“If I climb, I am followed by a dog called Ego”.
~ Friedrich Nietzsche
Living in a physical body is not enough to draw a boundary around ourselves and others, as is seen by the fact that relationship imbalances exist and are so common.
This is why ego boundaries are needed for personal sovereignty and a sense of self. It is a border between you and the mental projections, impositions and self-absorbed intentions of other ego-bound individuals. A physical body isn’t enough because we are conscious beings, not just physical beings with a reflexive survival instinct.
In this matrix we are cut off from Source (Pure Love, the Light of Life) so if it weren’t for ego superimposing a mental boundary around our physical bodies, we would surely have an identity crisis.
With ego we can create a stand-alone identity – the ‘me versus the world’ and relate to and compare ourselves with others. This is vital in a culture that teaches conformity and passivity. But it can become a lonely existence as it also creates a sense of isolation as it’s very easy to be misunderstood, or not understood by others.
The ego masks we wear are like mental shields we clad our physical bodies with to project to everyone how we would like to appear and be regarded. Yet these ego projections are not always in alignment with our true selves. They are more often ego masks that meet the approval of our stifling culture and are always determined by functional role-plays – like mother, father, boss, doctor, billionaire, political leader, social worker, disadvantaged person, dependable brother, and so on.
In the hands of ego, we are left with a maddening contradictory way of being. On the one hand ego wants us to be unique and special, yet at the same time it craves being normal and accepted by others. The end result is a mind-set that is plagued by duality. It’s always either/or, black or white. We don’t often include a third state and that is ‘neither’ or ‘something else’.
Ego boundaries in relation to others
The most useful place for ego boundaries is in close relationships with significant others – family, close friends and work colleagues. Due to the proximity and dependency we have on such people on a daily basis, there is a risk of blurring the ego border protection.
A person with a strong ego boundary, who has an over-inflated sense of the importance of their personal needs, may unconsciously (or consciously) trample on the needs of their significant other who has a weaker ego boundary.
Why do some people have strong ego boundaries and others have weak ego boundaries?
It’s due to the makeup of the personality of the individual and their childhood formative experiences. A recessive ego trait in one person may be the dominant ego trait in another. The person in a relationship who has a weak ego boundary doesn’t set out to be that way. They were attracted to their partner because they have a trait that they admire and would like to have in themselves. Like the saying goes: opposites attract.
This is most common in family and marriages and the problem with weak boundaries and strong boundaries colliding is partly due to the structure of society.
Day to day we live in isolated units of the nuclear family, as opposed to the extended family. The pressure on the nuclear family to be all things to its individual members is quite intense.
It’s even common for a married/defacto couple to become so dependent on each other that they start to treat each other as extensions of themselves.
For the partner whose ego boundary is weak, the relationship from their perspective is a strain. Instead of a loving partnership they end up enmeshed in the other’s needs rather than being two individuals relating to each other on an equal footing. Once enmeshed, their personal identity becomes blurred with the other. They will adjust themselves to try to please them.
The dominant version of this ego trait is when they avoid intimacy altogether, or terminate relationships early, for fear of losing themselves in having to compromise with a partner.
Asserting needs and desires without becoming accusing or defensive is difficult at first for the person with the weak boundary. They will have developed the habit of satisfying the other’s needs first because it’s quicker. But by falling into that rut, it becomes harder for them to get their own needs met.
If we lived in a more communal existence, like an extended family that pools its resources, there would be less need to draw strong ego boundaries around ourselves to protect our sensibilities from those souls who are very close to us and from whom we expect and give so much.
Have you noticed that the more people you are around the less you need a strong ego boundary?
Sensitive and empathic people have greater difficulty drawing a mental border around their personal identity. They often blur their boundaries with others and confuse their needs with theirs. Perhaps they have a stronger recollection of the loving inter-connectedness we have as souls.
