Ego vs. Self-Esteem
I am a fortunate man, I have a swimming pool. One recent windless morning I dove in, the surface perfectly still. Underneath, I began to rise ahead of my wake. Opening my eyes. I could see almost nothing of the outside world; however, I could clearly see the reflection of my hands and arms on the underside of the water’s surface. It was virtually all I could see… my temporarily limited perspective allowed me to see only myself, nothing else. Then, inevitably, as I broke through to the world beyond, my perspective opened up, no longer limited to the reflection of myself.
The disease of alcoholism is often referred to as a “Disease of Perception,” but I don’t believe you have to be alcoholic to suffer from a limited perspective. Ironically, if I did believe that, I would be limiting my perspective, lol. It seems to me that very often, the world fails to see that there are always (at least) two sides to every story. Always another point of view. And often that “other side” is a more enlightened place than the one in which we find ourselves.
An example of that idea is, “Whatever I am mad about, that isn’t it.” For instance, I never get more upset with my kids than when they act just like me at my worst. So, on the surface, I feel disappointed because of the poor behavior I see them engaged in. Sneaky, impatient, quick to anger, or judgmental (BTW, I can tell which people are judgemental just by looking at them!). These are all things I actively work on, things I actively try to improve. But when I see my kids behave like me, I really have a hard time with that. My ego gets bruised (like a peach, it bruises easily.) I cringe, thinking that my kids are a poor reflection on me or that people will think I didn’t raise them right, that I’m a bad parent. That I look bad. I’m a little unhappy with the thing they did but pride and ego win out for most outraged every time. So, I’m not mad at what they did, I’m mad that it made me feel insecure. And BTW, it didn’t even “make me” feel anything! I just respond that way because I’ve always responded that way.
High ego, low self-esteem. When my ego is higher than my self-esteem, that’s when I am in trouble. I was a “functional alcoholic”. Which for me meant no DUIs, never got fired for drinking, never got divorced…I worked very hard to maintain appearances. As far as you knew, I was fine. I looked fine. I suffered very few external problems due to my drinking, but inside I was a mess. At one point I installed a tricky shower enclosure at home and my wife complimented me saying, “You did a really nice job on that.” And I was pissed! Because what I heard her say was “You screw up everything else you do.” Which she absolutely did not say! I was skewed. My self-esteem was so far in the toilet that all I could hear was negativity when all she was giving me was praise.
My perspective has always been skewed. Alcohol wasn’t the problem. My problem was sobriety, alcohol was my solution. From as far back as I can remember. I never felt right, never felt like quite enough, never quite fit. However, in recovery, I have learned that feeling unusual isn’t unusual. What a magic revelation that was to hear! That you felt different too? WOW! Talking to people. Being honest, deeply honest with myself, my higher power, and other men changed not only my perception of myself, but me, period. The less I try to appease my ego and seek a higher plane, the happier I am. In other words: The less I try to make myself happy, the happier I am.