The ultimate aim of the ego, I think, is not to see something, but to be something. The ego fails me when I become obsessed with someone who does not love me, and cannot see those who do love me.
Like many wounded, troubled, abused or marginalized children, I always believed it was my fault when I was uncomfortable around people, or when someone didn’t like me, or when someone took offense at me, or ignored me, or went away.
I was broken in some ways, saved in other ways, but I have never, in my mind, been whole, and am running out of time.
Later in life, when I sought help for my fractured mind, I learned a different lesson. When people make me uncomfortable, I understand that it is not necessarily my fault. That it is not about me, the bane of ego.
In fact, the older I get, the more I see that very little of life is about me, I am definitely a bump on the road.
When people hurt me, or diminish me, I do not run to them for mercy or relief. I get away, I run away. If I do not love myself, no one will ever love me. And if I turn to those who hurt me, I will just be hurt and hurt and hurt.
Relationships ought to be affirming, encouraging, nourishing. If they don’t feel good, they are not good.
Rainer Maria Rilke suggested that we make our egos porous. Will is of little importance, he said, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. “Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything,” he wrote.
This was good advice, I thought. Our lives are not defined by the people who like us or don’t or who abandon us or stay by our side.
No relationship – no life – is perfect or without troubles, but troubled children have what Anna Freud called “fractured egos,” they did not receive the encouragement or support or safety or affirmation that goes into the building of a strong ego. A healthy ego is not something one can just go out and buy, or some doctor can implant in our brains. We have to put it together, one piece at a time, for all of our lives. This is work that never ends.
But this is not hopeless work, at least not for me.
Egos can be structured, shored up, repaired and strengthened. They can be rebuilt, at least partly.
That is, in fact, the work of the therapist, the point of therapy, to repair the damage that keeps a person from doing what they wish to do, of being the person they were meant to be. A good therapist specializes in ego reconstruction and repair. I don’t know this, but I think the odds are long. Most people do not or cannot do the hard grinding work of change.
I have always had a strong ego about my work, and my writing. My mother gave me that, while gnawing on the rest of me. I have never had a strong ego about self. I have been working steadily to construct an ego. Sons who are estranged from their fathers or mothers have to define strength and value for themselves, they are never taught or shown it and it and have way of emulating it. In a sense, we are refugees for life.
My work often centers around the force that is called intuition. The magic that attracts the right people and the right opportunities and the right passions into one’s life. Intuition is the inner spirit that gives us hope or optimism every day of our lives. Intuition, I think, is the foundation of ego.
Intuition is knowledge obtained from an ability to know or understand something based on your feelings rather than facts. Every great writer or artist was intuitive, every leader, politician, actor or great political leader. Lincoln often said intuition was his faith and his sword, he could never trust the facts presented to him.
Intuition is the will and the drive to seek more and more out of life than money and argument or power. In my case, the search for a healthy ego has led me to authenticity. I am learning to be honest with myself and I am honest with others. This does not always make everyone else happy, and it is harder than lying, because I can no longer tell people what they would like to hear, but what I believe.
It’s a different world.
But it makes me happy. My ego is a bit like Frankenstein, patched up, I think, with bolts and bones sticking out all over the place. Sometimes people run in horror or fear. I fight fiercely for the right to speak my mind freely, to make my own successes and mistakes, and to stand in my truth, and I am willing to suffer and sacrifice for that freedom.
It is everything to me, it is my way back.