In our new series, we break down the elements of the psyche to help you understand the mechanisms that help you transform your life. In this episode, we explore the ego, the good and the bad. We discuss:
- What is the ego and how you cannot see it directly
- How the ego operates for physical and social survival
- How survival mode limits your life
- How the ego creates a tribal mentality and can create division in society
- Why the ego is a hindrance to enlightenment
Debra Maldonado 00:26
Hello, welcome to yet another episode of Soul Sessions with CreativeMind. I am Debra Maldonado, here with Dr. Rob Maldonado. We have a new series called the psychology of transformation. Many people do personal development, maybe you are interested in transformation. How do I change my life? How do I change the circumstances of my life? How can I be more peaceful and calm in my body, my mind, my soul? What is life about? We’re looking for transformation because things aren’t working in our life, certain things aren’t working. We want to make sure they align with what we really want. That’s the theme. Many times we have a misunderstanding of what it takes to transform, what it means to transform. Before we start with our topic today, which is the ego, I want to ask you to please subscribe to us, push that button in the corner if you’re watching us on YouTube. If you’re listening to us on one of the podcast services, subscribe to our channel, be sure to leave a comment and review. We love those, and love to hear your feedback and what you want to learn more about. We hope to see you in every episode. Today we’ll talk about the ego. The question we’re trying to answer is, is the ego really evil?
Robert Maldonado 02:02
Before we get going, I’d like to give a shout-out to all our new students, all our students really, because everyone is really doing incredible work. They’re being very brave in facing their shadow and doing self-inquiry work, which is challenging to say the least. I’d like to dedicate this podcast to them.
Debra Maldonado 02:31
We love our students. They’re incredible. They’re one of the best people on the planet.
Robert Maldonado 02:39
Ego is really a mystery. It’s out so incredible that we do have this ego, the sense of I. Is it really evil? We’ll let you decide.
Debra Maldonado 02:55
We’re gonna lay out the case, the pros and the cons.
Robert Maldonado 02:59
One of the main things we wanted to do with this series is give you a sense of why these things are important and what they mean for transformation, what part they play in the psychology of transformation.
Debra Maldonado 03:13
I want to say that understanding the mechanisms of the psyche normalizes our human experience. I spent many years before I met you wallowing in my wounds, my past experiences, my early childhood, trying to fix the past, because I felt like my life wasn’t working. If I only understood everyone has these challenges because we’re human beings, we could stop pathologizing things that happened to us and start looking at our life in a more empowering way. That’s the reason why we want to teach this series, to help you understand the mechanisms you’re dealing with and everyone deals with. Maybe on the outside, it looks like some people have it together. But we all have these challenges. We want to normalize that we’re all fighting the same battle, we’re all fighting the battle of the mind and the psyche to have the life we want. Let’s start with what the ego is because there’s so many different ideas of what the ego is and what we should do with it, if it’s bad or good. How would you define the ego?
Robert Maldonado 04:22
We start with function because it’s really a function we’re talking about. The ego is not a structure, there are no brain regions dedicated to creating this sense of ego. It emerges from the whole experience of perception and being in our bodies. But it’s a function that is very focused on survival. It’s an excellent tool for survival. It’s like your Swiss army knife. It’s going to help you survive.
Debra Maldonado 04:58
When we have a body, we feel separate from everyone else because our body is physically separate. There’s a mechanism there to preserve the body, to keep it alive. The ego is that sense of me. I am not you, I have my own little world that I’m dealing with, protecting myself, defending and living my life. One time you said to our early classes years ago that the ego is a function like digestion. If you have a digestive issue, it’s not like “Let me get the digestion and fix it.” It’s all these mechanisms of the physical body that you have to deal with. Is it in the stomach? Is it in the colon? Is it in the different processes of digestion, the chemicals in the body? Is it the hormones? There’s so many things that make digestion. If you think of ego, there’s so many things that make up the ego. The function of the ego is something that you can’t hold on to, or grasp, or see directly. It’s a function versus a thing you can identify, clear, get rid of, push away. As long as you have a body, you have an ego.
