What is your relationships with your own ego? Are you aware of your own perception of yourself, and is that perception authentic to how you really are, or want to be? I recently attended an 'Ego VS Authenticity' workshop run by School of Harts, and we had a play with all of these big questions.
What is An Ego?
Ego, put simply, is "a person's sense of self-esteem or self importance." Most of us have this in our minds as we navigate our daily lives and interact with the people and environment around us. Having a 'sense of self' helps us to function socially, but can sometimes become limiting - perhaps if our ego is too big or too small!
Colloquially, we often talk about a 'big ego' as being someone who thinks too highly of themselves and asserts this belief onto other people rather too forcefully! In fact, it's also important to recognise that too-small-an-ego can also be damaging. A low opinion of your own self-worth can be crippling, as I'm sure everyone can imagine and relate to on some level.
So What Does A Healthy Ego Look Like?
If most people have an ego which guides the way they think and behave, then it's useful to know what a healthy one looks like. Of course, we are each unique and all sit somewhere along a sliding spectrum of experiences. But overall, our workshop group felt that having a healthy ego included:
Recognising and having pride in your achievements.
Not hiding your achievements from others, but not forcing people to listen to them either.
Understanding your own limitations.
Being willing to change and alter your opinions.
Having a sense of being no better or worse than anyone else, just different.
It was really interesting to me how many descriptions of ego were about interacting with yourself, or interacting with others. 'Self-talk' and the way you then speak outwardly are so interconnected.
This leads me nicely on to...
Once you understand your sense of self, how do you portray it in the way you act? So many people behave how they think they 'should' rather than how they really want to, and the reasons for this can be huge and varied.
Your ego might be telling you to act in a certain way, or there might be pressure from family, friends or the people you work with. It's a real strength to be able to stick to whatever is right for you.
What might authenticity look like?
I pictured what an authentic conversation would look like for me, and came up with these ideas:
Admitting or showing a balance of the good and the bad. Anyone who pretends that their life is completely perfect would seem to be concealing parts of themselves from me.
Listening as well as talking. I think this is about respect as well as authenticity, because people who listen are generally people who care about other people's opinions. Conversations should be a two-way exchange, not just an opportunity for one person to present their pre-formed opinion.
Doing or saying things I wouldn't expect. The other person in the conversation is just that - an other person. If they are only behaving how I would expect or want them to, then they are putting on a kind of performance rather than being completely themselves.
Is Authenticity Always A Good Thing?
I think this is such an interesting question! Generally we praise authenticity, but sometimes we feel that there are times where we should put on a slight performance for the sake of other people.
For example, at a friend's birthday dinner when you are feeling lousy, it might be polite to put on a brave face and act more cheerfully than you are actually feeling. Some people would disagree with this though, and say that you should just be how you really are and avoid seeming 'fake'.
I think my own approach to authenticity is to be loud and proud when I'm happy with how I'm authentically feeling; and when I'm not feeling good to just be quiet or absent, rather than present something that is not genuine. Whether this is the 'right' or 'wrong' thing to do is anybody's guess - it's just a pattern of behaviour I've identified in myself.
Authenticity online is fascinating in this way: a lot of social media accounts (including my own) seem to disproportionally represent the good times. In 'real life' we might get more of a balanced picture of a person, but we still have a culture in which we are encouraged to hide our negative feelings and emotions.