It is said that the greatest battle you will ever face is not waged on a battlefield, but inside of your own mind. To be more specific: a battle between your “true self” and your “ego”. You currently think who you are is really you, but it is not. It is merely an illusion of the ego, and precisely what it would like you to believe. It is, however, not wise to battle what you believe is yourself and part of you.
Instead, by simply shining a light upon the practices of the ego that lead you to misery, you can understand the true motives for much of your discomforting thoughts and actions. By realizing that you’re doing miserable things because your ego is deceiving you (and ultimately not surveying your best interests), you can choose to know the truth about yourself and release the compulsive needs it burdens you with.
These needs of the ego arise from basic premises which it operates under, which however real they seem to your current perception of the world, are ultimately false. Understanding this alone will usher in great relief to many of the things causing your suffering.
Here are the ten compulsive needs of the ego at a glance:
- Need to connect
- Need for truth
- Need to control
- Need for identity
- Need for certainty
- Need to be right
- Need to make sense
- Need for justice
- Need for recognition
- Need to defend
These “needs” are what cause the compulsive reactions and behaviors that fuel the ego at the determinate to your happiness. You may feel “better” in the moment, but it’s just like a hit of heroin – the high is false and only lasts momentarily until you’re back for more. The ego has identified itself as you, so you may actually think these needs are what you really want. You may also feel attacked by this discussion of them, which is just a sign that you’ve equated the ego with yourself. If you realize that these false needs are never satisfied and only cause you pain, there is no way your true self would see them as true.
This is going to go pretty deep, and deep fast. Any resistance or weird feelings you feel while reading this simply means your ego is getting uncomfortable being exposed. I urge you to use this recognition as a sign of this truth, and to stay with it rather than turning away or attacking the ideas. This is not dogma, but an undoing of the unconscious dogma of your ego.
1. Need to Connect
At the core of the ego’s process, or operating system if you will, is a design based on the idea of separation. That you are separated from your higher source and your fellow man, and must operate autonomously from all that is. This foundational premis of the ego’s existence is false, and its entire survival is based on your belief that this is true. For if you knew that you were connected to everything else, and everyone else was part of you, you would see no need for the illusion any longer.
The realness of separation is the lifeline of the ego, and since you buy into it, you feel discord when you are alone. You believe that you are alone, hence the compulsion to connect with others. Now there’s nothing wrong with the desire to connect, but the pain when you feel when you’re unable to connect and be with others comes from the illusion that you are alone. This illusion comes from the ego, founded on the lie of separation. Realize there is no separation and the desire to connect will come from a place of joy and truth, rather than lack.
2. Need for Truth
The ego is an illusion, and thus a lie. A lie however, that you completely buy into. The ego knows no real truth, because it is based on a lie. Any system founded on the unreal can not know truth, however you are truth beyond the ego. This discord compels the ego to seek truth, and to know what is real and right. The misery arises when the ego can never know truth because it is based on your perception, which is relative. The problem lies in that you can never learn truth, only remember it.
3. Need to Control
The ego is out of control. Since you allow it to control you unknowingly, you become, yourself, out of control. This inability to control your own self is projected upon the outer world, compelling you to control others, your environment, and your life. Since nothing is really outside of you, your ability to control external events is met with failure, as it is impossible.
The desire for control comes as a result of the lack of trust and faith in oneself. The ego is unreliable, and so the only resolution is to let go of the idea control is possible – or even desirable.
4. Need for Identity
The ego only exists as the idea of your identity. It uses fear to keep you clinging onto an identity, else it would cease to be. When your identity feels threatened, it is actually your ego whom is threatened. Who you really are is pure, and is unassailable.
An idea that contracts your beliefs system, confronting a limiting beliefs about who you think you are, and opposing thought systems – are real threats to your ego. Since you think you are your ego, you feel as if your existence is being threatened, hence you seek to preserve your identity. This is why we’re so resistant to change and to accepting new ideas, because the foundation of who we think we are can be undermined by new ideas.
Understanding that who you are can not really be threatened and any changes in the ego’s identity are only fuzzy perceptions of the real you, is the key to letting go of this need.
5. Need for Certainty
The ego doesn’t really know anything, and what it thinks it knows is unreliable. But if you knew it had no knowledge, you wouldn’t see the need to keep it around, so it makes you real uneasy if you don’t ‘know for sure’. It can’t promise or be sure about anything itself, and compels you towards certainty without ever actually achieving it.
Just as the need for truth, what is true and absolute knowledge is unknown to the ego, and it can’t ever really satisfy its demands. This keeps you its slave, forever wanting certainty, while still showing you that nothing is 100% certain.
6. Need to be Right
Since the ego exist on false premises, it is inherently wrong at its core. This compels your need to always be right, since the ego is always wrong.
