As part of my recent investigations on the nature of the ego I came across this blog post entitled ‘The Ego versus the Soul in Relationships’, which resonated with me. I like it very much… but with reservations.
Essentially, the blogger (John) is saying that ego love is selfish and taking, whereas soul love is loving and giving.
Here’s what I reckon are truths I’ve learned about the ego:
ONE: We can’t NOT have an ego. The ego is the means by which we interact with the external world.
TWO: All relationships between people are ego-to-ego (for the reason given above).
THREE: Our ego is not our enemy. We are hard-wired for survival, not self-destruction, therefore the root of dysfunctional behaviour must lie in self-preservation.
Why are people dysfunctional in relations with people they very much want to experience the bliss our culture promises we will get from love? Fear, I reckon. Plus confusion about what to expect from relationships, on account of being given duff info by said culture.
Why are people grasping? A sense of lack, I reckon.
Many people observe themselves being sane, rational and civilized in their normal dealings with others, but the opposite in intimate relationships. It’s confounds them. We’re led to believe we either are, or aren’t, sane/mature; and, if only we can become sane/mature (how often are people who struggle in relationships told to “grow up”?!), we will always be that way in any and every given situation.
Hmmm, not so fast Mr Bond.
Many people find themselves in relationships where their needs aren’t being met and civilized behaviour flies out the window in their desperation to feed their hunger for love. And the silly rules about monogamy (a bugbear of mine!) mean they can’t go elsewhere for fulfillment. Many are trapped in unhappy relationships with people they love too much to abandon, caught in a ping-pong game of ‘ego love’ when what they both want to experience with each other is ‘soul love’. They’re caught between a rock and a hard place.
I believe some connections poke our inner wounds and some don’t. It’s the combinations of the dynamics of the individuals’ psyches. It’s easy to be civilized when you feel safe and aren’t in pain. But I think the relationships that poke our inner wounds are the opportunities for self-healing. If we can learn from our happy relationships the importance of feeling safe, then the unhappy relationships provide opportunities for considering how we might get ourselves into a feeling of pain-free safety.
BUT… that’s exactly what we’re trying to do with grasping, controlling, manipulative behaviour. And I think probably people who become cold and unresponsive have possibly given up, shut down… perhaps because they feel helpless in the situation… not knowing how to help themself or satisfy the other. What can happen is that if a person believes they don’t deserve love and/or that their love is unwelcome, they won’t be an enthusiastic participant in loving interaction, which makes them seem unloving and ungiving to people who depend on them to fulfil their need for loving interaction, and exacerbates their starvation. It’s a vicious cycle.
But… is it our job to fulfil others’ needs? Only if they’re a helpless baby, I’d say. So, is it reasonable to expect others to fulfill our needs?
Our culture teaches us to look outside ourself for the fulfillment of our needs and desires.
Many people get into a relationship because they are unhappy on their own. They expect the relationship – and the other person – to make them happy, to cure them of their unhappiness, loneliness, sense of lack (I reckon most people have children for this reason, too – eeek). They will go into the relationship with a sense of reciprocal obligation, too.
But, as long as a person is in a state of fear and lack they will be needy. As long as they are needy, they will be grasping because their need is only temporarily abated. They need repeated confirmation that they are loved. They are – ultimately – insatiable.
Two frightened people who are looking to the other to soothe their fear cannot interact lovingly and are doomed to experience the ‘ego love’ as described in John’s blog. An open, giving kind of love – John’s ‘soul love’ – requires fearlessness.
BUT… here’s the point I’m making: BOTH kinds of love are ‘ego love’, but one is between egos in a state of fear and the other is between egos in a state of fearlessness. I don’t think it’s a matter of being selfish or selfless, ego-based or soul-based, as if selfless soul love is a superior kind of love – I think it’s always about the ego manifesting the ‘soul’ (another post is required to explore the myriad definitions of that word!) so that if the soul is in a state of happiness (for want of a more descriptive word just now) the ego will interact as is described in the ‘soul love’ version.
I believe the difference between the two kinds of love described in John’s blog is not about changing behaviour, but changing our state of mind.
Many spiritual traditions teach us to look within. I believe they are more right than our culture is. I believe we do indeed need to learn to self-soothe our distress – but through intellectual understanding, not by the means of escape our culture encourages (shopping, alcohol, etc). In fact, the task is the very opposite of escape! The task involves confronting ourselves.
I believe that what is necessary for loving relationships to exist between people, is for a loving relationship to exist within the minds of each individual. Self-love. Self-nurture. Kind self-regard. Self-soothing. Yes, some self-monitoring is necessary to keep us on the ‘right track’ (the meaning of that will have to be a different post!), but this functioning within us so often becomes dysfunctional… so often it becomes a fierce and relentless self-hatred.
I believe the best thing one can do as an act of love towards others is to cultivate self-love. Does that sound selfish? Narcissistic? Many would say so, but I think the end justifies the means. A person who loves themself exudes love. A person who hates themself exudes hate; they will be needy and therefore grasping for solace. Who would you rather be in the company of?
All those attributes of soul love described in John’s blog… let’s practise them on ourselves. It seems to me that it will naturally follow – effortlessly – that we will be so with others… fearless love… like Jesus to a child… and we can respond with the joie de vivre we had as children before the idea got lodged in our minds that we are unacceptable and unlovable unless we fulfil certain behavioural criteria, as imposed upon us by parents and society.
Many people might ask: How do we achieve this impossible-sounding feat? Well, I’m not an expert but I have some ideas, but they’ll need to wait for another post as this getting wordy and once my blogs get wordy they start to ramble off in confusing directions.
Watch this space!
(Again, I don’t know who to credit the image to – there are zillions of versions on the net – let me know if it’s yours.)