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Befriending the Ego: the Key to Nurturing Your Unique Self Emergence

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

One key realization on the journey toward our Unique Self is being in right relationship to the ego. Now, before you raise an eyebrow at the term "ego," let's clarify its context. The ego is often associated with negative connotations – arrogance, self-centeredness, or manipulation. However, at the Unique Self Institute, we approach it differently. We strive to foster a positive alliance with the ego, a sort of friendship, one of understanding and partnership.

What is the ego? The ego is the way we’ve constructed our identity from early in life in order to respond to the shock of existence. The ego was created to interpret one’s own experience, and it tends to perpetuate patterns of behaving, feeling, and thinking that enables its survival and comfort. It’s purpose is to tell a coherent story about itself to make sense of its existence. It often clings to its beliefs, desires, and habits, which is an incredibly useful tool that we have to navigate this world.

However, suffering occurs when the ego believes it's isolated, having to fight its battles alone and struggle to survive, competing with other egos in what Marc Gafni calls “the win-lose metric” – my win is because you lose, and your win is because I lose. But what if I told you that the ego is intricately connected to a greater tapestry of a benevolent force, participating in the grand symphony of evolution?

When we truly realize this interconnected nature of ourselves with all of reality, we catalyze our ego development and launch our journey toward our Unique Self – the most meaningful, alive, purpose-driven life imaginable.

What trips us up on the journey, and what causes so much suffering is when our ego fixates on specific identities – be it status, material possessions, or personal attributes -- “I am not safe”, or “I am an accountant”, or “I must be perfect”. These sorts of attachments engender a self-imposed confinement, restricting the ego's true potential -- if only it would realize that it is living in an evolving unified field that is an unlimited source of power, energy, and transformation. On the other hand, the opposite problem occurs that causes suffering when rather than rigidly hold onto attachments, we suppress the ego's desires, dismissing them as petty or insignificant. This inevitably leads to seld-destruction.

In order to grow, flourish and foster a meaningful life, we can neither attach to nor deny our ego’s needs and desires.

So how do we grow and flourish? Enter an integrative approach that acknowledges and guides the ego towards growth, without letting it dominate or be stifled. This nuanced journey of your unique self emergence involves two primary avenues: (a) befriending the ego and (b) catalyzing its growth through vertical development.

The first avenue, befriending the ego, involves a six-step process derived from the Unique Self Emergence Process by Claire Molinard, Marc Gafni, and Barbara Alexander. Let's briefly explore these steps:

  1. See It: Begin by recognizing when the ego is triggered. Be mindful of emotional responses like anxiety, guilt, or anger.

  2. Say It: Articulate your experiences (verbally or by writing them down) – what's happening physically, emotionally, and mentally during these triggers.

  3. Be with It: Be present to the emotions and sensations, allowing yourself to fully experience them without judgment, and with compassion. Breathe...

  4. Open to It: Probe deeper and ask yourself what you genuinely care about in the present moment. Connect with the authentic yearnings of your being.

  5. Rest in Essence: As the emotional intensity subsides, bask in a state of relaxation and connection, allowing boundaries to dissolve as they are able.

  6. Ask Reality: Finally, inquire about what's truly needed in the current situation. From this place, beneath the ego’s contractions and reactions, you can listen more clearly to what is genuinely needed by the larger field within which you are immersed.

This process bridges the gap between the ego and a broader reality, transforming the ego from a confined entity to a participant in a greater cosmic dance – we call this your Unique Self.

The second avenue for ego development delves into what we call Vertical Development. Based on the original research of Jane Loevinger and advanced by Dr. Susanne Cook-Greuter, Vertical Development is based on 50+ years of research into how individuals grow through predictable stages. The path of growth involves questioning who you are and understanding your role in the world such that your circle of care and concern increasingly expands to consider more – more people, more things, more beings. This progression reveals the ego's fluid nature and capacity for growth through predictable stages: is the ego’s identity Self-Centric, Group-Centric, Skill-Centric, Self-Determining, Self-Questioning, Self-Actualizing, or Construct Aware? I will go into more detail about these stages in a later post, but perhaps you can get a sense of what each stage is by the name alone.

In essence, ego development is a multi-faceted journey – it’s more about organic growth than about forced change. It's about befriending the ego, empowering it to shed limitations and evolve as conditions support it. This evolution, in turn, contributes to a harmonious coexistence with the broader world, allowing the ego to unfold into its Unique Self.

So, as we continue to explore the terrain of ego development, remember that it's not a battle against the ego or an attempt to stifle it. Instead, it's a dance of understanding, growth, and connection – a narrative where the ego and the surrounding cosmos engage in a symphony of transformation and increasing integration. It’s a two-way street: you change, and the world changes you. A mature ego is a humble yet audacious participant in the evolutionary process toward more complexity, consciousness, and interconnectivity.

See my video that inspired this blog post:

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