Walked: 23.2 Km (217.7 total)


Essay: Large and Small Egos

The concept of ego has made a sudden splash into contemporary culture, and with it came a great misunderstanding. The popular conception is that someone with a large ego is tyrannical, opinionated, difficult to negotiate with. We don’t usually speak about people with small egos, but by the dualist nature of scale, we’d picture someone timid and insecure.

We think the healthy state of the ego is somewhere in the middle, someone who is assertive but still listens to the opinions of others, someone who is both able to lead and to follow depending on circumstance.

This conception of the ego is shallow. It would be better to replace these terms with their psychological equivalents: the person with a large ego has narcissistic personality disorder, the person with a small ego has avoidant personality disorder, and the medium ego is simply a sane human being.

But the concept of ego is useful when used accurately. Yes, there are big and small egos, but the true meaning isn’t even close to popular parlance. The ego has many more attributes other than scale. An ego can be flexible or rigid, broad or narrow, brittle or sturdy, and surely many others that escape me at this moment, but for the time being, let’s deal with large and small egos.

We are born without egos. Ask a four year old “Who are you? Tell me your story”. He will respond with his name, and if you’re lucky you might get a bedtime story. Now, repeat the exercise with a lucid 70 year old. It is likely that our egos build up with experience, a good proxy for the size of the ego is the amount of content in your story.

Having a large or small ego isn’t good or bad per se. Each one of them comes with advantages and disadvantages. Say the four year old witnesses a murder, suddenly his story is largely traumatic. The 70 year old, with his large ego, is able to better contain the experience.

However, in the matter of changing your life course, it’s better to have a small ego than a large one. The large ego has a lot invested in his self-image: changing careers, getting a divorce, losing all fortune are tremendously costly to the large ego. The small ego doesn’t identify with these aspects of life, when you ask him “who are you?” he will not respond “I’m a successful entrepreneur who is married and father of three”. He will respond “I’m just a regular dude” and shrug his shoulders.

It is possible to grow old and still have a small ego, specially because ego purges are part of life. It is rare that life plays out in the archetypical form: you’re born, you study, you have a career, you get married, you have children, you grow old and you die. It is very likely that, in this arch, something unexpected will happen that will require you to shift how and what you think about yourself.

When you observe older people carefully, they seem to age in polar opposites: they either turn wise, kind and understanding; or childish, sour and cranky. It’s the people who hold on to their identity during the ego purge that turn into vinegar, while those who accept the purge become wine.

The old wise person has had his ego trimmed, and is capable of changing opinion, of feeling curiosity for what these times can offer. His or her former life is left behind, and redirects the newfound energy into a new role in life (affording this change in retirement). Despite their age, they keep blossoming.

The old cranky person wants to tell the kids just how better the world used to be in the old days. He or she retells stories of their battles and exploits, not to entertain people, but to try to retain what little they have left from their “great ego” which vanishes by the day. They wither away slowly, only rarely showing a blossom which they inevitably compare to the golden days.

Coming to terms with what has been written: ego size has nothing to do with narcissism or avoidance, these personality disorders can be viewed from the spiritual angle as fragile egos, which I hope to write about in the future. There seems to be an appropriate size for the ego according to age and experience, Traumatic life events might lead us to purge the ego in mid-life. The ego must culminate with a final contraction which allows the person to settle into the golden age with grace.