The ego is our false sense of self. It consists of an understanding of self, gathered over a lifetime of experiences. It's the sum of our history. Whether positive, negative, or neutral; these beliefs can be problematic. For they are in no way reflective of reality. It is our identity based on our personality. The ego contains our beliefs, talents, abilities, and perspectives. It’s the difference between you and I.
Over the years, like a scarred soldier in battle, our ego develops and decays. The hardships of life form the ego to be fearful and distrustful of others. It also equips the ego with survival skills to fight and defend itself from danger. In other words, an ego that's survived life, especially trauma can lead a life of suffering. Find out more about how it does so in "How childhood trauma affects addiction".
One can feel a wounded ego by the way it manifests itself in life. A wounded ego will get angry, depressed, resentful, and ashamed. In active addiction, we shunned these emotions to keep them alive. Addiction stopped us from dealing with these feelings as they came up in life. Addiction kept the ego alive and well.
Thus, recovery is about dispatching or sending the ego off. This will involve learning to be humble and patient with the self and others. It means replacing a life of fear for a life of love.
Ego Fatigue and Addiction
There is an intimate relationship between ego and addiction. Addiction was the answer to a fettered ego. Addiction was also the result of a festering ego wound. Left untreated, the chaos of addiction would bring certain demise. It was either ego removal or death.
Ego fatigue is when there is no more resourcefulness in the person. The mental energy to keep up a life of self-sufficiency has drawn to an end. It's based on the idea that we all have a limited supply on ingenuity in which, over time, will deplete. It happens when immediate pleasures are more valued than longer term gains. For instance, addicts take drugs for instant gratification. When they do so, they have experienced ego fatigue. It's because they are using self-harming behaviours as a last resort. They are unable to come up with proper solutions for problem solving. They have no idea of the harm, addiction poses. Nor do they realize the consequences of their actions. In this state of ego fatigue, addicts become a burden to themselves, others, and the world around them.
But, in sobriety, recovery gives addicts the opportunity to be productive and useful. They will still prefer instant gratification unless they’ve dispatched the ego. It takes a spiritual program of change to live free from ego. We’ve written an article on the 12-Steps program of recovery. Do take a look at it, by clicking here.
Why does the ego need dispatching?
The ego has played a significant role in daily decisions. A wounded ego has entitlement issues centered on medicating the pain of the past.
For non-addicts, it would seem reasonable that longer term gains outdo instant pleasure. But, for the still suffering addict, the fettered ego sabotages any future benefits. It prefers to submit to the pull of present joys.
Delay discounting is when people’s desires decrease over time. When addicts prefer the pull of instant joy, they negate this phenomenon. The ego fatigue that results from not discounting delays can result in a miserable life.
In recovery, the ego is still there. But, it must go. For the ego houses the addictive personality that comes out as a dry drunk. A dry drunk is someone who is not using/drinking. But, he/she exhibits negative personality traits of active addiction.
Find out more about this personality by clicking here. To nurture it is to have a reservation in recovery, which could end up in a relapse. It's for this reason that addicts in recovery need to be watchful of their recoveries. They need to be accountable for their actions and responsible towards their well-being.
Narcissism and Ego
Narcissism is the disease of "me". Narcissistic individuals either see others as being better or worse than "me". It’s a constant obsession of the self. Narcissistic individuals do not see the world from any other perspective bar their own. They have no concerns for other people.
The purpose of others is one of service and blind obedience. Narcissists are only interested in what they can gain from their relationships with others. Objectification of human beings becomes a major obsession. People become objects of various desires. For example, for sex addicts, the prostitute is a sex object. Or for the boss, a worker is an obedient automaton.
Narcissists want the world to be as he/she wills. If life isn't going "my way", it's "out to get me." This belief comes from the flawed perspective that the world creates events to punish "me". Again, self-obsession is at its core. It’s as if the sole purpose of the universe is to mirror the narcissist’s desires and dreams.
We have written an article on narcissism. It's called "Me, Me, Me – Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and Addiction". Read up on this trait in addiction by clicking here.
The Dangers of Egoism and Narcissism
Being egotistical and narcissistic is dangerous to recovery because of the following:
They fail to acknowledge their mistakes.
When addicts fail to accept their mistakes, they're lost. They find themselves stuck in recovery. This is the first stage in a relapse. Do read more about it in our article on "Relapse Prevention."
It becomes difficult to make friends and social connections.
Stuck in Hubris, which is a form of extreme pride as a result of ego, narcissists cannot connect with others. They become aloof. It's dangerous in recovery because reaching out to others is vital to stay clean. Disconnection can cause isolation, which can result in a relapse.
Narcissists live in delusions of grandeur.
Feelings that you are better than others is a delusion of grandeur. It leaves you with having unrealistic expectations of the world and others. It separates you from reality. This makes it harder if not impossible to be accepting of life. Lacking acceptance, results in relapsing behaviors.
Less likely to be spiritual.
Recovery is about being spiritual. Spiritual people are loving, caring, and giving of themselves in the service of others. The energy of recovery needs to be outward rather than inward. Living in ego makes it impossible to see beyond the self. Hence, it's less likely that one can live with the welfare of others in mind.
Service and being of help to others form an important principle in recovery. Missing out on this leaves the narcissist at the mercy of ego. Once again, this leads back to addiction because it's about fulfilling personal needs.
Closed to New Knowledge.
Recovery is about being open-minded and willing to learn new things to change one's life. But, being egotistical will close one to the knowledge of learning from others. Thus, there will be no growth in recovery.
