The ego is dead. Long live the ego

This is a blog about consciously creating safety through deepening your knowledge of self and others, and being curiously awake to patterns of behaviour.

Your ego was designed to defend you

Moving Towards Safer Uncertainty requires openness, humility and the courage to invite challenge and vulnerability. In times of stress, such as change and uncertainty, this can be difficult.  Your ego was designed to defend you – it’s a kind of psychological armour. It ramps up as a natural response to perceived threat. Sometimes the response is unhelpful, provoking aspects of yourself you would rather keep in the shadows.

The more you recognise when your ego has been triggered, the more control you have over managing yourself and the impact you have on others. Equally, the more you recognise other people’s patterns of defence, the more flexibility you have for getting past their armour, and into productive and meaningful conversations.

Seeing other people’s difficult behaviour as their defence mechanism, rather than who they really are, gives you access to the sort of forgiveness and intelligence that makes leadership (and relationships), more productive and fulfilling.

Safety strategies

Personality psychology has accepted for some time now, that you are a mix of nature and nurture. You are influenced by both your biology and biographical history. When it comes to your patterns of defence, there is significant learnt behaviour from early experiences and your relationship to primary caregivers.

In this version of the personality, you put your Character Structure together to survive the world. When working within this approach, it is useful to consider what safety strategies are in play with yourself and others.

Very simplistically, the five go-to strategies are:

  1. Escaping to Thought. Disconnecting from the body (and emotion) to avoid feelings of existential threat.

  2. Dialling up Attractiveness. Leading with charm and connection to others, to avoid feelings of abandonment.

  3. Power plays. Establishing status and control to avoid feelings of distrust and manipulation.

  4. Assuming Responsibility. Absorbing workload and maintaining harmony to avoid feelings of punishment and humiliation.

  5. Making life a Competition. Driving with capability and performance to avoid feelings of failure or rejection.

A not so clever disguise

These five safety strategies, can be perceived by others as offensive patterns of behaviour. It’s the stuff clashes are made of. While the behaviour (ego defence) disguises a deeper insecurity, it might turn up as something like:

  • I’m right and you’re wrong - Highly detailed and academically superior while being devoid of any emotional intelligence.

  • I belong and you don’t - Centre of attention and animated while somehow being disingenuous and dramatic.

  • I’m strong and you’re weak - Charismatic and decisive with more than a hint of ‘you are either for me or against me’.

  • I’m good and you’re bad - Grounded and compliant with undertones of judgement and control.

  • I win and you lose - Capable and focused self-belief easily confused for arrogance and perfectionism.

If you are present to yourself and the world around you, and have some knowledge of Character Structure, it’s possible to move past clash and focus on collaboration.

Super strengths

Each of these safety strategies have super strengths. In my work as a Leadership Coach, conversations about strengths are also conversations about weaknesses and vice-versa. One implies the other - they are two sides of the same coin. The early struggles you overcome in life create challenges, but they also created the unique you, complete with gifts.

The corresponding strengths tend to be:

  1. Deep specialist knowledge and /or special (non-linear) thinking

  2. Communication and relational ability

  3. Strategy, influence and breakthrough

  4. Ability to absorb and endure while remaining grounded

  5. Pragmatism, results and capability

Present and pattern

It can be helpful to think about two forms of Character Structure:

  • Being present, or

  • Being in pattern

When you are in pattern, an event of some nature has hooked a deeper vulnerability and triggered your defence armoury. To some extent you have been hijacked and revert to default patterns of behaviour.

The patterns of your personality can be a prison if they are invisible to you. With self-awareness, you can notice your own reactions, and those of others, and return to being present.

When you are present, you are in the gifts and strengths of your Character Structure. From this place you can build productive relationships and make great things happen.

Dying to ego

One of the goals within many belief systems is to die to Ego. Of course, that is a worthy goal implying that you are now beyond the limitations of the separate self. Personally, I remain fascinated by people and the weird mix of behaviours that emerge from nature and nurture. Personalities make life rich. I like the notion of managing unhelpful patterns of behaviour, and being present in your gifts. The ego is dead… long live the ego.

If you’d like further insight into this map of personality, download my free Introduction to The 5 Character Structures.

The 5 Character Structures course.

If you’d like some help in understanding yourself better, drop me a line.


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Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Photo by King Lip on Unsplash

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