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Why Playing Small Is Just Your Ego

lissamatt0717 (2)When most of us think of the idea of the ego, we think of words like “egotistical” or “arrogant.” What most don’t understand is that the same ego that leads people to boast,  self-inflate, name drop, and preen around with self importance can manifest as just the opposite.  When you wallow in self-doubt, act like you’re not good enough to belong, self-flagellate, or otherwise diminish yourself, that’s not humility. It’s more ego.

So what do I mean by ego?  I’m not talking about the Freudian definition that breaks your psyche into the id, ego, and superego. I’m also not talking solely about the part of you that tries to make you superior to others. I’m talking about the part of you that thinks it is separate from Oneness/The Uni-verse/All That Is. This illusion of separateness may lead you to believe that you’re distinct and not connected, and because of this illusion, your ego will try to make everything and everyone either “better than” or “worse than” you.

The ego has two faces of the same coin. If your ego deems you “better than,” you’ll prance around with self importance, thinking you’re all that and nobody else quite measures up. If your ego deems you “less than,” you’ll criticize yourself, diminish yourself, and convince yourself that you’re not worthy of life’s blessings or the company of those “better than” people. Neither are who you are at the root of the part of you I call your Inner Pilot Light.

How My Ego Shows Up

I know this from personal experience. For six years now, I’ve been working on becoming aware and witnessing how my ego (I call her Victoria Rochester) shows up. I’m no longer blind to much of how she shows up, but damn if the girl doesn’t still show up often! Most of the time, I’m able to gain enough distance to realize she’s not me, she’s just a part of me, and I have a choice about whether or not I let her rule my decisions. But every now and then, I fall back into old unconscious patterns and Victoria takes the drivers seat and goes on a rampage. (It’s not pretty.)

I used to think I had to kill Victoria in order to live a peaceful, joyful life. But I now realize Victoria has served me and will continue to be a part of my psyche. If I try to deny that she exists, she only gets naughtier. So instead, I try to treat her like a beloved child who misbehaves often. I keep her in check with a firm hand but a lot of self acceptance and love. I can’t beat her into submission. I have to love her into compliance.

And you’ll have to do the same with your ego.

How Does Your Ego Operate?

See if any of these thoughts sound familiar.

  • I never fit in. I’m not like the others.
  • I’m not as good as her, but I’m way better than him.
  • I don’t deserve the things I want.
  • There’s something inherently wrong with me.
  • If you want anything done right, you have to do it yourself.
  • If I don’t force what I want, it won’t happen.
  • Damn, I just accomplished this great thing! Look how special I am!
  • I don’t feel good enough to be here, so I need to prove that I belong.
  • I’m not worthy of being with that person.

You’re Special But You’re Not Special

All of these thoughts arise from the ego because they don’t acknowledge that you’re special but you’re not special. You’re special because you have within you a Divine spark, a little piece of God, and that makes you inherently special. And you’re not special because we all have this, which means that no spark is “better than” or “worse than” another.

Think of it. If we’re all little sparks of divinity and therefore inherently special, what would make you special enough to be not worthy, not good enough, not awesome?

It makes me think of the Marianne Williamson quote:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Fear is always a function of your ego, both the fear that you are inadequate and the fear that you are powerful beyond measure. Trust me, your Inner Pilot Light knows better…

The Illusion of Celebrity “Specialness”

It’s weird to be in the public eye these days. People project all of this stuff onto you, and because you have a New York Times bestselling book or a public television special, they try to make you “better than” or “special.” It can feel very distancing, actually. Very lonely from the perspective of the ego.

But it’s all an illusion. I’m not “better than” those who come to see me when I speak. I’m not “worse than” the wise, beautiful mentors who guide my way.

The same is true for you. You are no “better than” or “worse than” any other living being, because we are all connected by a Matrix of Light that creates the web of our collective consciousness. You are just as essential- and no more essential- to that web than anyone else.

Step Into Your Inner Pilot Light

When you do the challenging work of learning how your ego operates, you benefit not only your life, but the lives of all you touch. You protect the planet from the unconscious, patterned way so many of us affect the world. Curbing your ego (with love) is how you help heal the planet in your own individual way.

If you’re not sure how your ego operates, try reading The Wisdom of the Enneagram, which categorizes nine personality types based on how your ego operates. I am a pretty classic Seven. Have any of you done Enneagram work? What type are you? How has working with the Enneagram affected you?

Committed to helping you align with your best self,

Lissa Rankin

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Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.  She is on a grass roots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.  Lissa blogs at LissaRankin.com and also created two online communities - HealHealthCareNow.com and OwningPink.com.

  • Nell Desmond

    Lissa, I zoomed through Mind over Medicine:-) Awesomeness! I’m also doing a leadership course with Tara Mohr where she has us name our ‘inner critic’, some call it the sabateur, so I loved reading about Victoria Rochester. My character is Evelyn Montgomery and she loves putting me in my place, giving me the once over(very Stepford wife-ish), and making on kinds of recommendations on how I can ‘improve’. I’ve learned that she shows up when I’m making great progress, and feels the need to put me back in the corner-so that I play it safe in ‘status-quo land’. I now dismiss her, saying, “Um, yeah, no thanks Evelyn. I’m good.” And then send her off on a nice walk in the sunshine, so that I can get down to work and create. Thanks for all the great info:-) Love reading your posts and books! Keep it up:-)

  • Lisa Bova

    I’m a 6 and I used it in my real estate office with my brokers and staff. The enneagram allowed us to know when someone was stressed how they would react. If the 8 was having a bad, we could say “oh they are just an 8 and that’s how they react, it’s not about me personally” Or the 1′s saying the glass is half empty all the time. It help diffuse situations in our office. It really works and is amazing how accurate it is. I currently use it with my coaching clients to have them learn more about what stresses them and how they react. Thank you, I have been exploring the ego recently and love the idea of giving it a name!

  • angela

    I loved this blog, thank you for sharing Lissa. My ego operates which I have been struggling with I’m not good/I’m not enough or don’t fit in & don’t deserve things I want. Whenever I find ways to own them, letting go the stories, I feel I’m butting heads with my ego keeping me separate, keeping me small & playing safe I’m tired of. I surrender asking the divine to help guide me to this solution on divine’s perfect timing :)