Robert Maldonado 06:24
It’s a function, therefore, it’s confusing to people, because they conceptualize the ego as themselves, as it’s who I am, it’s me. But that’s giving it too much credit and too much responsibility. The ego is a function that’s meant to help you survive. Let’s look at the biology first. If we consider what nature is trying to do in giving us an ego, it’s helping us survive, because imagine we’re in the jungle. You have to find food, you have to find shelter, you have to take care of yourself. The ego is very focused on problem-solving. Immediately, the ego is in its wheelhouse, survival is its specialty. It just says, “Let’s solve this problem. Let’s find some water, let’s find you some food, let’s make sure your body is comfortable, so you can sleep and survive.”
Debra Maldonado 07:36
Do you think that there’s a natural sense of instinct that comes in when we’re lost in the woods? It’s not intuition, but more like an instinctual knowing that you need water, you need food, and what you can do. It’s based on maybe generations and generations from when we were in evolution, trying to find a way to survive in the wild. We had that natural urge to live, so it pushes us to that.
Robert Maldonado 08:07
That’s precisely it. It’s our animal nature, because if you think about what animals do, they are very focused on survival, they’re good survivors. We’re good survivors as well. We start to get a sense of what the problem is with ego here, because if we’re in survival mode, identifying as the ego, we’re always on alert, we’re always thinking we have to survive. We’re hyper-alert, hyper-focused on our survival, it doesn’t work very well in society. It’s not a creative mind, because you’re in survival mode.
Debra Maldonado 08:54
If you think about it, the survival is a positive part, but everything’s duality. If you’re striving for survival, you’re pushing away pain, suffering, and death. That’s what the ego’s job is, to move toward pleasure, survival, push away pain and death, which is a good mechanism if you want to live.
Robert Maldonado 09:21
The ego moves us towards pleasure and away from pain. It’s a simple mechanism that works really well for survival. If the fire is hot, you move away. If the water is cool, you move towards it.
Debra Maldonado 09:42
Do animals have an ego? Even a one-celled amoeba has the desire to live.
Robert Maldonado 09:54
That’s right. If we’re defining the ego that way, that’s an ego. They have a sense of being, of themselves that they want to take care of. They want to survive. We can define it as a survival instinct in our mind. Is it bad? Of course not. Can it be bad? Yes, when we over-identify with it, when we start to think that’s who I am, I need to be always in survival mode. It begins to limit us because we’re not able to use the other parts of the psyche, our intelligence, our creativity, or our soulfulness.
Debra Maldonado 10:35
It can be very destructive too. Think about someone who’s put in a corner, they’re going to do whatever it takes to survive, which means it could be hurting others, destroying, causing wars, if they’re feeling threatened. We see that with animals. If they’re pushed in a corner, it can be very destructive as well, whatever it is to survive. Not a very conscious place to be, it’s like a simple function. A lower level function of experience that we use.
Robert Maldonado 11:12
It’s lower level, but it’s very high functioning in the sense that it’s very attuned to the environment, to the immediate moment. That requires a lot of brain processing power. In human beings, what the ego does, it uses all the resources of the mind, but channels them, focuses them through the lens of the ego, lens of survival. People can be very intelligent, but that intelligence is being channeled through that funnel of the ego, which is survival. Their intelligence is all directed towards survival strategy.
Debra Maldonado 12:51
If you think about the pandemic, when that first happened, there was all this fear, the world’s gonna end, we didn’t know, people were dying in China, we were like, “What is going on?” People were off the streets, self-isolating, sheltering in place; it was crazy time. The ego kicked in in high gear, always looking for “How do I protect myself?” Even on social media, there was a lot of upset and anger because we were all in this hyper-survival mode. Do you think that’s why it got so divisive during the pandemic? People were getting a little out of control on social media.
