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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Essay 3. The Ego

Sigmund Freud identified the "id, ego, and superego" as the operating systems of the mind. For practical purposes, we will focus on the ego. The ego, as you will see, is the biggest shadow in Plato's cave. Unmasking the ego, recognizing that false sense of self that we all acquire is absolutely key to emotional freedom.

The ego as described here is simply a false sense of self. You acquire and build your ego as you acquire and agree to your beliefs. We accept the existence of the ego as we have acquired beliefs that contributed to the construction of that ego.

We accept one premise. Opinions, and thus beliefs, are often wrong.

Because we accept that beliefs are simply opinions, both good and bad, we recognize that beliefs are the building blocks of the ego. Thus your ego is a combination of opinions and beliefs, true and untrue, good, bad, and indifferent.

We also accept that the ego is the root cause of all that is bad on this planet as humans interact. Individually or collectively, the ego is the root cause of the insanity of the planet and our inability to treat others humanely. Once you achieve awareness of your ego, you may be humbled by how foolish you have been. It's ok. You will also begin to notice just how insane this planet, specifically, humanity has become.

As you were accepting beliefs, an ego began to emerge and form. The manifestations and combinations of that ego are infinite. But one thing is certain. You will acquire an ego. Whether you recognize it and mitigate it is completely up to you. If in fact you want to achieve real emotional freedom then recognition and mitigation are absolutely essential. Let's take a look at some of those unconscious souls.

The other day, I was perusing a very popular political blog site. The writers on this site are completely ego identified with the Republican party. They have a belief system that says, "we are right" and they work very hard to discredit the Democrat party. As they attack, various anonymous commenters launch counterattacks. They viciously attack one another, in a very personal way in an attempt to discredit and one up each other. Often their comments are so malicious, they are done to anger people and I suppose gain some amount of glee from that.
Their egos have complete control of them. These people are unconscious. Trying to gain control and influence others and in the process- diminishing them. Extracting whatever glee they get and in return feeling diminished as they suffer a counter attack.

I have a friend who is a very successful attorney. He is an excellent orator. He has an opinion on every subject and renders those opinions freely. He believes he is smarter than all adversaries and his ego works very hard at proving this in and out of the courtroom. Winning is everything to this man even if he damages others in the process. He is dominant and controlling, so much so that his wife of 30+years is simply a wallflower. She believes she is inferior and her ego lacks any sense of self esteem, undoubtedly as a result of the belief systems and ego she has acquired. Both individuals survive in this marriage as those two types of egos can tolerate one another. Both of them have expressed unhappiness to me. They are unconscious and unaware that their belief systems and ego have taken them hostage. They are unable to free themselves and achieve happiness.

I have a friend who was rejected by her mother as ugly. Told she was unattractive. Unconsciously she believed this to be true. Agreed to it as a child. She has spent a lifetime receiving botox treatments, breast implants, dating every man available. Trying to prove her mothers statements as incorrect. Other women hate her and view her as a threat and a narcissist. They simply don't know why she behaves the way that she does and they attack. Unfortunately, she has spent a lifetime trying to unconsciously undo an acquired belief she received from her mother and thus prove her wrong. Other women simply see shadows on a cave wall, never really knowing what created them. Each side imposing their beliefs, all of them unconscious.

The Middle East is a wonderful example of collective beliefs and egos run awry. Countries and religious factions declaring war and killing each other, trying to impose their belief systems and collective egos on others. Trying to gain control. The United States, unable to control those countries' and fearful, invades and kills soldiers and civilians alike. Israel threatens to nuke it's numerous enemies in a one up survival mode which is a collective ego and belief of their own. All of this is based on belief systems. Opinions. These people all BELIEVE they are right. Willing to impose those beliefs and kill people in the process. The collective insanity of the world. Make no mistake about it, killing people is always insane.

So we've taken a brief view of our insane and ego driven world. Whether it's bloggers, lawyers, women and men, or warring countries, insanity is all around you. We can't control any of that, so we're not even going to try. We are here to work on ourselves. Let's take a look at the shadow your ego casts on the wall, let's examine the only thing any of us can control. Ourselves.

