sexual abuse, for example, has no blame whatsoever in what happened, but they are fully responsible for any reactions that continue on after the event has long passed. Ego rises to protect the soul, but that must be surrendered downstream, ‘lest the patient become the being they’ve created, whether for cause or otherwise.

Ego, you see, is a two-sided coin that when flipped more often ends up tails — a set of beliefs, assumptions, and behaviors that shout “I’m a worthless piece of crap.” When we hear the word “ego,” it’s usually presented as the opposite, one who believes the sun rises and sets on themselves alone. Both sides of the coin practice the core belief that we are each unique, which is to deny the reality that we’re all really just the same. As Doctor Gagrat taught me in 1979, “People are like snowflakes, Terry, all different but all still snowflakes. If I turn up the heat, all will melt, not just some. If I stick you with an ice pick, you will bleed. If I stick your psyche with a poking device, it, too, will bleed.” We are all human beings, although we’d rather be special, whether it’s better or worse than everybody else.

Humanity will never rise fully to its capabilities until we find a way to tame that beast, which is actually a vital part of what it means to be human. And, if Jesus was indeed “fully human,” then his mission was to show us not only that it could be tamed but to leave us instructions on how it could be done. “Love God, love your neighbor” is the antidote to the self-centeredness that is located with the ego.

I’m neither a psychologist, a psychiatrist, nor a theologian, so the views presented here will largely be discounted. I accept that. The box only supports those that are boxed, and outsiders need not apply, unless they agree to join their astute critics from within. This, in my view, is the great weakness of scientific inquiry, and it’s why I will forever be judged as deviant.

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