Everyone has heard the expression: “me, myself and I”. Recently, I have been utilizing this saying as a way of understanding 3 different states of a person. It is turning out to be quite helpful for individual clients and couples, as well. My task as therapist is to help each client to become aware of each of these states of being, especially while interacting with others and understanding one’s own emotional and thinking responses. Now, let’s go into each one, and I will describe some tell tail signs, so each one can be recognized and distinguished one from another.
First, who or what is the ME? Me, is the part of the self that feels things, is impacted by others and the world. The ME is the vulnerable self that seeks love and connection. This is where one will find the emotional wounds from childhood. This part is child-like, has innocence, is trusting and open, while being immature and intuitive, needs protection and guidance while seeking out wonder and connection with others, nature and the world around them and wants to feel loved.
Next, MYSELF is an image that a person has of themselves whether realized or not, positive or negative. Some use the word or phrase for their image of self as “ego”, “egoic self”, or “ego-mind”. All can be used interchangeably. Primarily, it is the conditioned mind that automatically thinks and responds a certain way since the time of childhood. It is all the survival skills learned while navigating through childhood. Not all are to be considered bad and while each one is imbedded and cannot be removed, new coping skills and responses to life stresses can be developed. Example: zoning out, which is learned by a child in a chaotic or abusive family system and can be still utilized in the present. However, when it happens automatically, with no awareness, you can readily surmise the problems that it may create for the individual and the couple. On the positive side, those very annoying survival skills did save a person from dying or losing their mind altogether.
Another example is where EGO distracts a person from their feelings because in the past that would have been too difficult and awful, so now feelings are seen by EGO as a threat and something to avoid. My task as therapist is to help the client become aware of when that is happening in the session and what they can do about it. Basically, EGO will prefer safety and survival over all else and will kick the nervous system into fight, flight or freeze response whether it is actually needed or not. Couples need to be aware of themselves in this fight or flight response, in themselves and in their partner. Be advised, EGO has no ability to be empathic and see another point of view. I remind my couples and families that a tell tale sign of EGO is when ” bad goes to worst”. In the case, EGO is dominant and is taking over and will ultimately prove destructive.
Lastly, we have the “I”. The “I” is our best adult self, our full adult, developed brain, not our vulnerable child, the “me” or, the adaptive child, which is “ego” or “ego-mind”. The “I” has a much larger perspective, can consider options, empathize with others, allow different opinions without reaction, is parental, and can truly care for others as well as one’s own “inner child”. A healthy and well balanced person has all three aspects working harmoniously together. The “I” is in charge of decisions and self regulation and all relational skills and interactions. The “me” is quite alive and vivacious, protected by the “I’ and integrated nicely into all interactions. The”EGO” is there, but, more off to the side, and not out front and the individual knows that ego is not who he really is anyway. Relationships go much more smoothly and self care happens with ease and without guilt.
By defining these three states of being, I find my clients have a simple way of observing themselves and others as they become more and more aware. It helps them understand unwanted behavioral reactions with more understanding and acceptance. As their best adult self they realize they don’t need to be perfect, rather, they can be accountable and responsible to self and others. They can enjoy the present more fully, not mired in the past or fearful of the future. EGO is recognized as essential but not suited for intimacy and honesty with self or others. Strengthening the “i” and the”me” might look like the healthy self talk or healthy self parenting of statements like, “I love you, so much” or, “I care about you, you mean so much to me.” The over inflated or self critical voice is learned and can be replaced by new conscious thoughts that promote health and well being.
Finally, I want to share with you “the traits of EGO”. I find these are common and universal and of course, necessary for survival of each and every human. It seems that the healthiest approach is to be aware of and not automatically assume that EGO makes correct assessments of reality, or is the best way to look at something. After all when did a person develop an ego? Yes, it was formed in childhood and our growing up environment is a big shaper of a person, including, EGO. Here are the traits of EGO that are not, by any means, the definitive list:
- self preservation, survival skills,
- anything learned, good bad or ugly. Our default, automatic thinking and immediate assumptions that come up as reactions in almost any situation. This includes useless thinking that serve no positive purpose, but happen anyway in a persons mind, relentlessly.
- Anticipating danger which in turns activates the autonomic nervous system, or, fight or flight response whether there is truly danger or not
- skewed view of reality, narrow, no consideration of another view point, false beliefs about self, others and the world.
- only has a self perspective, no empathy or a you perspective
- inability to be accountable or responsible, or the complete opposite: taking responsibility for things that truly are someone else’s responsibility.
- judgmental, judging everyone and everything
- Has to: be right, win, be perfect, be chronically dominant or subservient, in control
- creates fear, doubt, suffering, separateness