Robert Maldonado 13:42
It is just like what stress does in the individual, it amplifies your neuroses. If you’re neurotic, it’s going to show when you’re under stress and in stressful situations. We saw society’s neuroses, there’s a lot of division, there’s a lot of finger-pointing, “it’s your fault”, or “that’s the wrong way”, conspiracy theories come out of the woodwork because it amplifies our natural mind.
Debra Maldonado 14:13
It’s the ego mind needing to survive. It can be destructive because we lose our sense of compassion and empathy for others when we’re pushed against a wall because we’re in a self-protective mode.
Robert Maldonado 14:31
We’re in survival mode. Again, there’s nothing wrong with survival mode, except that we don’t really need it. When people stay stuck in survival mode and ego mode, they’re acting as if the world is about to end, as if they’re in a warzone, as if there’s disaster right around the corner. Of course, the social media doesn’t help that. Social media uses that knowledge because they have psychologists on their boards, advising them.
Debra Maldonado 15:04
The algorithms are all designed for that. We were talking about this earlier, anything with fear, like an article, anything negative tends to get more clicks than something that’s positive because the mind has a negative bias, it’s always looking, it’s always on guard for the end. Social media and internet are wonderful, we get to connect with people all over the world, but we only see a snapshot of what’s out there. It’s feeding our worst fears in a way.
Robert Maldonado 15:45
It’s feeding our egos. The ego operates in natural mode, survival. If you understand that principle, you can design algorithms that feed the ego, that hook it into “I need to stay alert, I need to stay in touch. Therefore, I need to be watching CNN or Fox News continuously, so I know how to survive.” You’re in survival mode. This other function of the ego starts to give us a sense of I. It’s a bit higher functioning. Besides the survival element, it is still ego function. When we start to get this sense of myself, I hear a little voice in my head. It’s continuously monitoring the environment for me, telling me if I’m safe.
Debra Maldonado 16:55
If people think I’m smart or accept me. The function of the ego is to scan the room and conversations to feel if I’m accepted or not, if I’m going to lose something, like an armed guard. When we did live events back in the day before the pandemic, we’d get all these positive feedback after the event. There’d be one person who’d say something negative, or say something like “This would be better”, and I’d obsess over that one person versus all the positive, because that’s the way the mind works. It’s always looking. We end up in relationships focusing on the negative, focusing on what’s not working, focusing on why we’re not accepted, or taking one little piece and magnifying it. That’s a function of the ego. It’s making sure that nothing gets ignored. It’s making sure I don’t miss a piece because I may be abandoned and left alone, which ends up making us not want to be alone in the woods, without a family or a tribe.
Robert Maldonado 18:22
Survival is the primary function. Secondary function is social adaptation you’re describing. Is there anything wrong with this? Of course not, we want to adapt to our social environment. It is for human beings like our jungle. We no longer live in the jungle or are surrounded by animals. Now we live in society, surrounded by other human beings who have very powerful egos as well.
Debra Maldonado 18:54
Food, water, and shelter is now people liking us, people admiring us, people accepting us, people being friendly to us, feeling safe emotionally with people, that’s all our jungle. It’s a good way to think about it.
Robert Maldonado 19:15
The social electronic component, computers and the internet, is an extension of our nervous system. We’re creating these virtual realities for ourselves. But it’s the same mechanism. It’s our ego, trying to adapt to social circumstances through these amplifications that the Internet gives us.
Debra Maldonado 19:43
The ego makes a bigger deal out of it, it magnifies all the issues, it doesn’t look at things as they are, it makes everything bigger. That’s the function of the survival piece and the social adaption, it has to make it a big deal.
Robert Maldonado 20:03
It feels big because we’re the center of it. The I, of course, is the one experiencing all these things. Therefore, when you focus on that I and operate from that sense of I, you’re the center of the action, everything is in relationship to you. It feels huge to us, it feels like everyone is looking at us, everything is happening from my point of view.
