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Ego Strengths – And Their Absence

Ego Strengths – And Their Absence

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Throughout our lives, we will all experience endless irritations and frustrations, as well as many losses—such as being fired from jobs, suffering betrayal and abuse and losing loved ones.

What makes the difference between those who stay down and those who pick themselves up and start rebuilding?

A major contributing factor is the level of ego-strengths which the person possesses. I do not mean "ego" in the sense of egotistical, self-centered or arrogant, but rather in the sense of knowing what I like and dislike, how – and with whom! – I want to spend my time and validating my right to actualize my talents and strengths without being ashamed of my limitations. We recognize people who have it because:

  • They are not afraid to honestly acknowledge and feel the full range of their feelings – including grief, insecurity, loneliness and anxiety – yet do not get bogged down in these mood states for long.
  • When they suffer a loss, they push forward, focusing on what they can give to others and accomplish, not allowing self-pity or resentment to cripple them.
  • They use painful events to strengthen themselves spiritually, focusing on compassion, humility, creativity and faith.
  • Despite loss, they engage in positive activities (exercise, cleaning, kindness, learning, etc.), knowing that all feelings are transient and eventually fade.
  • They empathize with others, willing to hear and "hold" the pain others are experiencing without trying to reduce or eliminate the pain.
  • They are self-disciplined, courageously resisting temptations and fighting addictive urges, even if doing so means going against the crowd.
  • They take responsibility for their actions, holding themselves accountable and not blaming others for the negativity they may feel at times.
  • Thanks to their independent sense of self-worth, they know that their essence is good and holy even if others are scornful or dismissive.
  • They accept themselves, with their limitations, knowing that perfection is a childish demand, and yet strive constantly to do their maximum.
  • They set firm limits, saying "No" even if it means disappointing others or risking ridicule and rejection. They avoid people who drain them physically or emotionally.

People who lack ego-strengths can be recognized by the following signs:

  • They are on a perpetual roller-coaster, controlled by their moods, fears and anxieties, constantly thinking, "I can't cope with life."
  • They take everything personally and, therefore, are easily insulted, sure that, "No one really cares about me. People are selfish and self-centered and always irritating, ignoring, belittling and hurting me on purpose."
  • They give up easily, thinking, "What's the use? I always mess things up. No matter how hard I try, nothing works out for me. I'm a loser and a failure."
  • They give their personal power over to others, feeling "big" when others admire them and "little" when others are disapproving.
  • Because their sense of self is rooted in others, they obsess about "what do others think of me?" Since they believe, "I'm not good enough," they are sure others feel the same way about them. Thus, they don't trust those who care about them and fear those who don't.
  • They try to control others with guilt-tripping, anger and resentment.
  • They constantly complain about not getting enough from people; there is never enough love, help, understanding, approval, respect, compassion or sensitivity. Feeling like a "nobody," they resent others and belittle whatever others do for them, making it meaningless and feeling that "it's never enough."
  • They constantly judge themselves and others as inferior or superior, rating people according to their looks, income, accomplishments and other superficial factors, turning relationships into competitive power struggles.
  • Fearful of ridicule and rejection, they give up their own dreams and then complain, "I can't do what I really want, because they won't let."
  • They are undisciplined. If an urge to explode or an addictive impulse arises, they give in to it, feeling that, "I don't have the strength to fight."

Ideally, parents should help their children develop ego-strengths during their formative years. But if they were not able to do this for you (often because they, themselves, did not have such strengths), you can begin to develop them now, on your own. This requires that you make small, conscious efforts during the day to think and act differently from the negative script you adopted earlier in life. It's a lot like making the decision not to wear the same clothing you wore when you were five!

  1. Realize that only you have the power to determine your self-worth. People will belittle, invalidate and scorn you. That's life. People think they have the power to decide who is "big" and who is "small." This is an illusion. You are a royalty, the child of G‑d! This gives you worth—even if others think you're a "nobody."

  2. Even King Solomon said, "No one gets even half their heart's desires fulfilled" (Ecclesiastes 1:13). Feeling, "I deserve more," leads to bitterness. Remind yourself, "G‑d gives me everything I need. It might not be all I want, but if I had all I want, I'd be a spoiled brat. I'm getting exactly what I need for my growth."

  3. Know that you can always give—even if only a smile or a word of praise or gratitude. Being in the giving mode puts you in the driver's seat.

  4. Notice and value your smallest acts of self-discipline throughout the day. You had one cookie instead of ten—or no junk food at all? Great! You recycled your bottles or your batteries? Terrific! You kept silent instead of spreading gossip or gloom? Give yourself a pat on the back! It may seem silly, but this is what people with healthy self-esteem do naturally. Copy them! Then, from the thousands of victories you have each day, write down the five you are most proud of in a little notebook. Every act of self-discipline is an act of self-respect!

  5. Make the conscious effort to practice gratitude. Write down five things for which you are grateful each day. An inspiring word of Torah? A flower? A seat on the bus? Enough money to finish the month? A good friend? What about the miracles that happen each day, like not getting run over as you crossed the street or being saved from some other disaster? Write it down.

