“Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves - regret for the past and fear of the future.” ~ Fulton Oursle

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Preventing Ego From Destroying Love

I was going to write about the dangers of the Ego today, however I ran across this article before I began to write that hit the nail on the head. The Ego at times can be such a dangerous thing, keeping us from authentic loving relationships with those around us. It reeks havoc in the department of forgiveness and at times keeps us from being free and enlightened beings.
The article is a bit long, but worth the read when you have the time to sit and take a few moments.

Hope everyone has a great Friday- filled with positive thoughts and ideas.

Preventing Ego From Destroying Love
This article, based on an imagery exercise I created with the same title, comes from very personal experience. I have allowed my Ego to dominate more than one argument. As I've learned over the years, however, it's more fun to be loved than to always be right. Besides, on closer examination, some of my strongly held opinions turn out to be quite wrong, or at least less accurate than I once insisted they were.
Since symbols and images are often catalysts for I have used the ideas discussed here to prevent some of the blocks that my Ego places in my path.
Full of Hot Air
I will freely admit that my Ego has led me astray more times than I can count. Each time I've faced my Ego directly, however, I've been able to put it in its place, although over the years it has changed shape.
At one time, my Ego looked much like a short Rumpelstiltskin character, demanding I get my way. Another time it was a petulant schoolgirl stamping her foot, demanding I get my way. The last time I looked, it was a blustery balloon (like those in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade) that was full of hot air, but still demanded I get my way. In all these permutations, I could see that Ego wanted me to win because she/he/it was afraid of what would happen if I didn't -- I would be hurt. What my Ego failed to see was that I got hurt anyway. That's because I didn't get what I really wanted from winning - the sense of being loved and connected with others.
Now that I have a better grasp on how much my Ego is made up of hot air, I'm often able to return to disagreements that have ended unsatisfactorily and get what I really want from my friends and my spouse - love, respect, understanding, and the ability to reach amicable compromises.
Incidentally, you may notice that I capitalize the word "Ego." This is because I want to emphasis the part of the ego that interferes with relationships, claims we're more important than we really are, and is reluctant to see things from the other guy's point of view.
When You Think You're Right
Most of us would agree that the ideal conclusion to a disagreement is one in which both people feel satisfied with the resolution or, at the very least, understand and respect one another. Certainly I like to win an argument if we have exchanged strongly held points of view and thrashed out issues. Then it feels good if the other person genuinely changes his or her opinion because of my logic.
But what happens when the conflict is not resolved amicably? What if one person insists on winning and the other gives in just to keep the peace? When that happens to you, are you usually the winner or the reluctant loser? In either case, you believe the other person is wrong. After all, if you thought he or she was right, there wouldn't have been a disagreement in the first place.
Unfortunately, disagreements that end this way prevent us from getting what we want from friendship and family relationships: respect, a sense of closeness, shared pleasure and the freedom to be ourselves. With our primary partner, we also want sexual intimacy. However, if our opinions are discounted, if we discount the opinions of the other person, if we allow the other to win only because that person is demanding, or if we don't know how to express ourselves well enough to make our position understood, distance is sure to grow between us. Even if we win the skirmish, the casualty is usually high - a rift in the fabric of love and friendship.
It's the Ego, Stupid
The problem, not surprisingly, is that constantly demanding companion, Ego, although, it would have us believe that any problems are caused by the other person's ego. It encourages us to think, "I wouldn't feel so defensive and so misunderstood if he were just willing to see his blind spots, or if she were just willing to admit my point of view is valid." Our Ego doesn't encourage us to say, "Maybe we could have solved this disagreement if only I were more open to seeing my blind spots, or only if I could admit that the other person has a valid point."
The Ego is only doing its job, of course, which is to give us a sense of self and protect us from pain. It has decided that we can only feel good about ourselves if we think we are right. It has also decided that it's much less painful to see other people as defensive than it is to examine what we might have done that caused them to feel that way. It is easier to claim that someone doesn't understand us than it is to examine what we might have said that contributed to any misunderstanding. After all, we assume we have perfectly logical reasons for our opinions. We fail to understand that the other person might have equally good reasons for believing otherwise.
It may be difficult to admit we aren't as open to learning as we could be. But when we're willing to set aside the assumption that the other person is automatically wrong, we are more apt to reach a conclusion that is satisfying to both of us.
There is an even more important reason for learning from disagreements, which is knowing what causes us to get hooked in the first place and how other people get hooked by us. Once we know what sets us off, we can disconnect our "buttons," so someone won't get a reaction if they push them (intentionally or otherwise) in the future. However, since it can take a while to disconnect all our buttons, Unhooking the Velcro Syndrome can show you what to do if you get caught in old reactions.
Remember Your Last Unsatisfactory Argument?
One of the easiest ways to control your Ego the next time you get into a disagreement is to examine what happened the last time you had an argument that ended poorly. You remember, that one in which you felt misunderstood and unappreciated, even if you got your way. If the other person got his or her way and you outwardly agreed to it, did you only do so to end the argument? As you reexamine this situation, first notice what your attitude was when you realized you had different points of view. Was it your intention to learn something about the other person's viewpoint or just to prove a point of your own?
