I learn a lot about ego work for trauma recovery after abuse. For a few years now, I have found that it is one of the most powerful tools on my own healing journey. If you entrust yourself to this practice, you will undergo life-changing transformations. I got to know this method as well as the self-re-education method, thanks to Dr Nicole. She is the author of the book “How to do the work!”
Ego work as a self-healer is for you if you:
– Feeling emotionally exhausted.
– Life doesn’t feel joyful.
– Are ready to let go of black and white thinking.
– Gets into unsatisfactory or toxic relationships.
– Finds connecting with other people difficult or as if something is missing.
Your beliefs are rigid, and you would like to grow.
You are ready to heal.
Before I outline the practice of ego work for trauma recovery, let me remind you that it is just that: a practice.
This is not something that has an “aha” or something that comes quickly. Ego work for trauma recovery is a shift in consciousness. Consciousness is shifted only by repetition.
Keep working patiently and repeating.
There will be a lot of resistance because your ego is most afraid of one thing: change. Let the resistance rise without judgment. Resistance is growth.
What is the ego?
The ego is the ‘I’. It’s how you see yourself. It is the part of your mind that identifies with traits, beliefs, and habits. Your ego is an unconscious part of your mind.
Where does the ego come from?
As a child, you came into this world with an intuitive character. You understood the world instinctively, even though you didn’t speak the language. Your level of consciousness was pure awareness.
As a child, you don’t have a filter. You can play, fantasize and make creations. You are also not yet tied to an identity of who you are. In short, you are born unconditionally.
Just being is natural for you.
During childhood, your ego is in a self-centred state. It is best described by the saying ‘the world revolves around you. In this state, everything happens to you because of you.
Childhood wounds are particularly drastic because of this ego period. It is not until the teenage years that you develop abstract thinking. That is the ability to observe outside of your own perspective.
Your ego evolves to protect you from your reality.
It creates an identity for you to deal with every confusion, disconnection and loss of love that you have experienced. It strengthens an identity to ensure that we can still receive all the love available to the best of our ability.
As you got older, you learned (unconscious) values around intelligence, achievement, preferred emotional states, relationships, and other people. That too is culturally bound, but also according to the family’s habits, the place and the activities of your loved ones. Much is the result of the functioning of the mirror neurons.
Your greatest need is to receive love so that you learn to identify with these values, even if they are not favourable.
Many adults have not evolved beyond the egocentric state. They still believe that something is happening to them. If you think you have no control over your life or that outside events control your life, ego work will be constructive.
The ego is the constructed self!
Your ego is a rigid identity. It has to be like this. It has created a set of beliefs, patterns, and ideas that most people call “personality.” Your ego is defensive about your identity. Most outside confirmed thoughts, beliefs and behaviours will be rejected.
If you want confirmation on this, watch a debate. Debaters don’t change each other’s minds. They go back and forth, confirming their own beliefs. The “winner” of the discussion is simply the person who approves your bias. Their ego defends an idea, and yours protects that person as the winner because they affirm a design or card that you linked to your identity.
The problem with this is that conflicting opinions allow us to grow.
Conflicting opinions, designs, or maps of the so-called reality anger people, because the ego gets out of control the most when challenged.
It feels like an attack on yourself.
Technically, the ego creates the illusion that our opinions and beliefs make us who we are.
This leads to a lot of uncertainty and low self-esteem.
In a fragile state, the ego works overtime to “defend us.”
The ego overcompensates in the fragile state with the following:
– strong emotional reactivity
– false trust (overcompensation)
– black and white or rigid thinking.
– Rejection of any idea that conflicts with the ego’s beliefs.
– Extraordinary competition results from a belief that another person’s success is the loss of their own.
– Constant comparison with others.
– Judge others in a mocking, insulting and threatening manner.
– analysis paralysis or paralysis of thought consists of obsessive thoughts that prevent you from performing an action.
Why is ego work for trauma recovery important?
Ego work is about returning to your “true” nature. So far, your lives have functioned in patterns that you have not consciously chosen. They have been selected for you.
Ego work is a new opportunity to choose.
You don’t want to “kill” the ego or deny its existence. The ego is your protector and has been part of your psyche since you were a small child to help you cope. You want to learn to accept your ego as something separate from yourself.
When I talk about this, I always get the question, “who are we?”. You are conscious awareness or attention. In addition, you are the consciousness that can see other parts of yourself. This ability is uniquely human. Know that you can think about your thoughts. You can reflect on your actions.
Through ego work, you soften the ego.
Picture your ego as a hyper-vigilant guard. This guard constantly scans the environment looking for something or someone trying to harm. What is contrary to the ego’s perception of the self becomes an ‘enemy’.
You have identified yourself with traits for so long that the primary function of your ego is to keep that identity alive.
Doing this ego work for trauma recovery gives your guard (ego) a break and allows new experiences to come into your consciousness.
Without a guard, you can decide how you feel, what you think, and how you choose to react instead of your ego deciding for you.
Self-confidence is the result of loosening your ego state.
Step 1: Allow your ego to introduce itself!
Up to this point in your life, you are usually unaware of your ego. When you are unconscious (95% of the time), your ego is in charge. Being unchecked for most of your adult life will only make your ego stronger.
