We had an argument a few days ago, practically over nothing. The type that after a while you have gone so far down the irrational ladder that you don’t really know why you started. Yet, you can’t stop yourself. Emotions overflow, common sense and everything you know to be true goes out the window. You say things you don’t mean. Vicious, hurtful things. Things you later reflect on and know the only reason they came out of your mouth is because of something called ego.
Oh, our sweet little devil voice, the ego. The blessing and enemy of our personalities. If you have come face to face with your ego, the meeting is likely to have taken place at a moment of despair or one of great glory. When that little voice whispered “that is not good enough; you are not good enough”.
It thrives in extremes. When you are out there doing great things, it will go to great lengths to test you and make a fool out of your ambitions, your dreams; it will belittle your successes, magnify your flaws. And when you are down in the gutter, it will stand over you, a reminder of why and how you got yourself there, constantly pushing and pulling you to do more, more, more. It does not like it when you are down, but neither does it want you to be too high. A self perceived mediocre average is the comfortable place for the ego, where it can easily show you how you are better than others below you, but surely never to reach the top (with you being a fraud and all).
If you get to know your ego a little better, you will find that she herself is a little animal (well mine is, and she is female by the way), barking viciously out of fear. She growls and shows her teeth because she is shaking, paralysed with fear. From the outside, when you hear her bark, you’d think she was a Rottweiler or some other scary monster, but when you look closely, you find she is probably more like a Labrador puppy. What your ego needs is not shouting, nor hitting. It won’t stop if you lock her in the bathroom and put the music on really loud. Instead, she will scratch the door and chew on all your cosmetics. If you see your ego for what it is, a vulnerable, but faithful guardian, you’ll find that she needs to be trained.
Patience, discipline, love and routine.
Positive reinforcement. If she pees on your carpet or chews on your favourite shoes, it’s because she is a puppy. She does not know any better. Teach her. If she howls and barks at new visitors at the door, it’s because she wants to protect you. She is telling you this is new and therefore scary, be warned or it might harm you. She sometimes uses nasty ways to warn you, but she is trying to make a point. Your job is to figure out what that is.
How to manage your ego in an argument
When I noticed my little ego raising the alarm, it was about 45 minutes into the argument. The spiral was drawing us both in, but my man gave us a way out. He said: “I have to work tomorrow, can we not talk about this now? We’ve already talked for 45 minutes!” And I boiled. Not because he wasn’t right, but because somehow what he said was interpreted as a threat to me, to who I was at that moment. My mind went overdrive. I felt it. And I paused, feeling the anger, the heat, overtaking me, knowing I had a choice. I could attack, in a cleverly concealed, passive aggressive manner, defending myself by placing further blame. Taking the heat off me, and dumping it on someone else. OR – I could be the calm, collected, balanced person I inspire to be. To end the argument, recognising that yes, it is 1am, we have been pointlessly talking in circles for 45 minutes and probably we will not reach a mature conclusion any time soon.
Option 1 – letting my ego bark louder. Pushing my love away out of fear. Choosing separation, alienation, victimisation, loneliness.
Option 2 – a moment of uncertainty, when we both reach out, trusting that we is stronger that I, that holding on to each other is ultimately one trillion times better than holding on to a grudge. Both in terms of us as a couple, but also for each of us individually. Choosing space, expansion, vulnerability, honesty. Love over fear, and all that.
I really want to say I chose option 2. And momentarily I did. I took a few slow, deep breaths. Reminded myself that nothing is permanent. I questioned myself:
Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?
Well, it wasn’t. My response was a defensive attempt at cowardly retaliating the perceived attack. Delivered to a half asleep, exhausted and confused counterpart. Talk about hitting them when they are down… And for a brief moment, there was silence. My ego felt the sweet satisfaction of redemption. But it didn’t last. What came after was falling asleep angry, defeated, lost. Wanting to reach out, knowing that connection would end it all, but my ego had locked me in my kernel and it was guarding me, watching my every move. Even then, when the lights were out, in the darkness, I still could not let go. So I breathed, in and out. Knowing what I was doing. Knowing that I was held hostage, but the keys were in my pocket. I remained in my cage for another whole day. In and out of consciousness. In and out of realisation. And then somehow, I was helped out. A hand was offered to me and for some reason, I took it. I could have bitten his finger off if I wanted to. But I didn’t.
I guess the cage got lonely.
This is Part 1 of the story. Stay tuned for Part 2 and some practical snippets of wisdom on how to manage your ego in an argument, coming soon. In the meantime, tell me, have you met your Rottweiler yet? How do you deal with it?
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