Podcast – Episode 0269 – Does Ego Work Screw You Over?

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In this episode, Joel and Antonia talk about some of the downsides and challenges with ego work.

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In this episode Joel and Antonia talk about some of the downsides and challenges with ego work. #ego


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Showing 10 comments
  • Xing

    Great podcast! I just wanted to point out that there might have been a bit of confusion of terms, as the word ego was used instead of the word agency. Further, I am sticking with your vocab.
    And an intuitive idea I have. It relates to the end of the podcast, where Joel was going on about ego being involved in meaningful work and the sense of invincibility that comes with it. I think the sense of vulnerability that comes with the “ego” being idle can be meaningful as well, not as pleasurable, but meaningful. I figured this happened to me when I had made a mistake that indicated a hole in my judgment. As the internal system is invalidated, one needs to pick up information from the environment in those then and because the situation is alien and unknown, it’s logical that any information can be relevant: so yes, one ends up not discriminating much between someone imparting wisdom and another just being an idiot. Only when the solution is found, one is like, cool, now I can get rid of these irrelevant notes, keep the relevant ones, and step back on the narrow but more correct track. Some correct but too complex and therefore less useful information gets discarded as well. I would say there are phases: I am “right” and my systems are working, and then I am “wrong” – and wide-eyed shocked I am sitting there frantically collecting every criticism that can be relevant to me.
    PS Antonia sort of touched on my point mentioning healing work.

  • 27yo female infj

    I just have a small comment about the timeline; to be aggressive first, ego work second. I googled ego work, and couldn’t find a definition, so I will just go with my intuitive assessment: to be conscious of and selectively respond to the instinctive promptings of personal survival, which is mostly also a very short-sighted facility. Additionally, I would like to soften the idea of aggression and work with the idea of agency. I think ego work adds perspective which can support agency.
    My personal experience is with studying stoic writings. It made me feel empowered, I actually went after a couple of ideas which in my normal survival-centered state would seem crazy to me. But ego work needs balancing off, or mine was incomplete, after all, as you guys are saying, it’s hard. And it needs balancing off indeed with ego – one needs to ensure one’s survival at par with the realization of one’s ideas.
    In fact, now that I am writing it, I sense confusion between agency and ego. Agency is not necessarily on behalf of ego, and ego although is often a (primal) source of agency, sometimes it may stand in the way.

  • Ben

    I really appreciated this podcast. These are challenging questions that you two brought up and very relevant ones. The way you process these things is a model and an inspiration.

  • Devin Bard

    Hey you two! Thank you for your podcast, always.

    I would highly recommend reading Nature and the Human Soul, by Bill Plotkin. Plotkin looks at archetypes (like in the hero’s journey) and seasons of nature to explore the developmental tasks of childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and elderhood. He’s particularly insightful around the ego tasks in each stage, and how communities serve to usher us through stages and initiate us through ego development, shadow work, and ego surrender in later life. SO GOOD. It would address Joel’s question of “timeline” particularly well.

  • Becca K

    This was such a great podcast! I’ve only listened to a handful of episodes but this one resonated with me so much.

    One thing you guys said that really stuck out to me was that you can’t be too young if you want to dive into ego work, specifically that anyone under 50 should continue to develop their ego/preferences/etc. I am 20 years old (and an INFJ) and I started my ego work a little over a year ago. I’ve made incredible progress in my mental state and even though my growth is only begininning, The work I needed to partake in had to be ego work; anything else wouldn’t have been helpful, if that makes sense.
    Anyway, one thing that’s always bothered me about my growth is the thought that maybe I’m too young to be doing this, maybe I should be out there living life like a reckless 20 year old. What I’m really getting at is that I’ve come to recognize that I don’t truly know myself and I have a lot of coming into my own to do. Does that mean my ego isn’t developed enough to be managing effectively?
    Currently, my ego work has led me to the conclusion that I need to work on setting boundaries (which I learned a lot about in your co-pilot podcast about IxFJs and Fe, and that was sort of a game changer for me, so thank you for that). So does that mean it’s possible to do ego work that allows one to put the ego aside when appropriate, while also showing how to further develop it as a tool? I sort of think so, but I thought it was an interesting topic.
    And one last thought, I absolutely loved what Joel was saying about being able to laugh at yourself. When I first dipped my toe into the pool of ego work, one of the first things I came across that was describing transcending the ego was being able to laugh at yourself. My parents always told us that being able to laugh at yourself is incredibly important If you want to stay sane, and I can confirm. My brother and I were just having a conversation about how people in general don’t laugh enough. There are so many absurd situations in this life, and we as humans are so foolish and ridiculous! It’s hilarious if you let it be! 🙂

  • Kris

    [INTP] I really appreciate what Antonia said about the difference between being an influence for someone during conflict and being responsible for them, in particular their personal growth. As a Ti user, it helps knowing that is a struggle not unique to myself. My inferior Fe is constantly being triggered to “help” in self-defeating ways, but that strategy of discerning influence and responsibility has likewise been the most successful path in relationships I care about.