Only by observing can you soften your ego.
A softened ego brings a state of inner peace.
The ego does not like to be observed, so step 1 is highly inconvenient. Getting through this discomfort takes work in small steps, so be patient.
You can do this first when you wake up, or before you go to bed, it takes less than 1 minute.
Find a quiet place without distractions where you feel most comfortable.
Close your eyes and take a deep breath.
Repeat this affirmation: “I am safe, and I am choosing a new way to experience myself apart from my ego”.
Here we prepare the brain to relax in this work. It can be uncomfortable to see yourself in this new way. You may feel sensations in your body or quick thoughts that tell you not to do the exercise.
This is all perfectly normal fear-based resistance from the ego. Seeing your ego is the first step to taking away its power and control over decision-making.
Step 2: Have a friendly meeting with your ego!
This step is about becoming aware of what you say after the word ‘I’. This is your ego talk. You have been repeating this for many years, so observing what you are actually saying about yourself will be surprising.
The kindest way to meet your ego is when it is not triggered.
Set an intention to witness your ego with one conversation you have today.
Pay attention to everything you say after the word ‘I’.
Here are pointers: Write these down once a day.
There is no right or wrong way to do this. You want to let your stream of consciousness flow without editing or analyzing.
How often do I talk about myself?
What was an adjective I used to describe myself?
Did anything in that conversation trigger an uncomfortable emotional response? Describe that reaction.
Congrats! You just witnessed your ego.
Repeated practice is critical with this new skill of ego work for trauma recovery.
The repetition will open new pathways in the brain and make observation easier over time.
Step 3: Name Your Ego!
When we name our ego, we take a decisive step in seeing the ego as separate from us. Pick a name that comes to you intuitively.
Now name your ego.
My ego’s name is Thomas. I see Thomas come and go. I don’t see Thomas for a few hours, and then he comes around with reckless abandon. Certain behaviours and events make Thomas extra sensitive. That’s okay.
By naming your ego (like myself, Thomas), you are separated from it.
Now you will see the ego come and go. You will be surprised how much the ego comes. And how fast the ego is going to come. This is an observation phase. Practice this phase for at least 2 weeks.
You can have significant breakthroughs during this phase.
In time you will not only be aware of your ego, but you will also know in which situations your ego needs to be triggered. This expanded awareness allows you to look beyond the ego and choose a more aligned response with your authentic self.
Step 4: Meet the Triggered Ego!
Do not start these steps until you have completed step 2 for at least two weeks.
What is a trigger? A trigger is an emotional response that is not identical to the event.
For example, your sister says, “You look tired” at a family gathering. You respond sarcastically: “Of course I look tired. I worked 60 hours a week and raised a child. It must be nice to have tons of free time. Don’t worry, next time I’ll be out of a Cosmopolitan magazine.”
What her sister objectively said: “You look tired.”
What the ego heard: ‘She’s always so rude and condescending to you. It’s because she’s been jealous of you all your life. Now she thinks she’s a little miss.”
The ego is a master storyteller.
It has recorded thousands upon thousands of emotional events and experiences that you cannot even consciously remember. This story serves to protect you, but it always keeps you clinging to your past experiences.
Pay attention the next time you get triggered. You’ll know you’re started if you have a faster heart rate, want to yell or stop or feel like you could “lose it.”
Here are the indications that you are being triggered:
I felt the emotion of… when activated.
I felt the emotion of then…
The event of means… to me.
Here is an example of ego work for trauma recovery:
I felt the emotion of anger when I was triggered.
I felt the emotion of anger as my husband left the dishes in the sink.
The fact that he leaves the dishes in the sink means I’m not worthy of being considered washing them myself.
Okay, so now you understand that the objective reality was that dishes were left in the sink. This triggered anger because of an underlying belief that I’m not worth considering not doing the dishes.
Here the ego felt a core emotion (unworthiness).
This was painful, and because you never learned to process emotions, the ego came to project it. Your ego prefers to dump emotions in others rather than feeling a painful feeling in yourself.
Step 5: Appreciate and Accept the Ego!
This step takes a lot of practice. This will not come to you intuitively, so you will have to repeat it many times before it feels natural.
Here are the clues:
I appreciate that my ego came to protect me from the emotion felt during the trigger.
It’s okay for me to experience that new emotion you want to feel.
I no longer have to associate events in my life with meanings of emotions I feel during a trigger.
I am… (confirm new emotion).
This is what it will look like:
I appreciate that my ego came to protect me from unworthiness.
It’s okay for me to experience dignity.
I no longer need to associate events in my life with meanings of unworthiness.
I’m worth it.
Step 6 This step is advanced or optional work with ego states!
Watch a YouTube video of something the opposite of your point of view. Sit down with the emotions it evokes. Allow yourself to listen objectively to the words. See if you can hear beyond your emotional response.
This practice is very transformative.
I know this is a big chunk of information that will keep you busy for quite some time. I know this can feel overwhelming.
Or like it’s not working, or you’re not able to, or you just don’t want to. By working with ego states, your ego is challenged. So you may encounter a lot of resistance.
Allow yourself to just see the resistance. And keep breathing calmly.
This work is difficult. It’s life-changing.
Commit to it because you deserve to be free.