Drop the Mask
Another impediment to experiencing intimacy—not only with other people, but also with ourselves—is our ego. We might conceal who we really are by hiding behind our accomplishments, possessions, titles, makeup, or clothing. We might build ourselves up by putting other people down, even if only in subtle ways.
True self-worth does not depend on what others think of you.
While an inflated ego may temporarily succeed in covering up feelings of insecurity or insufficiency, it makes true intimacy unavailable to us. Think about what it’s like when two egos come up against each other. Both people know they’re right, and neither is truly open to understanding the other’s perspective. On the other hand, real self-worth will make you more available for authentic, heart-to-heart connections that go far beyond what most people experience.
As you review these suggestions, remember that the idea is not to eliminate your ego, but simply to raise your awareness of it.
Watch for any ways in which you try to disguise who you are.
If you are separated, out of shape, and forty-nine years old, avoid checking the “single,” “athletic,” and “40–45” boxes on your dating profile.
Think about whether you ever pretend to be someone you’re not.
When Lauren tells people she holds degrees in fine arts and business administration, she avoids mentioning that they’re from a junior college in the hopes that people will assume they are bachelor’s or master’s degrees.
In what ways do you try to hide your motives?
Are you sometimes evasive, or do you obscure the truth? Robert will say he doesn’t like the food served in particular restaurants, when in reality what he doesn’t like is that they don’t serve alcohol.
How do you try to cover up your insecurities?
Andrew, who is five foot five, says, “I tend to act arrogant to hide my self-consciousness about my height.”
Keep in mind that none of these behaviors is necessarily negative; it depends on the situation and your intention. What is crucial is to be aware of your motivation when you’re engaging in them.
If you think you rarely do any of these things, you may be surprised to find that in fact you do, even if only on occasion or in very subtle ways.
Jared recently separated from his wife and had to move out. In talking to the owner of one apartment, Jared felt compelled to mention that he owned a substantial piece of property on the other end of town. “The guy was obviously willing to rent to me already, so I didn’t have to prove my creditworthiness,” Jared says. “It was purely to show him that I wasn’t just any prospective renter, but materially successful too.”
Notice when you’re saying or doing something to impress others.
Sometimes we ask questions merely to give ourselves the opportunity to offer our own opinion or story. (“Is your baby walking yet? Oh? Well, my son walked at nine months.”) Or we might say something solely to demonstrate our intelligence or expertise.
Melody says that to receive acknowledgment from her significant other, “I verbally list all the things I did that day to show how valuable I am.”
Aimee admits, “When I’m not feeling recognized for having good ideas and being intelligent, I’m likely to blurt out something I’ve done, at an inappropriate moment, and end up feeling really stupid.”
We might use status symbols to show we have good taste or are well off. Shaun says he buys clothes just for the brand and always has the latest high-tech gadgets.
Of course, it’s certainly possible to enjoy and appreciate designer clothes or a precision watch or car without trying to boost your sense of self-worth through them. The idea is to be aware of your motivation.
Watch for the tendency to do or say things solely for recognition.
Be on the lookout for other signs of the ego in operation, such as monopolizing conversations or vying to be the center of attention.
The need to be right is one of the most prevalent and insidious ways our ego tries to feel in control.
Notice even the smallest ways in which you criticize or find defects in others to make yourself look better.
“In my family, we always tried to make someone else look stupid so that we’d feel superior,” Kaitlyn confesses. “I’ve spent a lot of time trying to undo this habit, yet I still find myself saying things that subtly put other people down.”
If you tend to be critical toward other people, keep in mind that when you put others down, you severely limit their ability to contribute to your life in a positive way.
Increase your awareness of any effects the comparisons you make have on your life and your relationships.
When you compare yourself to someone else in any way—how much you’ve accomplished, how successful you are, what you do for a living, what kind of car you drive—you set up a contest that artificially inflates your self-worth if you win and deflates it if you lose.
As Aimee says, “I have a terrible habit of comparing myself to others—and I always come up short!”
Learn to see yourself as “different from” rather than as “better than” or “less than.”
Identify situations that commonly trigger an ego reaction in you, and bring more awareness to them.
Matthew recognizes that when he has to navigate through a complicated voice mail system, he becomes increasingly irritated. By the time he gets through to a real person, he says, “I’m ready to bite their head off!” For others, it may be standing in line or waiting in traffic that activates an “I’m too important for this” reaction.
As you grow more aware of your ego, its influence over you will gradually lessen. You will naturally become more authentic, and your capacity for intimacy will expand.
Excerpted with permission from The Soulmate Experience: A Practical Guide to Creating Extraordinary Relationships by Mali Apple and Joe Dunn. This bestselling book won a 2012 International Book Awards gold medal and a 2012 Living Now Awards silver medal.
About the authors
To know more about Mali Apple and Joe Dunn, visit their website www.thesoulmateexperience.com.