~ Article written by L. Michael Hall PhD and Shawn Dwyer, ACMC ~ What we call ego-strength is the strength that a person has in his or her sense of self to look reality in the face without blinking. It is the strength that enables a person to face a challenge in life or an upsetting circumstance and not cave in. With ego-strength you are able to stand up to the negative circumstances, stand up against what you might be tempted to do (give up, quit, etc.), and demonstrates an inner strength of determination, patience, persistence, and resilience. That’s what we mean by the term ego-strength. It has nothing to do with pride, arrogance, selfishness, etc.
If that’s ego-strength, do you have that kind of internal strength? How much of it do you have today? How much of it would you like to have? Without ego-strength people react. They may passive shrink away or they may aggressively over-react with unthinking actions. Both the fight and flight responses, however, are the opposite of ego-strength. Now all of this becomes critical when it comes to knowing if your client is truly a coaching client or someone who needs therapy. Therapy is designed to heal traumas and hurts and enable one to build up a new and strong sense of self. Coaching requires ego-strength from the start- ego-strength to be able to handle the challenges that are inherent in coaching.
Clarity about “Ego”
We are all born without any ego-strength because we are all born without a sense of ego or self. There is no “I” at first, there is enmeshment. Baby does not distinguish self from mother. For the infant, it is all one and the same. The word “ego” is Greek for “I” or “me.” Open up a version of the Greek New Testament and every time someone says, “I am…” it is the Greek word ego. Sigmund Freud designated ego as the sense of self, the “I” that deals with and relates to reality.
Normally our ego-strength grows and develops as we grow and develop as persons. It’s part of our psycho-cognitive-social development. We develop more and more of a sense of self as we face reality. As that “I” develops the ability to see and accept reality for whatever it is, without the magical thinking of wishing and confusing our wishing with reality, we have more strength to cope and master the facts and constraints before us.
Weak ego-strength means a senses of self that does not easily face, take in, or cope with life’s challenges. A weak sense fo self fights reality, hates it, and wishes it to be otherwise. Expectations are unrealistic and based on inadequate understanding. Reality seems too big, too frightening, too overwhelming … and so we avoid the encounter. Weak ego-strength means that the person doesn’t feel up to the task and so unresourceful, weak, fragile, unable to cope, etc.
Strong ego-strength describes the person who first accepts whatever is as existing, then it looks at it and explores it with a view of dealing with it, coping and mastering it. With strong ego-strength you do not personalize the things out there in the world or what others say or do. You notice and you access the necessary resources to deal with it. The strong your ego-strength grows, the more of a sense of self we develop, a sense of your skills and resources, of your ability to handle whatever comes.
Ego on the line
This use of “ego” differs from how we sometimes use the word, as when we say, “He has his ego involved” in this or that. Then we are speaking about his self-definition, his pride, and his reputation. Typically this indicates a weak ego strength and the need to boaster it up by fighting and defending and being defensive. The stronger our ego, the less our “ego” is involved, or on the line. Strengthening our ego-strength enables us to sit our “ego” aside and to engage the world in a straightforward way.
Strengthening Our Ego-Strength
Suppose you want to strengthening your ego, what do you do? What patterns enables you to do that? What frames, beliefs, values, expectations, etc. would support you doing that? Start with the following four.
First, meta-stating yourself with acceptance. Access the state of acceptance and apply that feeling to your “self.” Think of something small and simple that you just accept. You could get yourself worked up about it, even furious and frustrated, but you have learned to just go along and accept it. The rain, the traffic, changing the baby’s diaper, taking out the garbage, etc. What is that like? Feel that and reflexively turn that feeling back onto yourself- your sense of self, life, the cards that life has dealt you, when and where you were born, your aptitudes and lack of aptitudes, etc. Acceptance is not necessarily a positive feeling. It’s not resignation or condoning, it is welcoming something into your world without any negative fanfare.
Second, look at your self-expectancies and expectancies of others, the world, work, etc. and adjust them so that you have a fairly accurate map about what is, how things work, and what you can legitimately expect. What have you mapped about yourself, people, relationships, fairness, life, etc.? Every unrealistic expectation sets us up for a cognitive and semantic jar. If it is unrealistic, then you are trying to navigate and work in a world that is an illusion and that will knock you down. This is where and why learning and developing greater understandings about things increases your ego-strength. Knowing what is, how things work, the rules and principles of people, relationships, careers, etc. gives you the ability to adjust your thinking-and-emoting which increases ego-strength. It takes the surprise and shock out of being caught up short.
