Lee Atwater wrote shortly before his death from cancer: “The 1980’s were about acquiring – acquiring wealth, power, prestige. I know. I acquired more wealth, power, and prestige than most. But you can acquire all you want and still feel empty. What power wouldn’t I pay for a little more time with my family! What price wouldn’t I pay for an evening with friends! It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye with that truth, but it is truth that the country, caught up in its ruthless ambitions and moral decay, can learn on my dime. I don’t know who will lead (in the future), but they must speak to this spiritual vacuum at the heart of American society, this tumor of the soul.”
When someone says, “He has a big ego,” they mean he is inflated. Inflation means to fill up like a balloon or tire – to be puffed up! To be inflated is to see yourself as unrealistically large and unrealistically important. One is beyond the limits of one’s proper size, so one is proud, vain, pompous, and presumptuous. Deflation means letting the air out of something. It can be a great blessing to hit bottom which has been called, “the dark night of the soul.”
From 1995 to 2001, I worked for CPP, Inc. as a corporate trainer and consultant. CPP, Inc. is the exclusive publisher of the MBTI® which is also known as the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator®. The MBTI® is the largest selling personality test in the world.
I had just graduated with my Master’s Degree from Santa Clara University a few months before arriving for my first day on the job at CPP, Inc. I thought I knew a lot about the MBTI®. Over the next six years I learned a great deal about the MBTI® from psychologists, researchers, and authors who have devoted a great deal of their profession work to study personality type . It was a humbling experience for me in a good way. I had an exaggerated perception myself and life corrected me. It was a painful lesson – but a valuable one.
Emma Jung said to Elizabeth Howes, “There are egos, and egos, and egos, the problem is to find the real one.”
There is a false ego which is not based on the reality of who I am. Yet, there is a real ego. When our real, authentic ego is in its most creative role, it is spiritual in nature. This healthy ego is an accurate view of who I am. I perceive myself and the world in the right size. I can develop a real ego by making healthy choices which are sometimes difficult and painful.
The ego is who I am speaking about when I say “I.” The ego is what I know about myself, including my attitudes as well as my reactions. It is the part of myself that is aware of reality and makes choices. The ego is an extension of my creative center, what Carl Jung called, the Self. This is true for all of us, I believe.
Some egos are like a canoe on a raging sea. When someone has a weak ego, they feel overwhelmed by the challenges of their life: homework, dating, money, family, work, or children.
There are egos like a Cruise ship on a duck pond. Someone with this type of ego says and does things to look powerful or important, often in an aggressive or ruthless way. Like a large ship, they are too big and slow to maneuver efficiently and effectively with other people and situations.
Once in a while, we find an ego like a tugboat. This type of ego is small, yet nimble and very powerful. The tug boat is powerful enough to tow a Cruise ship. Robert Johnson writes that humility is to know yourself as you are – no more, no less.
The modern world has lead us into a state of consciousness that feels hopeless and barren, because we have lost our instinct. We build planes that fly into space, map genes, cure certain types of cancer, design and build amazing super computers, and reduce the spread of disease – like AIDS. Yet our success goes to our heads, and our contempt grows for what is natural and accidental. We consider the irrational to be an inconvenience and the irrelevant to be a mistake. I get frustrated when my iPhone takes too many seconds to respond to my command. We must all cope with the reality of the world which is both logical and emotional as well as rational and irrational.
As human beings, we can be in a state of self-deception where we are cut off from our psychic resources. This alienation of our ego is a state of not being aware of ourselves and others – egocentricity. When we are consciously aware of reality, our decisions reflect the people around us – those whom our choices affect. If we are objective, then we serve the world with our choices and not merely what we perceive as our narrow self-interest. The more egocentric we are, the greater we lie to ourselves. Fritz Kunkel writes: “Egocentricity without self-deception is not possible.”
Gerhard Adler said, “The ego has to be born and the ego has to be reborn.” The real ego is reborn continually when we act with wisdom. Sometimes, we act under very difficult circumstances with people criticizing us, and it can feel painful – sometimes extremely painful. These are the choices that shape who we are. These are the choices that, in time, cultivate joy within us. Please watch this video, where Dr. Tim Locke discusses, “We Psychology” and the reality of inflation and deflation.