Debra Maldonado 20:30
We talk with our clients about this all the time, every woman, even some men, but mostly women were raised to be nice. We tend to have a harder time with boundaries. That feeling of saying no and then feeling that someone’s not happy with us because we said no, because we drew a boundary. It’s so uncomfortable, it feels like you’re going to die. That person is upset with me. It’s the ego kicking in, it’s not some kind of dysfunction. It’s actually your ego, just in hyper-alert, going, “We got to make everyone like us because we’re gonna die if everyone leaves us.” It magnifies it. If you have a pattern in the past history of being abandoned, it’s even bigger. But all of us have that feeling, we want people to like us. “I left a message for my friend Mary, she hasn’t called me back yet. I think she’s mad.” The ego starts spinning and going back in the past, trying to connect the dots why she could be mad, you’re obsessing about it. Then she calls you and says she was busy. All that work the ego does for survival. It becomes a very noisy and distracting life.
Robert Maldonado 21:57
It’s more social survival or social adaptation. Its function is designed to help us fit in. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. If you think of us evolving in small groups, hunters, gatherers, moving through savannas and jungles, it was important to fit into the tribe, people liked you and took care of you, and you took care of them. If you didn’t have that quality, people rejected you. You were obnoxious for some reason, they’d leave you behind and you’d not survive on your own. That function is deeply ingrained in us. That’s why you see these kids growing up with the internet, with social media, it is so important for them to fit in, to be accepted. They feel like “It is the end of my world if people reject me.”
Debra Maldonado 22:58
Or if I post something, and no one likes it. I was so insecure in high school, I’m so glad they didn’t have social media back then. I don’t know how I’d survive it. The kids today have such a challenge.
Robert Maldonado 23:13
It’s important to understand what the functions of ego are, so that we can see it in the right perspective.
Debra Maldonado 23:24
Once I was obsessing about someone not liking me because I said no to them. I want everyone to like me, it’s normal. I felt really bad. You were like, “That’s just ego.” If you can separate that little I and the big I, that’s really the key, to see that it’s a function, I am not bad because my mind says I’m this terrible person that wasn’t over giving, I should have done differently. It’s a function, not me, that’s having this experience. We can step back and see that, but it really can make us miserable. But it’s doing a good job because we have to survive. So how do we work with it? How do we understand it versus get rid of it completely? How do we make make friends with it in a way and not believe that that’s us?
Robert Maldonado 24:29
Here’s a little saying you can use to remind yourself of this. The ego is a terrible master, but a great servant. You do not want to live and let the ego drive your mind. Because it will if you let the ego drive your mind. It says “More power to me, give it to me. I’ll keep you safe. I’ll make sure people like you.”
Debra Maldonado 24:58
“Don’t any take any risks. Let’s just do what we’ve always done, stay in our same job, stay in everything the same way. Don’t go meet new people, just keep the same friends, they’re fine.”
Robert Maldonado 25:11
It prevents us from taking risks from, being creative. Because creativity is always a risk. If you’re creating something, there’s a risk that you might fail, that people will laugh at it, that no one will like it, on and on. The ego is averse to those things. The ego says “Let’s play it safe. Let’s do what we know works, and repeat that.” People will stay in their cubicles for 50 years.
Debra Maldonado 25:43
I didn’t stay 50, but I stayed for a long time, I was so afraid to leave. Or people stay in a marriage that doesn’t work because they think it’s death. Like they say, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know. Even meeting new people and having new experiences, starting a business, putting yourself out there, like if you’re starting a coaching business, all that’s terrifying to the ego. Because the ego says, “I have no idea how people are going to respond. I’d rather not go at all.” It’s like back in the day when we were tribal. Going to a new tribe, we had no idea if they were going to be friendly or terrorize us, so we would be very careful, maybe we should just stay away from them, I don’t know if we should trade with them. It was very scary for the ego to invite people in to the tribe. Think how it limits us now. No creativity, not taking risks, being defensive in relationships and guarded, you never get to have true intimacy romantically.
