About a year ago I was fortunate to attend a daylong workshop entitled “You Are Not What You Think: The Egoless Path to Self-Esteem and Generous Love,” led by the wise and warm David Richo, PhD., MFT. David is a psychotherapist, teacher and best-selling author of numerous books, including one that shares the title of the aforementioned workshop; How to Be an Adult in Relationships; Daring to Trust: Opening Ourselves to Real Intimacy and Love; and most recently, The Five Longings: What We’ve Always Wanted-and Already Have. His teachings draw on the mystical, mindful and traditional, weaving references from the Buddha, Christ, Mother Teresa, Jung, Freud, Gandhi and more.
The daylong really hit the spot for me, helping further my understanding of the differences between healthy ego vs. egotism. Like all people, I vacillate between these two places rooted in love (the connected, interdependent self of healthy ego) and hurt (the separate, self-centered self that feels inferior or superior).
On that crisp winter day in the Marin countryside, David started by reminding us of one powerful truth – that in many ways, all behavior, on a deep level, is about love. Trying to show it or ask for it. I find this to be a useful framework through which to view my own and others actions, helping to separate the deeper, most human self from the negatively conditioned one that can get confused.
With that said, I wanted to share a list of “challenging practices” (to use his words) that David shared with the group that can help us let go of the unhealthy ego (egotism) and foster healthy self-esteem (behavior that is more human). I think this is particularly relevant for these times of (naturally evolving) increased multiculturalism and diversity of expression that can feel so threatening to the ego, as exemplified by the divisive political climate around the world!
20 Ways to Let Go of Ego
In his book, David Richo refers to these as the “Shortcuts to Letting Go of Ego” (pp. 123-135):
“1) Follow the Golden Rule: act toward others as you would want them to act toward you.
2) Keep the needs of others in mind, especially in little ways – an antidote to selfishness.
3) Find ways to maintain healthy self-esteem without showing off. It’s OK to be a big shot; just don’t act that way.
4) Let go of ranking, especially of seeing yourself as above others.
5) Acknowledge not knowing something or showing that you need support or help.
6) Take feedback as useful information not as criticism, even when it is meant that way.
7) Apologize when you know you have harmed or offended anyone. Make amends if necessary.
8) Let go of attempts to control, dominate, or manipulate others.
9) Give people leeway and make allowances for their errors rather than pointing out, or picking up on every little thing they do that irks you.
10) Welcome disagreement because it can lead to dialogue. This puts the accent in a discussion on arriving at common ground or learning a new truth rather than proving yourself right.
11) Cooperate rather than compete; collaborate rather than have to show that you know best.
12) In a group, give up having to take center-stage. Trade in your own ego investment for the good of all concerned or for the accomplishment of the group goal.
13) Reconcile yourself to not always getting your way.
14) Work conflicts out with people, when they are ready and willing to do so, rather than be resentful, pout, snub, or use silent treatment — all forms of retaliation.
15) Don’t hold a grudge against those who wrong you even when they won’t admit it — and stop telling the story of how they offended you. Look for ways to reconcile rather than retaliate.
16) Remain on high alert for the entry of your reactive ego: the moment when you take what happened personally, become indignant, interpret an action by someone as a slight to your dignity.
17) When someone’s ego is aroused toward you, do not dig your heels in or go nose to nose. Simply pause with compassion toward the pain in his/her ego-reaction and treat it with loving-kindness, while nonetheless not putting up with any abuse.
18) In intimate bonds, give up vindicating yourself in order to gratify your ego and instead, let go of your ego to gratify the relationship. Become the protector of the partnership rather than the defender of our own ego.
19) Do good to those who hate you, pray for or wish enlightenment for those who have betrayed, failed, or mistreated you.
20) See losing face (and all these suggestions) as welcome opportunities for growth in humility, a virtue that makes you more lovable.”
List reprinted with permission from: You Are Not What You Think: The Egoless Path to Self-Esteem and Generous Love (D. Richo, Shambhala, 2015).
As you can see from this list of ways to let go of ego, some of the practices are quite challenging. Take #19 for example — doing good (or sending well wishes) to those who have hurt us. This is indeed a radical practice that many would balk at, including myself! But, even just considering this idea can help transform some of the ill-will we feel towards others who are hateful or hurtful. After all, people who behave that way are acting out from a place of their own hurts and confusion resulting from the hand life has dealt them. This can help us not take it so personally (#16). We don’t need to condone unhealthy behavior; we also don’t need to internalize it.
#8 and #11 also remind us to work on our collective conditioning around things like competitiveness, dominance and control. Every culture throughout history has experienced many forms of oppression, including violence and other forms of unhealthy behavior related to power and the control of resources (all behavior that’s driven primarily by fear). We essentially inherit these patterns, so that even in safe environments with plenty of resources to go around, there’s still much emphasis on competition, power and control.
Needless to say, this vestigial mindset can create much suffering. Whether played out in the more benign situations of casual conversation (e.g., those with historically more power and privilege taking up more space, as is the case with mansplaining), or in more glaringly hurtful ways (e.g., the dehumanization that leads to racial profiling, sexual assault, labor exploitation, etc.), the unhealthy ego that sees itself as separate from others is at the root.
I’ll end by saying that when working on ourselves – when trying to make ourselves ‘more human’ (i.e., building healthy self-esteem rather than egotism) – we should always, always start from a place of compassion! That may sound simple or pollyannaish to some, but it’s actually one of the most powerful things we can do. The collective conditioning and multigenerational wounds that foment guilt and aversion of self and other can make it hard to hold this mindset, but nevertheless, healthy and lasting change always comes from a place of love, not hate.
About this Contributor: Kim Pratt, LCSW is a passionate advocate of personal growth and healing. She has been a clinical social worker for the past 13 years, and in private practice as a therapist to adults of all ages since 2007. Prior to her clinical career, she worked in the information technology sector in the SF Bay Area. She is a proud spouse of 16 years; co-parent to two beautiful non-human beings; a longtime practitioner of mindfulness meditation; and an aging jock. Her formal education was received at UC Berkeley (Masters in Social Work) and the University of Michigan (B.A. in Anthropology), where she also played varsity tennis (Go Blue!). To learn more about Kim’s therapy practice, please visit: www.kimpratt.com.