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.
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.
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.