Inflated and Deflated Egos

by Haider on February 27, 2009 · 6 comments

in Psychological

Whenever there is conflict or tension between individuals, be it in a professional environment or a social one, “inflated egos” are usually to blame for the conflict. Some individuals wanted too much attention for themselves, and they were willing to compromise social cohesion in order to make themselves stand out. Many meetings are a complete waste of time (and energy) because attendees aren’t concerned with the well-being of the company they work in, but simply wish to defend the ideas they came with and to undermine the contributions of others, so they can look better.

This – according to popular myth – is caused by “inflated egos.” In reality, the opposite is true. It’s not inflated egos that are to blame, but deflated ones.

Inflated egos are required for healthy living and fruitful social interaction. Problems only arise when egos are deflated, and the poor ego tries desperately to inflate itself through any means possible.

To make sense of what I’m saying, it’s important to re-visit what “ego” means, and we will then go on to explain the characteristics of an inflated ego and a deflated one.

What’s “Ego” in the first place?

Ego means self. It is how you define and identify with yourself as an individual. It is the answer to the question: Who am I?

How you see yourself is your ego. Just as our opinions can be conditioned by the opinions of others, our view of ourselves can also be based on other people’s opinions about us. We may attach labels on ourselves that we have borrowed from others, without questioning whether they are true or not. In fact, our ego (impression of ourselves) may not be an accurate one, but it is the basis of how we see ourselves and, therefore, how we treat ourselves and the value we see in ourselves.

Inflated Egos

An inflated ego takes on a realistic, healthy shape of itself. It values itself based on real qualities and real accomplishments. It, therefore, doesn’t resort to self-deception in order to increase its self-worth. As an inflated ego, it can already recognize its self-worth.

It doesn’t need the praise of others to inflate it or keep it inflated. A healthy ego is driven by its own impression of itself. But since it does not seek to deceive itself, it is open to the criticism of others. Criticism isn’t seen as a threat, but as an opportunity to re-evaluate itself, based on the observations others have made, which the individual may have overlooked about himself. If the criticism is valid, it does not deflate the ego. It merely points out an area that requires more attention.

Inflated egos aren’t threatened by the accomplishments of others. They realize that others possess strengths they may not possess, but it does not undermine their own strengths and worth. An inflated ego is willing to learn from others, so it can grow its strengths through their strengths.

Deflated Egos

A deflated ego doesn’t value itself, because it doesn’t have a healthy vibrant shape that can summon confidence and self-worth. It can remain deflated, and one can step on his own deflated ego if he doesn’t see much hope in inflating it. He can undermine his worth through negative self-talk, and may even carry out actions that undermine his worth in the eyes of others and, thereby, surround himself with more opinions that will trample his crippled ego.

There are two dangers with deflated egos: when the individual doesn’t seek to revive his damaged ego, or when he tries to inflate it through any means possible, especially while relying on self-deception and the opinions of others. The latter danger is when all hell breaks loose.

Those who seek and feed on people’s praise do not have inflated egos. They are desperately seeking to inflate their broken, deflated egos. They, therefore, attempt to snatch as much attention as possible in any gathering. They try to prove to others that they know a lot, even when the occasion doesn’t call for it. They don’t give others the opportunity to shine, because it will eclipse their worth in the eyes of the people. In fact, they would go so far as to undermine others so that they can seem grander by comparison. In other words, they try to puncture other egos so they can become deflated as well.

Deflated egos lead to arrogance and the exaggeration of one’s worth and accomplishments. An inflated ego isn’t concerned about other people’s praise. It doesn’t need to resort to exaggeration and self-deception. But a deflated ego cannot depend on real accomplishments to elevate its self-worth, especially when it seeks to impress others. Arrogance stems from desperation to inflate one’s ego, which an inflated ego isn’t in need of.

This is why you can find people willing to take credit for the work of others. It’s not that they believe they are worthy of the credit, but because they want to feel important and of value through any means possible.

It’s important not to mix up inflated and deflated egos (as is the case in the world today), because one’s praise of himself in public doesn’t stem from a strength, but a weakness and the desire to feel better about oneself. That’s not the characteristic of an ego that feels confident in itself, but one that seeks reassurance about its own self-worth. Of course, it is possible for an ego to be over-inflated (i.e. it sees in itself good qualities that it does not possess), but the drive for recognition and praise only stems from a deflated ego seeking to inflate itself.

The Importance of Nurturing a Healthy Ego

A healthy ego enables you to feel comfortable about yourself for who you are, while acknowledging both your strengths and your weaknesses. It is also more independent of the opinions of others and, therefore, cannot be the victim of vicious deflated egos that seek to undermine it in order to feel better about themselves. You can have amazing qualities, but if you cannot acknowledge their worth through your own eyes and with your own judgment, you may not allow them to fully shine and reveal themselves.