    It does remind me of a related question that came up for me after listening to the last podcast. As an INTP, to grow in Ne, I need to get my ideas into the outside world somehow and get feedback and learn how to refine my Ti. But ideas have impact, and I have this nagging fear that while I am growing personally as I calibrate/improve my ideas, I am doing harm to those my ideas impact. My rational Ti says “Easy. Just find a context to test your ideas where their impact is minimized, such as a discussion group, and not in real-life applications”. My irrational Fe teams up with Si and says, “Nope. Still too dangerous.” Not to mention I’m married to a Fi-Se who, while very supportive, still struggles with being triggered by the Ti-Ne processes. Anyways, is my Ti voice on the right track?

  • Drew

    Thanks for this episode! I’ve been thinking a lot about your dependence-independence-interdependence model lately and can really see that in the process of ego work. I think that a lot of people (myself DEFINITELY included) really try to create an illusion of independence fairly early on in their personal work, especially if/when they enter Graves 4.

    I definitely strived for this independence in the second half of my teen years (I’m 24 now) in order to preserve my notion that I’m morally pure and good. I noticed this paradigm start to shift following a conversation with my therapist/psychiatrist, in which we discussed my worry of becoming very arrogant if I were to indulge in certain thoughts I had about myself. My therapist, who also specializes in developmental psychiatry, told me that this fear would *absolutely* come to fruition, not because of a certain failure on my part, but because that’s just what happens when people reach their twenties.

    I think that this was the permission I needed to start leaning into my ego’s uglier aspects. From my perspective I’m sort of doing a form of shadow work that’s incredibly liberating. My teenage “lack of ego” was no less ego-driven than my current state, and it feels really nice to stop lying to myself. I’m holding space for myself to let my arrogant self out to play, and watch what she does, and notice what parts might be helpful and what parts might not. I *like* banging pans together and chanting “I’M SO GREAT! I’M SO GREAT!” Which is all I can expect of this part of myself, because I hadn’t allowed it to mature past its childish state.

    And hopefully she’ll grow up and learn, and catch up with my better-developed parts, and I think at that point, and not sooner, I’ll be able to think about transcendence.

  • Danielle

    You both brought up really great analogies in this episode!

    Anyway, I think a timeline for ego work would probably have to vary quite a bit. I’m not sure exactly how or when. People definitely should address healing work first, in my opinion. I’ve noticed that some people when they seem to take an ego hit will then turn it into, “I screwed up, this is more proof that I’m a terrible person.” It seems to me that those individuals have a source of inner pain they need to address before anything else.

    Sometimes I have found that even if you don’t mention when your ego has screwed up, admitting it to yourself is a good step. I think that’s a tool that needs practice for some more than others.

    I tend to ask myself questions when dealing with my ego. A big one for me is, “Is this worth my righteous indignation?” I find whenever I go down that path, things tend to go sour. I see it as an extension of questions I ask myself when I have an anxiety flare up: Is there anything I can do about it? Am I or anyone else in danger? Is this even worth getting upset over?

    Sometimes, I find what’s most challenging is just to let go and not shift into the point where my ego will flare up. Some things just aren’t worth it. A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend about our childhoods. I mentioned that my childhood best friend lived in the same neighborhood, but she would always cry and be too scared to sleep over at my house. I found this weird back then, but then again, I never had a problem with sleepovers.

    My friend responds, “That’s because she had helicopter parents.” I almost laughed. First, I wasn’t asking for a diagnosis. Second, this friend has never met the family of my childhood best friend who I, on the other hand, have had years of experience with. I tell her that wasn’t it, and she responded, “Then what else could it be?” I just shrugged and dropped it. My gut feeling, which was really petty, was to snap at my friend that she didn’t know more about these people than I did so she should just accept what I said. But, that wouldn’t be worth it. So I shoved my need to prove myself as correct aside.

    Though, I also find I need to work on managing my ego hits better. I’ve occasionally not been able to stop apologizing after admitting that I’ve screwed up. I’ve also taken ego hits in the middle of my ego flaring up, which is an extremely weird feeling.

    An example happened a few months ago. I’m a student at a university in my home state. A family friend of ours runs a peer mentor group for students on the autism spectrum. I’ve done activities with this group several times and I have friends who are or have been involved.

    The beginning of this fall semester, I met Friend 1 and her Mentee (names omitted for my own peace of mind since I still did something questionable). So, one day the Mentee asks to sit with me and Friend 2 (and some other people, but they’re not important to the story) at lunch. This is, of course, fine with me.

