Limits of Our Operating Ego (Book Snippet 28)

The selves are not only psychological re-enactments of relationships with important people in our lives; our parts are archetypal[1] in nature because they represent universal human qualities expressed through our individual personality. The particular expression of these qualities is shaped by our personal experience and by the role models we learned from, but the essence of the selves is simply rooted in being human. Amongst the usual subjects of archetypal selves is the ever-present inner critic who is never satisfied, the judge who hardly has a kind word for others, the pleaser who is ever concerned with everyone’s comfort and happiness, the achiever or pusher who relentlessly pushes us to work harder, the realist who only trusts facts and numbers, the artist who knows the world through creative expression, and the rebel who objects against conformity, authority, and rules.

As we grow up, we learn that love, acceptance, and in some extreme cases, even our survival, are more easily secured by identifying with some selves than with others. For example, if you grew up in a white middle class household in Europe or North America, you might have learned that being a good student/achiever and pleasing wins you more brownie points with your parents and peer group than stepping into your inner free spirit or artist. Conversely, if you had the experience of growing up in a neighbourhood marked by gangs and violence, your survival might have relied much more on your ability to develop a strong connection with your inner rebel, or a part comfortable with being cunning or even violent. From an early age, we learn to identify with the subset of selves who received the most external validation and thus kept us safest under the given circumstances. These parts of our personality are called our dominant selves and together they form of our operating ego. Confidently, our operating ego declares, ‘This is who I am,’ as well as, ‘This is who I am not.’

Most of the time, the energies of our selves play out without much conscious involvement on our part. In effect, our selves hijack us, if and when they feel like it. As a result, we go from being pleasing to being hostile, from being easy-going to being controlling, and from being happy to angry in a split second. Each self forces the others into the background until the internal power dynamic changes and another part of us takes over. When we allow our selves to run the show without any conscious intervention, the quality of our relationships can suffer and our well-being dwindle, life begins to feel limited. Our dominant selves shape our world; from the perspective of a distrustful self, life appears filled with deceitful people, a self who puts reliability as the highest human virtue will set us up for constant disappointment, a relentless pusher self will drive us to the brink of exhaustion, and a judging self will alienate us from others by criticising them constantly.

To be stuck with our dominant selves equals being the conductor of a beautiful orchestra — but allowing only two instruments to play; the flute and the drums.

Unless we, the conductor, invite other parts to play as well, the flute and drums begin to assume they are the orchestra. Despotic as the have become, they will not think twice about pushing the conductor off the pedestal. The flute and drums are wonderful instruments, but we are quite obviously lessening the beauty of the symphony of life if we perform it without a conductor and two instruments only!

[1] I am using the term archetype as defined by dictionary.com: ‘the original pattern or model from which all things of the same kind are copied or on which they are based; a model or first form; prototype.’ vs. the more common understanding of archetypal energies such as king, sage, lover, alchemist, etc.


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