Stepping into Your Power Zone
Weak and strong ego-strength is related to your sense of personal power or the lack thereof. You increase it when you accept your personal responses of thinking, emoting, speaking, and behaving, meta-state them with a frame of ownership and then by welcoming and practicing the use of your powers, step more and more into your power zone. This increase self-efficacy, activity, proactivity, etc.
A fourth process for strengthening ego-strength is replace rigidity and closeness of mind with flexibility, willingness to accept change, and an openness to the flux and flow of life. The sense of insecurity predominates when you have a weak ego-strength. It is then that you don’t want things to change and we want things to stay the same. As you develop more personal security, you are more open to change and to adapting and to using your resources. If you would like help with developing your inner strength, give me, Shawn a call on 0439194323
There are three magic words that conveys the inner spirit of resilience.
I stumbled onto them in reading Martin Seligman’s work on Learned Helplessness and then on Learned Optimism. In his books he tells the story of moving from being a strict Behaviorist to integrating cognition into his understanding of human nature and eventually becoming a Cognitive Behaviorist. It happened with his studies with animals and how he was able to train them to learn to become helpless.
What later happened, if I remember the story accurately, first he trained the dogs to learn to be helpless. They would just sit on the electrified grid having learned that there was no place they could move where there wasn’t the electricity and so they would just lie down and “take it.” It was as if in doggie think, the dog had concluded there was nothing he could do. “I’m helpless to change things, and so hopeless.” This is “learned helplessness.” Then one day, one of the lab technicians physically moved one of the dogs, who had learned to be helpless, off of the electrified grid to a place where there was no electricity.
That’s when something magical happened
Whereas previously the dog had “learned” he could do nothing and so sat down in a helpless state, now having experienced something beyond the pain, the dog “learned” something else. He learned “there is a place where there is no pain.” He learned that there is hope! Something did make a difference. And even more incredibly, after that the dog could not or would not re-learn the learned helplessness. Seligman’s conclusion was that the dog had now “learned” optimism. That is, the dog had essentially learned, “There is always something that I can do. I am not helpless.”
Seligman said that what the dogs “learned” was as if they thought that the unpleasant experience they were having was everywhere (pervasive), forever (permanent), and about them (personal). Comparing that to people with severe depression, he recognized that this is also the structure of clinical depression. People assume the same things-about space, they assume that the problem is everywhere. About time, they assume that the problem will last forever. And about the source of the problem, it is about them. This gives us three Ps- pervasive, permanent, and personal. Use that template to think about a problem and you will draw the conclusion that you are stuck! You are helpless and hopeless. And, if you draw that conclusion, you inevitably create a good case of depression. It is a formula for personal misery.
Pessimistic Explanatory Style
Structurally, this gives us what he called the pessimistic explanatory style for interpreting events. It is characterized as seeing things through the following lens:
_ Permanent in time: unchangeable, insoluble, insurmountable.
_ Pervasive in space: effecting everything and undermining every facet of life.
_ Personal in source: positing the problem with the self.
With these three perspectives, when facing a set-back a person sees himself as inadequate, deficient, lacking, selfish, mean, criminal, etc. That, in turn, creates dis-empowerment and non-resilience leading to feeling depressed, passive, and suicidal. Not a pretty picture! And when facing a set-back or a knock-down, looking at an experience with these lens makes things much, much worse. For humans it creates depression. But there is good news: You do not have to view things through these lens. There’s a better choice.
A Better Choice
The better choice is to use an opposite explanatory style. Seligman named it the optimistic explanatory style. Here a person interprets the set-back in a “positive” or optimistic way. The “optimism” here is not “Thing will turn out great!” It is rather an optimism that enables you to do something tangible about a set back. It keeps the “bad” or “evil” thing from getting into your inner game. The optimistic explanatory style enables you to interpret the unpleasant event or bad thing through the following lens:
_ Then – temporary in time: The event is about this person and situation in this moment of time.
_ That – specific in space: It is that thing in that space.
_ There – external in source: It is there, not me.
In the place of the pessimistic Ps, you have three new magic words to say, all of them start with T: “That- there- then.” Or if it is occurring currently, then “This- here- now.” With this style, you see the problem as in the environment, the behavior, etc., but not you. “Not me!” This explanation prevents you from over-generalizing and coloring dark the future, life, or another person. You perceive what happened as occurring at a specific time, in a specific situation, involving specific people, etc. This contains the “evil,” thereby preventing it from spilling over onto everything else. It keeps you open, hopeful, and responsible to taking effective actions.