How we perceive ourselves will ultimately determine the quality of life we have, and it is, therefore, crucial that we strengthen our own self-worth not by relying on self-deception or other people’s praise, but through genuine growth and personal responsibility for our own lives.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 George March 14, 2009 at 7:17 pm

Hi Haider,

For as long as I can remember, I had always felt that no one appreciated me. I often feel uneasy being with others and for the life of me I could never understand why I never had any lasting friends. Recently, I’ve been feeling miserable because I don’t have anyone I can relate to. Finding someone to date who has a relatively healthy self esteem is near impossible these days and harder still when you live in a small town of 15,000.
I can’t understand why I’ve never been able to establish a social life. Either the people I work with are married or they are too young (I work in a university).

So here I am online searching for some answers to my dilemma. Though I knew about the under and over inflated ego, I came upon your comments on it and it suddenly hit me.
I can see now the degree in which my under inflated ego is making me feel like shit.
I can see how I’ve been externalizing my problems outward and blaming others for not appreciating me. I get angry at a woman I know who apparently has an interest in me but fails miserably in expressing it. I go to the TGIF dinners with some professors and I often fell like shit since I feel like anything I say is of no significance to them. They never ask me questions, they don’t appreciate my music, and what they talk about can be as boring as a door knob. They all have PhD’s (except me) and for the life of me I just don’t find their talks engaging. I get depressed because they get to go home with their mate and I’m stuck being alone. That I would ever find a woman truly interested in cultivating a healthy relationship is as far removed as the planets. Online dating has become a major disappointment since most women either live too far, too old, too young, or fail miserably in understanding the importance in cultivating a healthy relationship.
While I may have an under-inflated ego, it has not stopped me from realizing the importance of self awareness, self cultivation, and genuinely seeking the inner conflicts within that hinder my creative potential in all aspects of life. And in this respect, while having an under-inflated ego is a big problem that (in my case) warrants psychotherapy, I’m sure you would agree that anyone with an under or over-inflated ego is made worse by those we interact with who express no concern or empathy.

So the question arises, how does one measure ones own under or over inflated ego?
How do you maintain immunity in the face of most people who can be so impersonal?
Should you know of a book that describes these two aspects of the ego in more detail ‘d appreciate the info.

2 Haider March 14, 2009 at 7:48 pm

Dear George,

I will hopefully be dealing more with self-esteem in the future, because I think it is an issue that’s not properly dealt with in personal growth literature.

My views on self-esteem, selfishness and morality, in general, have been strongly influenced by Objectivism (the philosophy of Ayn Rand). Her books are on philosophy, so they don’t feel like personal development books, but your life will change dramatically if you change your philosophy of life.

I would, generally, recommend the works of Dr Nathaniel Branden, who is an Objectivist and writes on issues of self-esteem.

Based on what you’ve mentioned, allow me to offer my own advice:

Don’t pursue other people’s appreciation by trying to judge yourself by their standards. People don’t necessarily see the world the way you do, and trying to use their opinions as the criteria for happy living will only lead to confusion and misery. You seem to think that *you* have a problem because you don’t find other people interesting, when you could see *them* as the problem for being boring! I’m not saying that they need to change to suit your preferences, but you certainly don’t need to change to match theirs. There is nothing wrong with you because you don’t find the people around you engaging, so don’t let that put you down.

For a healthy, properly inflated ego, you need to value your own judgments, value your own interests, value your own talents, without seeking other people’s approval. By showing confidence in your own self, you say to others: “I value myself,” and they would be interested in associating with a person of value. But if the message you are shouting to the world is: “I am of no value,” then the most likely response is that people won’t be interested in associating with you. If you want people to appreciate you, it’s important that you inflate your ego by respecting yourself for who you are, irrespective of what people say to you or how they behave around you. And by developing confidence in yourself and the comfort of being who you are, people will be more interested in associating with you.

The only way you can escape having an over-inflated or a deflated ego is by abandoning your reliance on other people’s judgments.

3 George March 15, 2009 at 7:46 am

Thanks Haider for your candid comments,

I pointed out that:

“While I may have an under-inflated ego, it has not stopped me from realizing the importance of self awareness, self cultivation, and genuinely seeking the inner conflicts within that hinder my creative potential in all aspects of life’

So much for self awareness… I’m still taken aback not just by discovering my under inflated ego, but the degree in which it is deeply entrenched.

I’ve been harboring a deep seated floating anger at women for some time now because they don’t understand me-they don’t even try. So Whenever I see a woman at a distance and see her approaching me, I refuse to look at her as she passes me by because I don’t want to give her that satisfaction. I know my behavior is off the mark, but I can’t help it. I’m not angry at women but at their inability to express even a shred of affection or interest. I suppose it does not help when I refuse to subscribe to the romantic notions of love depicted in novels and movies. Yeah, I fell in love too..big time and when I found out she was unable to love me in return, I went into a major depression. I learned that falling in love is not love at all, rather, it’s what Dr. Karen Horney refers to as an “overvaluation of love” and Dr. Patrick Love calls it an “altered state of consciousness.. and not a very good one at that!! So I’m left outside the mainstream of amorous relationships unable to play the romantic games men and woman play. There is a price to pay when you discover certain truths that others are unaware of and it makes me feel restless, discouraged…and angry too. I realize I need to come to terms with this and I have yet to find the help I need. Branden’s book is a start but I really need to go deeper.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always done things half heartedly and most likely my ego is the culprit. So I really need to deal with it and I’m thankful knowing what’s been holding me back for so long.