A Writer's Anger

As we discuss the impact of belief systems we are faced with two problems. The first problem is recognizing or identifying a faulty or non working belief system. If we are fortunate enough to self diagnose a bad belief, then our second problem is how to analyze it, accept it, and put it to bed. Change it from bad to good.

What I am about to describe here is an emotion and how I acquired it. I recognized that I had an anger problem which I thought I had taken care of. I mean, my false sense of self really believed that I had conquered anger. But in actuality, I had simply bottled anger up temporarily. It was always there. This then is how I diagnosed and treated myself. I will work backwards.

In the fall of 2007, I was writing a book in New Orleans. It was a spiritual book and as I approached Chapter 6, I ran into a major roadblock. I realized that I simply could not write about my childhood. It was just too negative. I had grown up in a very bitter marriage. My parents fought and argued virtually every day of my childhood. Sometimes these arguments escalated into physical fights. By all accounts, including my parents, it was a miserable existence but because of the faulty belief systems my parents had acquired-they stayed married.

As a result of this non stop arguing and fighting I became a child hostage and witness. I was powerless to stop it. Unfortunately, my parents' anger was not confined solely to their relationship and very often they would turn their attacks my way. By the time I was 13 or 14, I simply removed myself from the household at every opportunity thus reducing my exposure to that hostility. Often, I would get a dose of that hostility anyway. By the time I was 15, I began using alcohol and drugs which helped me escape my situation. I worked one or two jobs throughout high school which also helped me avoid the situation and gave me a legitimate excuse to not be present in the household. By the time I was ready to graduate from high school, my parents finally divorced. They had a very bitter divorce filled with hate and anger. In fact, some 30 years later, I'm not sure they are emotionally over it yet.

I acquired a few belief systems as a result of that situation. As a result of my parents fighting' I came to believe that I was responsible for their hatred of each other. Often they would tell me that I was was lazy, or that I was ungrateful, or that someday they hoped I had kids every bit as bad as I was. As a result I believed fighting was acceptable as a means of resolving conflict. I believed I was in fact, responsible for their hatred of each other, and that somehow I was just a bad kid. Very often, alcohol was involved in my parents' fights. I had made an assumption and acquired a belief system that left me angry and ill equipped to resolve my own conflicts.

So it was, I got into fights and argued with people. I did not apply myself in school because I BELIEVED I was no good therefore I simply didn't try to be. After all, what was the point? I drank heavily like my parents and interestingly enough, my siblings and I all failed to have children. As I grew older, my alcohol consumption increased. My relationships were fraught with the inability to resolve conflicts without fighting. And although I tried very hard not to become angry, or to simply hide it, I was in fact, a very angry person.

This is no indictment of my parents. I love them dearly. It is also not important to place blame or wallow in self pity. It is however, extremely important that you recognize your faulty beliefs, where you acquired them, to analyze them, and that you take action to accept and resolve them. For me it was very personal. Society tends to label you if you openly discuss these things. This then is what happened to me as I tried to write Chapter 6 of that book. Obviously today, I am grateful for what happened. I would not be here writing this.

Anger is always a result of fear and your inability to control situations. I was fearful and angry as a child. I was powerless to control any situation or effect a different outcome. As I grappled with that I began to understand why my own adult life had spun out of control. Ever the creative problem solver, I took action. I sought to understand. I spoke with my parents. Not seeking apologies, but simply seeking understanding. What I learned astounded me-but of course it had to be true. My parents were the products of faulty belief systems that were instilled in them. Their fears and lack of control manifested itself into anger and fighting. I was simply an unintended victim, collateral damage. They had no idea.

As a man I understand this all now. I was able to rid myself of my anger and gain acceptance. It was never personal. If in fact we can claim to be victims as children, as adults we must take the steps to undo this. At the point we recognize and understand, we can no longer be victims. We must re-learn new beliefs and gain acceptance. Your parents failings were never personal. We must forgive our parents and ourselves. As we crawl out of Plato's cave, we realize those shadows that represented our beliefs were in fact made by something that occurred long before we were born. We begin to see that the truth is not represented in whole as those images or shadows on the wall of the cave. We are about to examine the biggest shadow on the wall of that cave, that false image that manifests itself as our belief system and ego.