Next, take an honest look at how the disagreement ended. How did you feel toward the other person? How did that person react to you?
It may not be easy for you to be truthful. The Ego makes it hard for lots of us. But until you are willing to risk the possibility that your Ego may have led you astray, you are less likely to have the kind of relationship you really want, especially if you want greater intimacy. Even more, until you are honest, others may feel no reason to be open, either.
A Symbol of the Ego
To help you set the stage for friendly conflict resolution in the future, use your imagination to return to the conflict you are remembering. Pretend that the other person is seated at a table across from you (even if the argument happened in the middle of a store or other place without a table). In the air hangs the conclusion that feels unfinished and/or uncomfortable to you and, probably, to the other person as well. Imagine further that you excuse yourself for a moment, get up from the table and go into a room nearby and close the door.
As you sit down in the other room, you may notice that your Ego has followed. It wants to rehash the argument and give you additional ammunition to prove the other person is wrong. Possibly you can even use your imagination to see this Ego character in your mind's eye.
As silly as this suggestion may seem, it works for many of my clients because it seems to help them separate that part of them that wants to win (their Ego) from their more accommodating nature (their Love). Once they realize they can distance from their Ego, even if it means turning it into an imaginary figure, they find it easier to keep it in perspective. However, don't worry if you don't come up with an image you can see in your mind's eye. The important thing is to get a sense that your over-consuming Ego tries very hard to convince you the other person is wrong.
Putting Ego in Its Place
After you create an imaginary Ego, you will probably notice that it is still wound up from wanting to win the argument. So I suggest you get further distance from the insistent Ego by taking a very deep breath and exhaling slowly through your mouth, as though you're blowing gently on a candle flame. This can be your signal to release some of the tension Ego has created and to acknowledge your willingness to look at the situation in a more objective way. (Incidentally, if you practice this a number of times, you can use it during real arguments to stop your Ego from taking over so easily.)
Once you are more relaxed, you will discover that it's a great deal easier to control this Ego that gets you in trouble. In fact, the next step is to tell your Ego to be quiet. There are several ways to do this. Some people I have worked with stop the Ego's chatter by asking firmly and with authority. Others have to say "SHUT UP!" Still others, before getting their Ego to quiet down, first have to acknowledge their Ego for preventing them from being walked all over by another person. Whatever technique you choose, you'll have to stand firm. The Ego loves coming back and rehashing old arguments.
Having dismissed your Ego, take a moment to collect your thoughts. Objectively notice the fears and insecurities stirred up in both of you by the argument. Taking time to explore these issues when you are away from the other person will help when you return to the other room -- especially when you prevent the Ego from interfering.
A Symbol of What You Want
When I began this article, I talked about the positive qualities we would like to have in our relationships, qualities like respect, understanding, love, give-and-take, easy companionship. What symbol might represent these goals for you? For example, you may envision friendship, love and harmony as something like a sphere, whole and smooth. Perhaps it might be more traditional, like the gift of a beautiful flower. Get as clear a sense of your image as you can, for it will play an important role in helping you solve problems, not only with the person with whom you've been reviewing an argument, but with many others as well.
Returning to the Scene of the Disagreement
The next step in this practice of preventing Ego from destroying love is to imagine you return once more to the room where the other person is waiting. As you again take your seat, pretend you place on the table - right there between you - the image you have just created. In fact, you can't see the other person without also noticing this image of respect, understanding, wholeness and love. True, the symbol is "just" in your imagination, but such "made up" ideas are great substitutes for an Ego that is very willing to separate you into camps of right and wrong.
In fact, I suggest you take a moment (right now might be a good time) to experience what it would be like to really and truly hold in your mind an image of the goal you have for your relationship. You might even want to imagine you are discussing something about which you have differences of opinion.
Now, with the image on the table between you, imagine you say something like the following:
"It doesn't feel good to have our disagreement end as it did. I want to return to the topic, not to increase pressure on you so that I can win, but to explore why it was so important for me to feel I was right. I also want to understand how my opinions and the way I presented them affected you, and why you believe as you do, for you surely have good reasons for your position, just as I have good reasons for mine."
You don't need to remember these specific words when you use this technique in a real situation. You only have to convey your intention, which is to let the other person know you want to learn from your disagreement.
It is possible, of course, that the other person will refuse to discuss the topic again. But even if the other person is not open to helping you learn and your relationship does not survive, you will have discovered a great deal. Learning about yourself is never a waste of time and energy. What you learn can be used in future relationships.
By the way, this technique is not limited to close relationships. It can also be applied to coworkers, neighbors or anyone else with whom you might have disagreements. These people may not be willing to explore the issues that cause you, or them, to feel defensive or demanding. In some cases it may not be appropriate to pursue the issue further.
Remember, if you dismiss your Ego during disagreements, you will have a fair chance of avoiding an unsatisfactory ending to your argument. For example, sometimes I've imagined that I've sent my Ego out of the room, and have watched in my mind's eye as the inflated Ego balloon floats out the door. (Unfortunately, I don't remember to do this often enough.)
If you keep in mind what you want from a relationship and work on controlling your Ego, you will have a good chance of having warm, loving friendships.

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