  6. The greater the pain, the more action you must take. If you don't have the time or money for a gym, take brisk walks or turn on the music and dance.

  7. Keep telling yourself, "Even if I'm not all I'd like to be, I choose to love and accept myself as I am right now and to know that G‑d loves me as I am." Even if you think this is a lie, thinking the words over and over throughout the day will have the same effect as a tow truck pulling a car out of snow drift. The alternative, i.e. continuing to dislike and feel like a failure, is not a healthy choice!

Notice and value your healthy choices. You can choose right now to think an inspiring thought! The ability to choose is what distinguishes us from animals. No one else can do this for us—no therapist, advisor or pill. So give yourself some soul food today! No one can control your mind unless you give them permission to do so.

Dr. Miriam Adahan is a psychologist, therapist, prolific author and founder of EMETT (“Emotional Maturity Established Through Torah”)—a network of self-help groups dedicated to personal growth. Click here to visit her website.
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Anonymous December 22, 2016

The Rebbe Maharash Thank you! It's my turn to join the ranks of those who say what a hashgacha pratis your article was to me, as it was very much needed.

I now understand better the statement of the Rebbe Maharash that thinking about oneself for a few minutes every day for two years will change a person from one extreme to another!

(Can be found amongst the stories in Sefer Hatoldos of the Rebbe Maharash) Reply

Mlk Brockton Ma December 7, 2016

Ego This article is exactly the perfect writing for people who are in need of support to read . I wish I had this article years ago it would helped me tremendously . There still many people who would benefit by reading ego . Reply

Anonymous August 24, 2016

Thankyou Reply

Diane Little Albuquerque & Maine May 9, 2016

Thanks for putting it succinctly I was one of your webinar students and had to drop due to financial reasons & time constraints. This article is a great reminder of the basis of all you have taught me. Nearly every morning, I still read you Neshama Nourishment (similar to the above) and it gives me the strength to start my day knowing that no matter what is happening, Hashem loves me unconditionally, exactly who I am. I am still working to deal with my weakness, your words of wisdom give me the strength to take my power back from other people. Reply

Anonymous Akron. Ohio March 6, 2016

I can really connect to this article. It's hard to making changes in ones live and have others understand where you're coming from. Some of us don't support changes because we also need to change. I liked a lot of the ideas for help I'll try them. Reply

Anonymous Fl July 27, 2014

Thank you ! It may have been years ago, but this article is exactly what I needed to read today. Thanks so much for taking the time to write it! Reply

Chris Florida March 28, 2014

Very blessed Great topic and to the point. Well said. Reply

Yael Jerusalem March 3, 2014

great advice Great advice, i was thinking it sounds a lot like Miriam -- and now I see it's her article. May we all learn to have a good self esteem. Reply

Anonymous egypt, cairo February 5, 2011

very usefule this subject we are need to apply in daily live Reply

Anonymous May 8, 2009

THANKFUL Right now I am going through a hard time when it comes to my self esteem, I am coming out of a verbally abusive relationship and I am destroyed, but I have to beg G-d for light, and this beautiful article has really made my day and given me a lot of consolation. And just as you said it, I will write that today I am thankful to have found this amazing words. THANKS!! Reply

Nancy E. Stokes Pineville, LA/USA via chabadneworleans.com April 26, 2009

Ego Strengths-And Their Absence This is a beautiful article.
Thank you for making it available to me.
I am currently going thru a rough time in my life. Reading this article was a true blessing for me.
God bless you all. Reply

ecb bklyn, ny April 23, 2009

sharing revelations thankyou for sharing these revelations of Truth in such a comprehensive manner, and through the "glasses" of Torah-psychology. Excellent!!! Reply

Malka H. Miami, Florida April 23, 2009

wisdom So much wisdom in one "little" artilce!!!
I had the merit of meeting Dr. Adahan on a recent trip to Israel, and I would just like the readers to know that she's just a "regular" Jewish Jerusalem-suburb lady -- what I mean to say is that we shouldn't dismiss these words of wisdom and very practical suggestions as unattainable to us "regular" folks. She's also a "regular" who worked on herself in such a was as to be able to articulate such wisdom in order for all of us to enhance our lives, one day at a time. And to live by her example is possible. G-d gives us each talents, and it is incumbent upon each one of us to develop and nurture them, to the best of our abilities. She does her "thing" beautifully, and so, too can we, what ever that "thing" is. And the path to doing that is to encapsulated in her above enumerated "lists" of what to do and what not to do, in our quest of being the most successful "me" (or "you") that we can possibly be.
Ya'asher Koach, Miriam! Reply

Anonymous via chabad.se April 22, 2009

Wonderful Very helpful article! Reply

Anonymous April 20, 2009

Amazing This is tremendously helpful.
I'm going to copy these points and add them to the other adages and proverbs that I have taped onto our children's shower walls.

The shower is a good place to meditate and the notes give them G-dly thoughts at the beginning or end of the day.

Thank you for the article. Reply

Anonymous Atlanta, GA April 20, 2009

Nice Article Hate to admit it, but this is quite good. The truth hurts a little, but the Dr. is very much on point. Reply

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