Robert Maldonado 27:02
Even the tribalism, we see it blown up all around the world because of social media, because these algorithms are feeding and amplifying this ego mind. Again, there’s nothing wrong with it, except that it’s creating a lot of misunderstanding amongst people. People typically don’t understand that it’s their ego they’re experiencing, they think it’s just the way it is, I am simply reacting to reality. But it’s not an absolute reality, because each one of us has our own I perspective, we’re seeing things from our own limited self-perception.
Debra Maldonado 27:53
Isn’t that why people are only drawn to the news or stories that align with their belief system? That’s the ego, it’s uncomfortable for someone to see another side of the story.
Robert Maldonado 28:09
Who benefits? The politicians do, the social media companies, on and on. Buyers, beware, understand what is going on, so that you can free yourself from it. You can enjoy it. We enjoy the social media and all this technology. But because we understand the function of the ego and the persona, which we’ll talk about on our next episode, we’re not caught up by it. It serves us, it serves our purposes. Be careful. Always ask yourself, “Am I being played by the social pressure, by my peers, by my family, my groups?” Again, there’s nothing wrong with these elements, if they are working for you, if you are in control of your own mind.
Debra Maldonado 29:10
What you’re saying is that until you make the unconscious conscious, we’re unconsciously being driven by the ego. We think we’re making rational logical choices but there’s this deep unconscious force the ego’s operating on, it has all our past, generational, and cultural experience, absorbing all that, using all that data to react. We think we’re meant to do that, or that it makes a lot of sense. We react, our ego justifies the response we have. What we want to do is to be conscious. What we teach in our training is that what triggers us also shows us why that triggers us. Why don’t we examine that a little more than just saying, “That triggers us, that’s wrong. I just hate that and push it away.” Let’s be more curious about why I am triggered by this or that opinion or thing. Then you’re really seeing how your ego is just wrapped around you being right and the other people being wrong. That need to be right is such a big part of ego, too. I need to be right, I can’t be wrong. We’re conditioned from early life that we have to be right, we have to get the right answers on the test. We can’t be wrong, we can’t be losing, we can’t fail, all that pressure that the ego is creating for us. The last piece is how it hinders our enlightenment.
Robert Maldonado 30:44
This comes from Eastern philosophy. We look at what the wisdom traditions have said about the ego, and they were aware of this 5000 years ago. It’s been around for a while. What they say is that there’s nothing wrong with the ego. They’re saying it’s a natural function of the mind. But if you think about how your ego functions, it’s essentially ignorant. It’s a hindrance, it’s a clash, the clashes are hindrances to enlightenment. The main hindrance of the ego is that it’s ignorant. Not in the sense that it doesn’t know. It knows a lot about the world, about survival and how to fit in. But it doesn’t know about its true nature because it’s focused on the external, its function is always to help us deal with the environment. Therefore, it is ignorant of its own nature. What is the ego? What is its nature? What is the nature of the mind? That’s the primary thing, ignorance of the true self.
Debra Maldonado 32:01
We have blinders on, we can’t see our true self, we’re facing outward, the ego faces externally, it does not ever want to look inside, it’s looking at the world in that projection. True enlightenment is taking the blinders off and seeing the wholeness of us. There’s more to us than just this survival mechanism, there’s this vast part of us. They say in Eastern philosophy we’re like an ocean of consciousness. Each one is a wave, and the ego is just a little bubble of foam on the top of the wave, we operate up there. But we don’t realize that we’re the ocean, that we’re connected to this other part. The ego forgot itself in a way, it makes us forget who we are, then we have to remember. When we think about transformation, that’s really what we’re doing. We’re not fixing the past and healing it. This is a natural function, the ego needs to survive. We make these survival strategies, but they don’t fit anymore to where we’re going. It doesn’t mean we’re broken, it just means that we’re on to the next stage of our evolution. If we can shift, how we’re wording, how we’re framing our own transformation, instead of “I need to be healed” to “I need to evolve”, that is really true transformation.
