We all have a self, though we probably never stop to think about what it is. Our self is the idea we have of ourselves, the mental model of our identity that puts together all of our life experiences and our interpretations of them. If you couldn’t think about yourself as a person with a story and an identity, it would be very hard to function in the world! But, sometimes this mental model we have of ourselves can get insecure or defensive, and we react and protect the idea of who we are as ferociously as we would defend against a physical threat.
A healthy level of self-esteem and the ability to practice self-compassion are important for good mental health. But sometimes we can get stuck in a cycle of self-enhancement, either due to insecurity or because there are just so many opportunities for it around us. We want to buy that new outfit or gadget or car because we want other people to see us in it or because we want to think of ourselves as that kind of person. We browse social media with an eye toward one-upping our friends with our lives. We chase higher-status roles or symbols without thinking about whether they’ll really make us happy or not. At times like this the self gets very noisy–it wants more and more!
Researchers have studied a concept that can be an antidote to this trap, which they called the quiet ego. Studies have found that people who have more quiet ego traits experience greater well-being and are more able to cope with stress, and that even learning about the quiet ego state can support well-being. The quiet ego state has four components:
Inclusive identity, or a balance of concern for yourself and others. This describes seeing yourself as part of an interconnected whole, the ability to see similarities between yourself and others, and to see the humanity of others in a way that feels unifying.
Perspective taking, or compassion. This quality is what it sounds like–the ability to see things from another person’s perspective, to experience empathy, and to think deeply about the experiences of others. It also includes the ability to experience compassion toward yourself.
Mindfulness, which here means the ability to detach from a situation a bit. Mindful meditation or mindful self-awareness can be great tools for mental health. In the context of the quiet ego, the most important element of mindfulness is the ability to observe your own reactions neutrally and to evaluate a situation by stepping outside of your immediate reactions, to get some perspective.
Growth orientation describes an interest in personal growth and the ability to think long-term, rather than acting impulsively based on short-term goals. Growth orientation is focused on making meaning in life and on gaining insight and understanding.
In my next blog post, I’ll get into a little more detail with these practices. But, for now, understanding the noisy ego and the quiet ego state may help you consider new ways of reacting and thinking in your life, ones that will help you move toward well-being and resilience.
If trouble managing stress or life transitions, or symptoms of depression, anxiety, or trauma have you feeling stuck in your life, therapy can help. Reach out today for a free consultation.