We’re all familiar with the term “ego”, but it’s not always something we examine in relation to brain injury. It might come as a surprise that someone would say your “ego” can be a problem after a brain injury. It also can be a revelation that our ego’s can aid us
, and it’s important we know what steps to take for that to happen.
Early on after my injury, I said, “I don’t have an ego.” After all, in my mind, having an ego and being egotistical are for people who are really good at things, who think they’re great and have a lot to offer. When talking about ego, I had always thought of it to mean that a person who had an ego was conceited or self-important.
How could I possibly have en ego when I was a shell of the person I used to be; incapable of performing, physically and mentally, to the standards I was accustomed?
Over time, I saw that my ego was much more than that; it was also the “I” part of me that drove my self-preservation instinct and pushed me to regain my life. However, my ego also demanded things and was stubborn, and this was the tricky thing; my ego didn’t always push me in the right direction, or have me do things for the right reasons.
Eventually I learned some things about me and my ego, and the two of us developed an understanding. The most important thing was accepting that I did have an ego, since only then was I able to see the ways my ego can affect me, both good and bad. By learning about my ego I could harness it and use it to my benefit, allowing me to focus on the things I needed to do in order to improve.
While out-of-control egos are a problem, it is appropriate, and even necessary, for our ego to appear at times as we go through life after brain injury. Knowing it is there, and harnessing it, is necessary so you can not have it run your life.
Two general truths I’ve learned about our ego:
1) We all have them, and are all driven by them; sometimes our egos spur us on to do great things.
2) We can be destroyed by them if they run amok.
How can we apply this information to brain injury to help us understand how we can develop our own “understanding” with our egos so we can work to live a fulfilled life?
On the one hand, egos are great because they spur us on to action in order to get better and get our life back. Our ego, though, can also hold us back when we do such things as: insist on doing things a certain way, refuse to accept the reality of our lives, or when we allow ourselves to wallow in our unhappiness.
Our egos are the little voices inside of us that insist we do things a certain way, even when we might see it is wrong. While one part of us wants to improve and live a fulfilled life, our ego may not be ready for us to change or give things up, and just wants to play ball as if we were simply returning to the way things used to be. Does your ego have a hold on you? If it does, then it is not healthy.
The way to determine if your ego is healthy or not is to first decide what you are committed to. In my case, I was committed to improving and living a fulfilled live, learning what that meant for me, and doing whatever it took to achieve that.
I couldn’t let my ego get in the way of what I was committed to, even though my ego sometimes demanded that I do things a certain way, or think about myself a certain way. For example, I couldn’t wallow, or become a “woe is me” person, as a friend of mine used to say. I might have justification for wallowing or feeling sorry for myself, but in the big picture, that would be selfish of me. It would be selfish because, while I might get some feeling of importance from feeling bad, it wouldn’t help me in moving forward. Sometimes, our wanting to wallow is a way to be self-important or to be a martyr, and is just our ego expressing itself.
Our ego needs to be kept in the barn until we need it. The best way to make this happen is to be able to recognize the signs of an ego run amok. An ego run amok can make us feel powerful, but it is the wrong kind of power. One way to recognized this is to take a step back and ask yourself if your actions are in line with your goals. If they aren’t, there is a good chance your ego has taken over.
Our egos can be a fabulous thing as they spur us on to perform, contribute and excel. We need only to be careful we are driven by what we are committed to, in order to insure we are being led in the right direction. If, in the end, we do things for the right reasons, we can help insure success in our endeavors, remembering always that success will not be achieved overnight, and that we are strong and are committed to be in this battle for the long haul.
John Byler says
Great insights. Thanks for writing this. My injury happened 9/21/05 & as I was writing my book I had to focus. I was called natcissistic, which surprised me. I was just trying to do the right thing. Divorce pending.
John Byler says
S H says
I had a different experience in regard to the ego. Every time I found an interest I liked or just found myself doing, I would start having this nagging feeling that the element of emotion I held toward the activity did not belong to me. I felt like a fake or a cheat. I would psychologically find myself as if being put out of myself/as if to say the ego in question was not a part of my being. I had to learn how to personalize that which I enjoyed and did well in order to identify and control it.
I’ve been wondering recently if personal ego has age, can mature, or can even be damaged along with the initial TBI. Maybe the post TBI ego-mind is significantly more childlike and in need of the very very basic safeties in life which is why it’s so effing loud and frustrating. Course add irritability, understanding, empathy and other tbi effects to the mix. Oh, what an interesting life we have!
Nice to know others have been down similar roads. Thanks Jeff.