Stagnation only brings an addict to one direction: back from where he/she came. When we don't move forward in recovery, we move back towards active addiction.
Recovery and Humility
Humility is the opposite of ego. It's the state of not thinking you are better than others. It's also the willingness to deal with things that come up in recovery. Humility manifests itself through learning and admitting your mistakes and shortcomings. It’s an expression of inner vulnerability.
At the end, it's a celebration of humanity at an intimate level of joy and serenity. It's an absence of ego. The easiest way to meet it is by removing that which is blocking it - your ego!
Chuck C., an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) member said recovery is about dawning a new pair of glasses. Being humble allows one to wear those spectacles. It's because we remove the ego-based lenses prior. You can listen to his sharing here.
5 Benefits of Humility in Recovery
They acknowledge their mistakes.
Humble individuals will always look out for their part in a dilemma. They will see that they play a role in their suffering. In the 12-steps, we call this taking one's inventory. Like a shop, we need to be sure we have our inventory in check. The benefit of acknowledging mistakes is that one is aware of shortcomings. It's less likely to happen again when we are mindful of our deficiencies.
Humble people are well connected.
Humility opens up people to each other. People want to be your friends if you have less arrogance and attitude. It becomes so much easier to communicate and be authentic. People confide their innermost selves to you, and honest communication beckons intimacy.
So, humility can connect you with others and at a deep level to encourage growth. When times get rough, they can reach out for the support and help needed. Hence, they are less likely to relapse in those times due to the strength of their humility. The strength of the humble relies on the collective rather than the individual. It’s much stronger than isolation.
Authenticity and Reality.
Humble people are authentic and real. Whatever life presents becomes their reality. Who you see is what you get. There are no hidden agendas or manipulations. They acknowledge and accept the reality of life itself.
They are spiritual beings.
Humility itself contains all the attributes of spirituality. It includes honesty, responsibility, hope, love, and charity. Hence, being spiritual, humble people have an outward energy. They give of themselves much more than expect to receive. It makes them happier than those who expect from others. With such happiness, it's difficult to relapse because there is so much joy to have.
They are Open-Minded.
Humble people are open to new experiences. They do not judge new knowledge but see every opportunity as a chance for new learning.
They have no ego to lose. It's so much easier to take on challenges. People can question them, and they will receive those challenges with an open heart.
They have no reservations when it comes to self-improvement and so, are open to new things. Since recovery depends on solutions, being open-minded will help in this process.
It's been a practice of addicts in recovery to recite a particular prayer to keep a focus on this trait. We recite it either before and after meetings or both. It's the "Serenity Prayer". Take a look at our in-house blog article on the prayer to know more. This cherished tradition is still a hallmark of 12-step recovery for near to 80 years!
The Program at The Solace Sabah - Your Tools to Dispatch the ego.
At Solace Sabah, we help our clients learn to live in true humility. We do this by various means, such as:
Training the self to challenge the mind is a necessary first step. We do this each time we engage in talk therapies like CBT and DBT. CBT stands for "Cognitive Behavioural Therapy". DBT means "Dialectic Behavioural Therapy." Click on CBT and DBT to learn how each therapy helps to challenge the mind.
You could view the recovery mindset as a different neural pathway from the addiction. We create this new pathway by encouraging our clients to develop a beginner's mind. If our mind is full of preconceived ideas, then, it is unteachable. But, a mind that is new and free can process and accept insights about itself. Only with a new mind, will we learn new things.
You should avoid taking yourself too seriously. Light-heartedness is part of the letting go process. Learn to enjoy life, even amid all the pain and struggle of recovery. A good way to do that is to adopt an attitude of gratitude.
Activities at Solace Sabah
At Solace Sabah, indulge in adventure sports, fitness programs, leisure outings, and massages. We involve our clients in these programs because all work and no play are no fun. Recovery should also be relaxing. Enjoying life will make it that much easier to accept the challenges that do come as and when they arise. These activities are part of the process to letting go in recovery.
Helping others is a fine way of getting out of self-obsession. At Solace Sabah, we encourage our clients to support each other in recovery. We call this peers in recovery. Peers show their support through mutual, honest feedback and intimate sharing. We’ve written an article on “Overcoming Barriers to Communication in Recovery.” In it, we talk about peer support as an essential tool for recovery. Do take a look at it, by clicking this link.
Besides that, in the transition phase of treatment, we have our clients do voluntary work. Solace clients used to work for the KK (Kota Kinabalu) Wetlands, planting trees. They have also taken care of autistic children, and cared for the sick and dying.
We have had feedback from them that such activities hac taught them the value of life and others. Their selfless actions have given them peace and tranquillity in their recovery.
A Spiritual Program of Change
As a last suggestion, we would recommend mindfulness, meditation, and the spiritual path. These may sound spooky and mystifying. We'll break it down for you.
Mindfulness and meditation will help you remain in the present moment. This presence is vital to keeping yourself in check. That's important because pride/ego can replace humility in subtle ways. For example, you may feel that because you’ve had a tiring day, that it’s okay to indulge in food. Mindfulness will help you to take stock of unhealthy behaviours that threaten recovery.
The spiritual path is the principles to life. It means doing healthy things while refraining from unhelpful behaviours, a day at a time.
All this will help you experience a spiritual awakening. As this is the ultimate goal, we would like you to consider it as your final destination in recovery. Do read more about it, by clicking here.