Have you ever fought in an argument and won? Got the other person to admit “You were right”? How did it feel?
Notice if you responded with how you felt to that question, rather than how they felt. Re-read it; I didn’t specify. This is the ego’s focus on itself. You may have felt superior and noble to prevail as ‘right’, but you didn’t really feel good because the other person didn’t feel good being made out to be inferior and wrong. The ego believes in separation, and must make others wrong to be right. Likewise, you must be wrong if others are right, and the ego can’t have that.
The proof that we are connected, that you and your fellow man are one, is in the obvious lack of love in the quest to be ‘right’. If both of you do not prevail and leave the situation feeling better, then it must have been the ego’s compulsion. As nothing that is true for you would not also be true for them, nor is anything that’s ‘right’ without love.
7. Need to Make Sense
The ego is inherently insane and its premises don’t make any sense. The need for things to make sense, to understand, and to figure things out is a result of the current condition of the ego’s backwards logic. The ego seeks to learn because it knows nothing, however it can never learn anything true because it’s untrue itself. Wanting to learn, improve, and understand isn’t wrong, but feeling compelled to do so else it drives you mad is a sign the ego fails to understand itself. Letting go of this need opens up a vast understanding of truth unknown to logic, such as emotion and intuition, which are a direct threat to the ego.
For if you knew yourself, nothing would be outside of your knowing, and logical sense to an insane ego is illogical – thus the need for logic itself is a condition of the ego. If something doesn’t make sense, the truth of the ego is revealed, and retaliates with discomfort projected outwards upon an idea or inwards on your inadequacy to make sense of it. An illusionary system can never make sense, for sanity cannot be found in the insane, but truth only in knowing.
8. Need for Justice
The ego is incapable of love, though it tries to present you with endless substitutes. Because it cannot love, it cannot forgive – which is the basis of compassion. All of these are the ego’s enemies, as they expose truth. When the ego is threatened or attacked, it defends itself. This threat could be direct or indirect, such as being wrong-done by another, or witnessing a wrongdoing to another.
The ego seeks justice and punishment upon the wrongdoer, rather than compassion because it has no compassion to give, as this comes from love. Because it is unable to forgive itself, it cannot forgive another, for if it could, it would be its own undoing. This is impossible because it seeks to exist, and because forgiving another would require forgiving itself, implying oneness – the antithesis of its creation. Punishing and seeking justice is therefore for its own protection, but anything that protects the ego prevents love. Love is who you are, and your ego’s thirst for vengeance and punishing is to keep you thirsty. Only compassion, forgiveness, and love can satisfy.
9. Need for Recognition
Because the ego is an illusion, its existence depends on it being perceived, thus it compels you to seek recognition, acknowledgement, and approval. Without these things, your ego has no meaning. But that meaning is your meaning of it, since it doesn’t truly mean anything because it is unreal to begin with. It makes you look for love in all the wrong places and can never be seen enough. This is why it promotes misery, as ego-based recognition is an illusion.
As a content creator, I personally face this one constantly. Worrying that I’m not getting enough “likes”, comments, or views. Wondering if writing is even worth it if I’m not getting enough recognition through these metrics. The problem is that “enough” is never enough (what’s the specific number?), and there will always be a desire to be seen if I’m creating from the ego.
10. Need to Defend
The ego is not real, so its existence is constantly threatened. Your beliefs, ideas, opinions, and thoughts are the makeup of the ego, so anything perceived as an attack on those is an attack on the ego’s existence. Since it is always susceptible to attack, to must constantly defend itself – or attack as a defensive maneuver. To defend is to protect, and to need protection implies you’re in danger. But the only thing that is in danger is the ego, not you.
Defending the ego, just like the need to be right, can not resolve with a win-win. Any true resolve in conflict results in a lowering of defenses (which are just inverted attacks) and re-opens communication. Even an idea that is presented neutrally without an attacking stance can be seen as a threat to the ego’s identity, thus you are compelled to defend yourself. This results in justifications, retaliations, and fear – all of which close you off. If your beliefs are true, then they cannot be attacked; if you feel the need to defend them, they must not be true, or you must not be true to them.
As you understand the reasonings behind these ten compulsive needs of the ego, you can see how you’ve been mislead. The ego is great at being defensive, and attacking the ego is still a use of the ego. The ego attacking itself only results in self-harm, and is why beating yourself up or feeling guilty about any of this isn’t going to help. But by becoming aware, you can begin to shift your perspective, and then your behaviors. Being able to say “Oh, this isn’t me who wants to act this way, it’s my ego” is a major step in the right direction, even if you can’t shift completely.
Have any experience working with the ego? Has this shed some light on your suffering? Let me know in the comments now!
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