Thanks again Haider for replying…

George

4 Haider March 15, 2009 at 10:48 am

Dear George,

I hope you will find Dr Branden’s books useful. What I enjoy about Dr Branden’s approach – and about Objectivism, in general – is that it uses reality as the basis, and not emotions. I think you can go around in circles trying to resolve emotions by using emotions as your starting and ending point. I believe many psychiatrists do that.

Patient: “I feel depressed.”

Psychiatrist: “Really? How does that make you feel? What are your feelings towards your mother? How do you want to feel?”

I think it’s important to begin with the goal of wanting to live your life to the fullest, then seeing how your current emotions fit into that, and what you need to change in order to make the most out of your life. What beliefs do you need to change and what do you need to focus on in order to cultivate the emotions that will lead you towards the life you want?

For example, I have the habit of getting frustrated whenever people display any form of incompetence. I sometimes feel like lashing out and saying: “What are you stupid? Even a 5 year old can do that!” While focusing on other people’s incompetence, it’s very natural that my feelings of frustration will grow.

But what if I considered the following, instead: I am sometimes incompetent myself. People aren’t perfect, and we’re all learning. I don’t assist other people by making them feel crappy about themselves. There are 1001 things I can choose to focus on that will make me feel good about life (and other people’s failings isn’t one of them). I only have control over my own actions and not the actions of others. I can only take responsibility for my own decisions and not the decisions of others. I should focus on what I can do to move my life forward rather than what others should do for me.

This way, I have a goal in mind (to live life to the fullest) and I find the building blocks that I need to construct the life I want. If we use our current emotions as a basis, without any reference point or goal, we can be swallowed up by our emotions, without knowing a way out.

5 Sarah Day December 17, 2009 at 1:41 am

Haider

I found your response to George interesting and somewhat conflicting to your objectivist views when you state ‘People don’t necessarily see the world the way you do’. Surely, if taking an objectivist position that reality exists and it is consciousness that discovers, or becomes conscious, of that reality, then that reality must be consistent for all consciousness. However, in reality, and regardless of whether an object exists and is consistent in its application of reality, consciousness will construct meaning based on its past experiences.

This, you acknowledge by the above stated quotation. For people to not see the world the way others do, a certain amount of subjectification of any objective reality must occur. One must surely construct their reality based on past experiences regardless of the objectiveness of any object or action. And for an objective reality to exist, then all of those experiencing that common objectiveness must surely have engaged in at least some form of inter-subjective dialogue to determine that the reality they all perceive as a common objectification of reality, is in fact the same.

So while it might be nice to consider that consciousness is the perception of objective reality, we will never know as our constructed realities are just that, constructed.

Sarah

P.S. any inter-subjective reasoning that will require me to reconstruct my reality is not my reality, but yours.

6 Haider December 17, 2009 at 2:51 am

Dear Sarah,

Thank you for your thoughtful and thought-provoking comment.

I believe in an objective reality, but I do not overlook how we reason and develop our values (i.e. the mechanisms of consciousness).

To start off with, when I said that “people don’t necessarily see the world the way you do,” I wasn’t referring to visual perception, but to the overall understanding we develop of the world, based on past experiences and our reasoning (both of which are influenced by a number of factors, such as prevailing philosophical ideas, cultural values, religious beliefs, etc).

Our consciousness is prone to making mistakes in trying to make sense of the world. This doesn’t deny the fact that reality is objective, but acknowledges the objective reality of our consciousness. We do not have innate knowledge of how the world operates, we are limited in what (and how much) knowledge we can acquire and our reasoning (the way we connect occurrences) can be flawed.

If I was attacked by a person from a particular race, I may conclude that all members of that race are criminals. I may even hear many people asserting the same conclusion that I have reached. However, it doesn’t mean that my conclusion is valid, no matter how popular it is, or how convinced I am of its validity. Race and genetics may very well play a part in how inclined we are to commit crimes or be violent, even though such ideas may be politically incorrect. But personal conviction, popularity and political correctness are all irrelevant when it comes to understanding objective reality. Is race a factor in conditioning behavior or isn’t it? There is an objective reality, which we can try to figure out.

I don’t like the use of the word “reality” to refer to personal views (i.e. “constructed” realities). If a “constructed” reality isn’t objective, then it isn’t a reality. It’s an illusion. A deception. Yes, I may state something as fact, even though it isn’t, simply because I’m under the impression that it is a fact, when it’s not. You can point out that it’s not a fact. But you cannot say that it’s “my” fact. There’s no such thing. :)

Before I was influenced by Objectivism I was a religious extremist. It took a great deal of internal dialogue to even entertain the possibility that I was wrong, or that the people I looked up to and put my faith in were wrong. But I came to accept that religious scholars and faith aren’t valid means to understanding reality, which is why I had to abandon them.

I believe that being open-minded means that we’re willing to reconsider our beliefs, as well as the means (and criteria) we use to form our beliefs.

Thank you, once again, for your comment, and I hope my reply made sense. :)

Haider

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