In our last episode we explored the nervous system’s role in a inviting an appearance of our arch nemesis. You may recall his new definition:
Saboteur: [sab-uh–tur’] The part of you that tries to protect you from change by removing choice.
Now let’s look at the contribution of another partner in crime, the ego.
By ego I mean, who you see yourself as right now. Everything from height, age, weight, gender, to likes, dislikes, talents, failings, popularity, job status, political and spiritual affiliations, etc. It wants to know exactly who it is and spend a lot of energy reinforcing its definition of itself.
Believe it or not, in most cases it would prefer to hold a negative version of itself versus an uncertain one. Like your nervous system, your ego wants to feel in control and frequently seeks to avoid the destabilization of change.
Accordingly, two of its greatest fears are death and the unknown. Death to the ego occurs when it fundamentally can no longer think of itself the way it used to. Part of the reason breakups and divorce are so difficult is that the ego got attached to defining itself relative to the ex-partner. The devastation we feel is largely the struggle to accept that we are no longer going to have the life we had pictured; we can no longer be seen as part of a couple.
This ego death experience often follows losing a job, kids growing up and moving away, or even a receding hairline. But it can also apply to change we see as positive.
Have you noticed the plot of almost every “E! True Hollywood Story” or “Behind The Music” is the same? A nobody turns into somebody, it’s fun for a while until it all falls apart, but then they figure it out and now it’s all okay.
In fact most stories about everything follow this pattern. We are constantly reminding ourselves that transitions are hard but if we hang in there our egos will reform into a better, more relevant version of who we are in the present.
This makes plenty of sense when we are transitioning away from something we saw as good, but we fail to see the stress it causes our ego to become a rock star, make a quantum leap in our business, or radically deepen the intimacy in our marriage. The fact that a new ego will be reborn into a new and better situation can be of little comfort to the ego that must dissolve for this to happen. There are very few eager martyrs.
Think of it this way: there are support groups for lottery winners. Apparently it’s not as easy as it looks, but we would all take that chance.
Many lottery winners blow all their money and have their lives ruined. In fact most people who end up millionaires lose and remake their money several times before they learn how to keep it.
We don’t take into account that most of our friends are in our income bracket; when we make a huge leap in earnings, our whole social circle can change. Suddenly relatives we didn’t know we had come out of the woodwork when they find out we are rich.
Most people aren’t used to handling money on that scale. Think of all the times you’ve heard of someone who had been wealthy going bankrupt and losing their mansion and all their cars. Didn’t you wonder how that was even possible?
There is a war going on between the part of them that wanted that life and the part of them that has become disoriented and destabilized by it. Guess which side the Saboteur works for?
Change demands we stretch our comfort zones, that we face the unfamiliar. Stretching too far takes us into the stress zone. Too much stress, real or perceived, conscious or unconscious, positive or negative, causes us to contract. From a contracted position we can only see through the lens of fear . Our priority switches from thriving to surviving.
So what happens when this response is running concurrently with your conscious position that you do want to risk and grow (enter the stress zone)? Like a computer program that has encountered contradictory commands, you crash. Your Saboteur finds a way to keep you from starting to write that book, making those important calls, or taking steps to get the support and assistance you require. You get to the end of another day, unable to cross it off your list.
And you wonder why, what’s going on?
I encourage you to ask yourself this: “How did my ego respond to this information?”
Next time, The Good News About Your Bad News.