And, it’s not a question of “if” you write (and continually rewrite) your story.
It’s rather about who – or what part of you – is doing most of the writing.
More specifically, will the primary author be your authentic wise-self or your wounded ego-self?
Does it matter? Yes! The former is mostly a conscious process you fully participate in, and the latter is mostly directed by your subconscious mind.
Though both seek to realize a sense of happiness within yourself and life, they each tell the story of your life and experiences quite differently. That’s because … each views the world from a totally different lens!
In contrast to the wounded ego-self, which often sees the world* (in particular, your personal life and relationships) dimly through a lens colored by monotonous hues of fear, the authentic wise-self sees the value of making a conscious effort (not easy!) to see through a lens brightly lit by the full-spectrum colors of compassion (for self and others).
As a result of their unique lenses, the authentic wise-self and the wounded ego-self are often at odds with each other, and can work at cross purposes. Why? They each subscribe to completely different principles, an important consideration if you want more say in the matter. (Hint: The former can be life enriching; and the latter life-limiting.)
There are at least 3 practices to consider when reflecting on how you tell your life story.
But first, in this post, let’s look at key differences between the two parts. Not surprisingly, they are many.
Diferences between wise-self versus ego-self?
While hardwired yearnings for happiness — to matter in life — drive both, the standards they hold and the means they use to achieve this end are worlds apart. For example:
The authentic wise-self:
- Is oriented toward learning, balance and ongoing growth of self as both a separate agent yet also connected, thus seeks to increase knowledge and understanding of how to enhance self and ability to foster healthy mutually-enriching relationships with self, life and others.
- Makes choices and takes action that is primarily energized by optimal emotional states (love-based ones, i.e., compassion, enthusiasm, gratitude, etc.) that accordingly regulate fear-based emotions.
- Is open to recognize own limitations and listen to feedback from others, as a position of growth and openness to making positive change (and toward own self-actualization).
- Is willing to galvanize energy needed to do whatever is necessary to break problematic patterns or core fear reactions (i.e., inadequacy, rejection) that are natural to making positive change and realizing highest goals.
- Understands self as a relationship being, first and foremost, thus places priority on developing own awareness, tuning into own self-talk, feelings and sensations, among other skills necessary to forming healthy relationships with self and others.
- Has the capacity to regulate the processing of past experiences and the full range of emotions, to include fear-based ones, without undue escalation or reactivity associated with emotional overwhelm.
- Last but not least, welcomes the development of a working relationship between the conscious-self (logic) and subconscious-self (body, emotion), and recognizes this as critical to own health, emotional, mental, physical and relational, and so on.
- Is oriented toward ensuring survival, monitoring for threats, and conserving energy for own defense, thus expends energy seeking one of two extremes — either: to block outside influence (i.e., other perspectives, requests for change, etc.) or to block inner connection to sense of self (i.e., change to appease other, gain approval, avoid upsets or conflict, etc.) — either extreme hinders the formation of empathic connection (self & other), emotional intimacy, close relationships.
- Actions are primarily motivated by low-energy emotional states (fear-based ones, i.e., hurt, guilt, shame, etc) that accordingly keep brain (body) in ready-mode to activate its survival system, along with personal-defense strategies, to protect the fragility of wounded ego-self with tactics, such as: on the one hand, one-upping, blame, outbursts, etc., or, on the other hand, withdrawal, lies, denial, passive-aggressive resistance, etc.
- Is defensive and perceives most feedback as personal attacks, may refuse to recognize or change hurtful actions, or resists requests, and overall can turn life into an ongoing mission to protect ego-self and image from real change and perceived attacks.
- Focuses on keeping self safe in familiar comfort zones with the use of defensive tactics, supported by toxic-thinking patterns and limiting beliefs.
- Understands self and others in rigid terms of black-and-white categories of “superior versus inferior,” “good versus evil,” and uses either-or thinking patterns, thus places priority on continually either, on the one hand, proving self “better” in some way, out of fear of falling into “inferior” status categories; or on the other hand, reinforcing view of self as stuck, incapable of making other happy, taking no action as “nothing works,” etc.
- Perceives any “new” perspectives or requests to change as potential threats, dangerous, unsafe, and thus may automatically activate protective emotional-command brain circuits, to distance self from threats (eliminate) and thus lower anxiety levels.
- Resists influence or working with the conscious wise-self, and regards the “discomfort” of frontal cortex processing, such as reflective thinking, empathic connection to self or other, positive change, etc., with suspicion, as potential threats to rigidly defined ego-self.
Naturally, the authentic ego-self and the wounded ego-self achieve totally opposite results.
Different strategies, different results?
While both seek to realize happiness in life, the results the wounded ego-self and the authentic wise-self produce are as polarized as day and night. This follows from the distinctly different methods and strategies they use — as well as the emotional states that energize their purpose and momentum as a result.
- For the former, the best outcome is your survival, and thus seeks to produce improved strategies and tools, such as a more solid case against “others” to defend and protect your ego-self; for the latter, the best outcomes and tools have to do with thriving and self-actualization, sustaining healthy relationships.
- The former sees dimly through the eyes of fear, avoids “truth” of being “known”, and thus is often misguided by own illusions, deceptions and untruths; the latter sees beauty in “truth,” getting to know self, warts and graces, and regards greater awareness, understanding, wisdom as critical to creating a fulfilling ife and relationships.
- The former prefers status quo outcomes, thus blocks or limits change to stay safe and conserve energy, primarily with survival in mind; the latter seeks to do what is necessary, albeit painful at times, to stretch and keep reaching for the stars, and new ways to meaningfully contribute and express your own unique self, talents and passions.
Physiologically, these two parts correspond with the two divisions of the autonomic nervous system of your brain and body. As you likely know, you behave very differently when your parasympathetic nervous system (brain in “learning mode”) — versus your sympathetic nervous system (brain in fight-flee-freeze or “protection mode”) — is in charge of the information processing of your body’s operations.
While both are driven by hardwired emotional drives to matter, to contribute value and meaningfully connect in life, only the conscious wise-self processes information in ways that allow you to:
- Stay connected to and process inner and incoming information, in ways that permit effective processing of (potentially) dysregulating fear-based emotions; and thus,
- Prevent your body’s survival system from unnecessarily activating, and thus shutting down key capacities of your brain’s frontal cortex and other key areas necessary to regulate upsetting emotions (i.e., reflective thinking, empathic connection, compassion, etc.).
- Develop high ego-strength and resiliency, one that is associated with a healthy self-concept, the ability to tolerate discomfort and navigate emotions of anger, fear and vulnerability with relative ease.
In short, these two parts relate to life and key questions differently, and thus are driven by different rules or life principles.
There are at least three practices or guidelines that, when accessed, can help you consciously heal and enrich your life story. This will be the topic of Part 2.