Robert Maldonado 33:28
A lot of these disciplines that evolved out of the wisdom traditions are focused on transcending the ego. That’s their primary function, they help us transcend the ego, not to destroy it, not to get rid of it, but to see it in its right perspective instead of just operating at the survival mode and the social level of fitting in. These practices allow us to tap into the deeper functions of the psyche, imagination, spirituality, transcendence, connectivity, how we’re related to nature, to the cosmos. Those ideas aren’t accessible at survival mode. In survival mode, all we’re interested in is safety, staying safe.
Debra Maldonado 34:34
And moving away from pain, the ego has that negative bias. What we end up seeing in out there is “Heal your wounds”, all the time focused on the negative, focus on the brokenness, not on where we’re going because those things get clicks, those things get awareness, just like the negative news or the controversies. The drama of your past will get a lot more clicks than the potential and the aspiration for your future because most people are in that ego mode, in that mind. It’s not their fault, it’s not anyone’s fault. It’s just by default, the marketing algorithms make us see what’s wrong with our life, what’s broken in our life. We click on it because we want to fix what’s broken versus have a mindset of possibility, a mindset of “let me understand what the mechanism is here”. We’re in that lower “I’m in the jungle, I need to find food and water.” That’s really the level for a lot of people. When I first started, I thought I needed to fix my past, I’m wounded, I have father issues, let me work on that. I got all caught up in it. It’s like survival mode of my own personal growth. It felt averse to what I was hearing about pure potential, but I’m wounded and it is conflicted.
Robert Maldonado 36:00
We invite you to ask this question of yourself “Am I in ego mode?” Certainly, if you’re anxious, if you’re hyper alert, if you’re not comfortable, you’re in your body and in society, all those are signs that you’re in ego mode. Again, there’s nothing wrong with it, we don’t want you to think that you’re doing something wrong or there’s something wrong with your mind. It’s totally natural. But you want to become aware so that you could start to transcend it, you can get on that path of transcendence.
Debra Maldonado 36:40
Why do we train people in this model? Why is the ego so important as part of our training and our work?
Robert Maldonado 36:48
If we don’t understand how the mind works, we can’t work with it. A mechanic needs to understand how an engine works, a doctor needs to understand how the body works, etc. We need to understand how our minds work if we want to change, if we want to transform our minds.
Debra Maldonado 37:11
But the ego itself is so critical because it’s very tricky. It will use any type of spirit, a lot of people talk about spiritual bypassing. It will use your spiritual words to make it seem like you’re on the right path, focusing on the wounds to make you feel like you’re doing something spiritual, because that’s how the ego is thinking. Again, it’s not your fault. When it’s left on autopilot, you’ll naturally fall into that groove. Then we think that’s just the way it is. That’s why we stay stuck for so long, because we are trying to change our life, from the level of ego. You can’t change your life on the level of ego, you have to transcend the ego to change your life. We need to understand the ego, so then we know how to transcend it. If we don’t even understand what the ego is, we’re caught up in it. The most important lesson I’ve learned through all my years is to recognize when my ego is interfering in my decision-making, in my life and my emotions. It’s instant shift, but it takes time to really catch it because it’s not solid, you can’t pick it up and move it. It’s a function, it sneaks up on you. The more you work with it and understand it, the more power you have. We’ll talk about the persona next week. The persona is where the pedal hits the metal or the rubber hits the road. We can see the ego in action through the persona. We’ll see you next week. Don’t forget to subscribe on the channel here, push the button in the corner. If you’re listening to us on any of the podcast services, we appreciate you subscribing to our channel and listening to us every week. We’ll see you next week on Soul Sessions.