    During lunch, Mentee demonstrates that he has a very morbid, sarcastic sense of humor without sounding like it. Let’s just say some things were said, that I (knowing he is on the autism spectrum) was able to detect came out wrong. But Friend 2, who is very sensitive and has a lot of healing work to do about around some things that were said, completely took it the wrong way. This happened again later.

    Friend 2 starts a group chat with those of us who had been involved in the encounters questioning how we should tell Mentee to stay away from us. I read this on the bus, and it’s all I can do to not panic. I know Friend 2 would be more understanding if he realized what was going on, but I just can’t tell someone’s diagnosis behind their back without their permission. This wasn’t information willingly shared with me either, since I happened to know it based on the circumstances.

    So, my thoughts go to Friend 1 and I figure I’ll ask her what to do since she knows this guy better. Unfortunately, Friend 1 is sick for about a week. In this time, Friend 2 is also trying to plan something with her (I’m not realizing they know each other, just that Friend 1’s name is the same as a friend Friend 2 mentioned).

    So, while waiting I just burst one day at dinner and tell Friend 2 everything I know. Even though I had been trying not to. I tried to convince myself what I was doing was okay sinceI trust Friend 2 with my life and .I knew this would help. But I almost couldn’t help taking the ego hit since I had been knowingly, on the spot acting out of alignment with my sense of integrity.

    It did turn out that it was a good thing I did what I did, even though I thought it was wrong, and I wouldn’t do that under normal circumstances. By the Friends 1 and 2 and myself actually get to meet up for dinner, Friend 1 has had the idea: “Friend 2 is really nice, so I’ll introduce him and Mentee so they can be friends.” Friend 2 later told me that if he hadn’t known what I said, he would’ve acted a lot more nervous and hostile and then felt horrible about it if he’d learned. So, I guess it was only negative for me who was trying not to show how I felt I was walking on pins and needles.

    Mentee has to leave early. And once he’s left the building, I basically take another ego hit and explain everything to Friend 1.

    Although Mentee has never found out about this and both of my friends thought what I did was questionable, but good-intentioned, I still felt like I had to take the ego hit. I knew that in another situation, the same action could have really ended up hurting someone. So, I felt like I had to make sure that I wasn’t going to set the pattern of my ego thinking this sort of behavior is permissible because I’m ultimately right and going after what I believe to be good (fostering acceptance).

    So, I suppose ego hits can be extremely varied. At least, I think that’s my point. Just for me, I’ve found ego work and how I approach it to be varied. I’ve gotten to the point at times where it’s rather easy to slip into it.

    I do agree that we live in a culture that actively discourages ego hits as weaknesses. But I think that’s all the more reason to do ego work anyway. After all, the people who are viewing it this way are probably not admitting when they mess up, which isn’t healthy. So, perhaps, lots people showing up with healthier ways of addressing the situation can be a positive influence towards fostering a healthier cultural climate (since current US culture is very toxic, in my opinion). Maybe I’m just being an idealist. Obviously, you can’t get rid of all the aggressive ego behavior. But I think working towards an abstract, impossible scenario can still help improve the world in a small way.

    Of course we’re not all going to be perfect. I’m not a characteristically aggressive person, and I have plenty of moments where I’m out of line and righteously indignant. I just find that, in reflection, those moments make me feel terrible. And I see that as a sign of growth (when I was younger, I was extremely righteously indignant to the point where it was messing up my ability to function normally and get along with people).

    Sorry for the long comment, I hope it made sense.

  • Marie Garrido Zoeller

    Thank you for this thought-provoking episode! The issues and concepts that you are grappling with are similar to a book I am reading, Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown and a book that I read almost 20 years ago when I first started teaching, The Courage to Teach, by Parker Palmer. Both deeply resonate with me and both discuss the role of ego and inform my response to the question in your title, Does Ego Work Screw You Over? I would say that the answer depends on your time horizon.

    No one triggers adult egos more quickly than middle schoolers. In my work as a middle school teacher and now a teacher trainer, I learned to keep the long view in mind. The willful teen who thinks your class isn’t important is often the same young man who comes to visit after graduation to tell you that he is a success because of you. The teacher in the corner with her arms crossed, wishing she was in her classroom instead of your training is often the same teacher who tells you that she will only attend trainings facilitated by you from now on.

    I now view the work I do as planting seeds, not being too attached to the results and knowing. Sometimes I get to enjoy the fruits of my labor, other times it feels like I am up against a brick wall. When I remember to lengthen my time horizon I trust in the process and sometimes get the wonderful surprise of a late bloomer who comes to thank me.

    Teaching teens and adults has supercharged my personal development (I don’t claim to have “arrived”, but I am far from where I once was). I am a different person from who I was before because every day through my work I have an opportunity to stay curious and respond in a way that builds relationships rather than react to defiance or apathy in a way that exacerbates them.

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