The human mind is both complex and fascinating. It has enabled our species to achieve so much in a way that no other animal has. Yet, this same mind is also the source of psychological pain and turmoil, which no other animal seems to experience. You would be hard pressed to find a gazelle or gorilla that suffers from chronic anxiety or from feeling that it is somehow ‘not good enough’. But, these are very common human problems — complex patterns that are the product of complex minds that we may easily only pay lip service to or even deny.
The ego’s game
The human mind can sometimes feel impenetrable, but we can learn much from noticing its tendencies. In particular, our tendency to suffer because of the insecurities of the human ego. The ego is something that arises out of the human mind-body interplay, what we might call an ‘emergent phenomenon’. The ego is that voice inside your head, somewhere in between your ears that is the anxious narrator of the story of your life. That constantly craves security and validation to confirm its identity, to confirm its self-worth. To be certain that I, the individual, am good enough. That I, the individual, am really worth something and not a failure.
And, our egos desperately cling to all manner of external measures and status indicators to derive self-worth. Measures that we often work very, very hard to fulfil such that we might build entire lives around satisfying our need to feel validated and approved of. We might build careers, families, relationships and friendships around affirming our self-worth because we doubt it so much. We might even choose where we eat and where we go on holiday in service of some idea of what the ego believes it should do, in order to prove itself. Because the ego falsely believes that only ticking a series of arbitrary boxes will allow you to feel good about yourself.
But, what if this is all a lie? A fabrication of the mind that is tightly gripped by fear and insecurity? Gripped by an ego that is so obsessed with seeking validation, that it doubts the inherent value and meaning of the human experience.
Our egos can be very slippery customers. Often, even when you see the nature of the ego’s game, there is always the danger of only paying lip service to it. Of momentary recognition, followed by a return to your usual ways. Why? Because your ego feels threatened by having its game exposed. Threatened because everything that it is working so hard to uphold might actually turn out to be false. So much so that you might require a radical overhauling of the way you live and view the world. And, that feels threatening to your ego, which prefers denial. It is then the ego’s fear of undermining its own fixed image that blocks personal change and growth.
Rather than look within and notice the trickery of the mind that keeps you stuck in a place of insecurity and fear, cunningly the ego deploys strategies that keep you busy playing its validation game. Strategies that can consume your whole life in the pursuit of external validation and approval.
Why the ego arises in this way is difficult to say. Perhaps, it is some quirk of evolution? Whatever its origins, we have the ability to become aware of the ego’s tendencies and to break free of the unnecessary psychological suffering it creates. If evolution has given us an ego, it has also given us the capacity to see through its game. But, that takes vigilance and the determination to move beyond just lip service. It takes the courage to deeply acknowledge that we are all, in some shape or form, victims of the ego’s game.
And, if we dare to challenge the ego’s game, perhaps we can move beyond such suffering born of unnecessary fear and insecurity, and towards a place of mental ease and inner freedom. A place of liberation where you feel that you are enough just as you are.
Harsha is an executive and life coach based in London. He empowers people to find more clarity, confidence and focus in their lives. Find out more about Harsha’s work