They may fall for the thinking: ‘If I satisfy my significant other’s needs first then my needs will come next’. It doesn’t usually work out that way as ego is self-absorbed and opportunistic, mostly at the unconscious level. Instead of the partner with the strong ego boundary coming to the same realisation, they are more likely to unconsciously fall for their own ego conditioning which expects more and is never satisfied.
What role does Soul play in ego boundaries?
We are over-dependent on ego identification because we are literally starved of information about the nature of soul identity. This is largely due to the lack of elaboration about this important aspect in most modern spiritual teachings.
We hear a lot about ego being the means by which a person is an individual. There is an assumption that to lose ego means to lose self. No wonder most people won’t come near spirituality: they don’t want to surrender their sense of a distinctive separate person to some quantum sea of consciousness normally identified as Universal Consciousness or God.
Yes there is this ocean of spirit which is the life force, the energy and source of consciousness behind all creation. The creations themselves, you and me, however, do have a distinct soul identity (energy signature) and that is the sum of all the physical lives we have.
We entered the physical to differentiate as we already came from that formless un-individuated state but are now venturing out to enrich our existence. An ego is bound to a single life, but the soul is across all the myriad and unique ego lives it has chosen to incarnate into to learn, grow and develop. You could say that the soul is more individual than the ego.
Many great teachings speak of the surrender of the ego to the unity of God. What they leave out is that this is a gradual process that is done in stages according to the individual soul’s needs. Universal Love (God) is so great that we do not become re-absorbed in a minestrone type of consciousness soup after the ‘change called death’.
There is the personal God and the impersonal God (source: Gnosticism). So long as we need to be individual and it’s part of the drive toward our creative experience, we will have as many garments as we need and want before we shed them completely and go back to Source in a pure energy state – if you take that to be the holy grail.
However, like the dye that is cast, the experiences we gain as Souls (shards of God) from our ego lives, can’t be undone – information is never lost. Once we have learned what it is we set out to learn we don’t need ego lives to be individual and we would have learned to be master of our minds. This process is done in very gradual stages, completely tailored to the individual.
This is not easy to grasp because just about everything in the ego world is driven by a common need, a one-size-fits-all mentality, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and so on. On top of that we have to conform to an ego driven view of ‘good’ and ‘right’ which hardly recognises Cause and Effect. If a few members of society abuse the system (and no one cares why, only how) we all end up suffering for it through the imposition of harsh rules and restrictions that limit our personal freedoms.
True sense of self is outside ego boundaries. It means you do not see yourself as a victim when something bad happens. You are a distinct soul who is learning from an experience in this life and instead of lunging at the perpetrator (or set of circumstances) and judging them, hating their guts, you take care of your own garden first.
You look at your responses to this difficult situation and how you can harvest any lessons (painful as they may be). Remember ‘every cloud has a silver lining’.
I know very well that it’s easy to say, and while you suffer it’s a pretty big ask to see it this way. But as soon as you start recovery or are coming out of it, that is the time to take stock and debunk the ‘me the victim’ casting of yourself.
As long as we identify with the victim ego boundary we are no longer individual but a label, a statistic, a stereotype. In this way we focus on the wrong-doing, on the bad luck, prolong the suffering, and completely miss the point.
A comment I read on a forum asked the very good question:
“Why is it always so awkward to say what it is we need and why does it make me feel scared and threatened?”
These feelings and awkwardness arise when you are going against your ego’s programming (mostly from childhood experiences). Up to now ego always responded by avoiding what it sees as confrontation.
It’s a matter of chipping away at the wall of fear brick by brick. You literally have to push past it. Like Dr Susan Jeffers says “Feel the fear and do it anyway”. Trust yourself that you can get your needs heard without resorting to defensiveness. By taking this approach the fear does lessen over time, but remember there is no quick fix.
If you need practical psychological steps to form a stronger ego boundary, I can recommend an article from a life coach about 10 ways to establish personal boundaries.