What Seligman discovered concerned a person’s attitude (or meta-state) about three facets of his or her Matrix- Self, Time, and World which, in turn, then affects one’s sense of Power, Meaning, Intention, and State. Framing a set-back or problem as you (your Self) undermines your power to do anything. What can you do if you are the problem? By making it everywhere in your World you over-generalize and imply, “nothing is exempt.” And by making it last forever, you make the problem permanent. No wonder you feel helpless and hopeless. Here, as always, the problem rests in these frames.
Changing the frames (meta-states) so that the problem is outside and not you, limited to the here and now and not everywhere or forever contains the problem. And as it limits the problem, it frees you to be able to do something about it. And when that happens, then you can be resilient. You can bounce back from the problem. So, are you ready for some magic? Try on the three magic words: That, there, then. Or This, here, now. Whatever the problem, say these three words to it. It will contained the “bad” thing so that you can bounce back. There’s more to resilience than this, yet this is the beginning and a powerful beginning at that!
The Art and Science for Effectively Mastering Adversity
We need resilience because we live in a world where things can and do go wrong, where things knock us down, where expectations are violated, where the rules of the game can completely change, where hurtful things occur, where shocking and even traumatic things sometimes occur, where we can experience a mental and emotional shock, and where our hopes and dreams can be knocked down so that we need to re-invent ourselves. For these and other reasons, we all need an inner core of stability that gives us a sense of resilience. To live in a full and vigorous way, we have to have the sense that we can handle set-backs and challenges. If we don’t, we typically begin living our lives on the defensive, avoiding danger and risks, fearful of what might happen, always on the lookout for problems and difficulties. Resilience is a complex meta-state that allows us to “bounce back” after a misfortune.
How quickly can you spring back from a set-back?
What thoughts-feelings, physiology enable you to access resilience?
What do you have with which to respond in a resilient way?
What state/s allow you to produce bouncing back behaviors when things do not go the way you want them to?
Resilience puts “bounce” within us giving us a sense of energy and focus. Resilience is the complex meta-state that enables us to operate from a passionate love for what we do and that puts a spring in our step. Resilience is what empowers us to quickly and immediately bounce back from set-backs and disappointments. Through learning how to master adversity we can naturally apply one state to another state in designing how we relate to events, relationships etc. When we apply self reflexivity of thought and feeling to ourself and we are able to support oursef then it is easy to move through life. And when we apply limiting and negative thoughts and feelings to ourself we can create our own sabotaging experiences where we require a different level of thinking to free ourselves of the understanding we create and that is limiting our potential.
For ideas on resilience, here is what resilience means
The ability to bounce back from a set back, to adapt when things go awry.
The ability to cope and master the challenges and difficulties of life.
The internal process whereby we constantly righting whatever goes wrong.
A process of recuperation and ongoing renewal, and of self-healing.
The inner confidence to take risks and to courageously face changes and challenges.
The ongoing ability of the body, mind, spirit, etc. to recover its health.
The ability to “jump back, recoil, sally, and withstand shock without permanent damage.” Harry Overstreet (1954)
“A lack of resilience can best be understood as a lack of anything to be resilient with” i.e., a lack of resources.
Effectively mastering whatever pressures and stressors get in the way of our visions and dreams.
Not becoming traumatized by a set-back in the first place. This distinguishes it from the ability to resolve traumas and hurts, and recover from set-backs. It speaks about a soul so hearty and robust, a soul with so much “bounce” within that it doesn’t go through the traumatization process in the first place. This is the kind and quality of resilience that we’re after.
Resilience begins when we recognize and own the very core of our “powers” or functions. When we do this we are able to create the higher and more complex states of personal empowerment, responsibility, proactivity, taking initiative. Among our most basic and prime states is our powers to think, feel, say, and do. These are fundamental. They establish all of the higher and more complex powers. It is also a prime power to recognize and own these core powers or functions of our neuro-linguistic functioning. The sense of “ownership” as expressed in the word, “Mine.” We do this to create our own personal Power Zone. By claiming your powers and using them, you build up a strong inner sense of accomplishing and mastery. Would you like that?
How quickly can you spring back from a set-back?
Resilience can support our well being even in situations that are uncomfortable and challenging to adapt to. Through The Coaching Centre you learn about strategies for resilience based on yourself and what you want in life. Feel the difference you can make in the world.