What buries itself into the marrow of our egos isn’t what happens to us — it’s how we react to the stories we tell ourselves about what happens to us.
Let’s rephrase — we are not impartial creatures. Through the miracle of learned experience, we internalize lessons, motivations, reactions, and tactics. These intangible markers inform our behavior, but it’s important that we learn how.
The lessons of our experiences form the perimeters for our interpretations of future experiences.
Basically, they’re how we write the stories that our ego comes up with.
And almost 100% of the time, that’s what we’re reacting to — the story we told ourselves about what happened, rather than the objective truth.
Let’s put this idea into context…
You and your partner agree on a cooking and cleaning routine. It’s their turn to do the dishes, and they didn’t do them — two days in a row.
What happens in your head when you’re upset? Does it sound like…
Oh my god… We had an agreement and I kept my word because I respect them. They didn’t keep theirs because they don’t respect me. They are perfectly comfortable with me doing the cooking AND cleaning. I know that because otherwise, they’d have done it. They always let me take on more than they do because they have no consideration for how busy and important I am.
We got pretty far from cleaning and cooking there.
The story the ego told was much darker and more twisted — and also, unsubstantiated.
What we just witnessed…
Is an ego tantrum.
Here are some sure signs that’s what you’re experiencing.
An Expectation Wasn’t Met — And You Are Not Okay About It
We all have expectations. Sometimes we communicate them to others, and sometimes we don’t.
While there is a social contract we expect others to respect, and hold ourselves to a standard of respecting it as well, there will be mishaps. Miscommunications. Misunderstandings.
And thus are expectations thwarted, which leads us to react in response to a sudden change of plans and reevaluate what will happen next.
It’s disappointment — and disappointment bites.
Your Emotional Reaction Feels Disproportionate
You know what childish behavior looks like. You probably remark on it when other people do it.
If you saw someone reacting to the situation the way that you are, would you feel it was justified?
Sure, there are exceptions — not knowing the full story, for example — but projecting your behavior onto someone else can often help disconnect you from the situation and your feelings about it.
Would you sanction this reaction in a loved one?
You Can’t Separate the Facts from Your Feelings
When you contextualize your ego’s feelings, would you say that you need more than the facts of what happened to justify your upset?
Perceived slights, assumed contempt, or perhaps a vague sense of being threatened that may lend credence to the tantrum your ego is throwing?
Your feelings aren’t crazy or invalid — but your behavior needs more to stand on.
Take the subjection out of the story and ask yourself if it still makes sense.
You Are Out to Punish
We don’t always metabolize our pain and trauma. Often, the fast-paced and anti-vulnerability nature of our world doesn’t allow us time to, or instructions on how.
But pain is energy, and energy never dies.
So we may find ourselves reacting to present-day pain with the vengeance of past-pain, and our goal is to punish, to teach a lesson, to seek dominance and avoid more pain.
Is your ego afraid of being hurt?
When we operate from the small part of our frontal brains where the ego lies (most probably the Anterior Cingulate Cortex and Fronto-insular Cortex), we are in an elevated emotional state.
We’re tying different parts of our brains together to make connections to previous times we’ve been disrespected or burned, about trying to survive better than we’ve fared in the past, and about how to protect the part of us that feels wounded from the story we’ve told ourselves.
We’re drawing resources away from the logic and impulse-control centers of our brains as our limbic systems grow stronger in their responses.
Extract the ego.
For more care-informed education on getting out our own way, head on over to the Urban Monk Academy — all courses designed and taught by me, and free for two weeks.