Originally an advantage, the ego has now become arguably the largest obstacle to self-acceptance.
Why is there a difference in what we think we should be, and what we are?
I recently came to the scary conclusion that, for most of us, a true reflection of who we actually are exists for about three seconds a year, or for as long as it takes us to blow out our birthday candles and make a wish.
Ever since I can remember, I was reminded that if I told anyone what I had wished for, it would not come true. Accordingly, you make the wish without thinking about how other people will perceive it.
It is a true reflection of you.
Sadly, the secrecy and the legitimacy of the wish are inexorably linked.
The fact is that it is only without others knowing what we are wishing for, that many of us are able to make a wish which carries any truth.
As I went through previous wishes I had made (or at least, those that I could remember), I smiled at the fact that each wish was an insight into exactly who I was at that point in my life. This exercise wasn’t so hard for me because for the majority of my early years, I always wished for the same thing: that my whole life up until that point was a test for when it would be revealed that I was, in fact, He-Man – the most powerful man in the universe. Whilst I still think that would be mint, at the time I was completely embarrassed by it. I would never have confessed it to anyone. However, it was only because the wish was concealed that I was confident enough to be so honest.
So why doesn’t this kind of honest reflection happen more often?
Why do our honest desires so often conflict with the outward projection of ourselves? Surely it is harder to be fostering two individuals in conflict with one another, than one true self.
Unfortunately, we are instinctively incumbent with a second self. It is called ego. With twelve tabs open (including a Sigmund Freud instructional video) and after having called a friend who works as a psychologist, I realised that ego is neither an original nor a simple concept. Contrary to how the term is now popularly used, ego is, in fact, a derivative of a survival instinct – our desire to fit in. Once upon a time, group inclusion was necessary for survival. We are now experiencing the hangover of that instinct. Our psychological makeup has not adapted quickly enough to cope with the rapidity of social evolution, as we are still programmed to care more about what others think about us than we do about ourselves. As a result, we have become a victim of our species’ success; what was once an instinctive advantage has now become arguably the largest obstacle to self-acceptance.
There is some good news, though. I actually think that for many of us, lack of self-reflection or honesty is not a matter of us being embarrassed about who we really are, but simply a lack of time spent looking for who that is. Your ego or the “outside you” is constantly moulded and shaped by conversations, visual stimuli, opinions and online posts. Instinctively, it is evolving and changing to meet the expectations of others so that you may fit in. Conversely, the “inside you” barely gets any attention, except for maybe those three seconds every year when you cross paths again and – like with Santa at Christmas – you actually ask for what you really want.
So, what is the key to harmonising our two selves, to destroying this conflict?
I have for a long time considered authenticity my favourite quality in a person, and if you think about it, so have you. A person who interacts with reality based on who they are and not what they think they should be is infinitely more appealing, engaging and altogether “real.”
Let’s firstly consider this at its most shallow level: everyone is under the impression that it is easier to attract people when you are in a relationship than when you are single. But why are you more approachable when you are unavailable? Because when you are already taken, you stop trying to be someone that you think will impress others. (And speaking strictly from a male’s perspective, women can sense this instinctively.)
But I’m not just talking about the mere superficial attraction of authenticity. I believe we actively idolise those who embrace who they are. Why do you love Beyoncé’s curves? Because she does. It’s the same reason that watching Steve Irwin talk about crocodiles is so engaging. Watching someone not only embrace who they are but openly expose it to the world is so admirable because, for many of us, this is so hard to do. Unmarred by agenda or veiled insecurities; we admire their bravery of self-acceptance and respect them for it.
For so many people, the conflict and inner turmoil created by responding to the “two yous” is baffling. Exhausting, even. Sadly, I can think of many people (including myself at times) who have accepted jobs or chased social acceptance in other ways because our ego can dictate our lives. I would go so far as to suggest that the majority of midlife crises arise as a result of people getting to a point of depletion in prioritising their ego over fulfilment – of not fully taking note of what they wish for when they blow out those candles.
My question is now, why do we require candles to view our real selves? Why are we not more fully engaged with who we are all the time? If you asked yourself honestly, I bet you that the birthday wishes you keep secret are at odds with the wishes you would reveal to others. If you really think about it and silence your ego, what you wish for during those three seconds can be scary. But if you choose to listen, every day can be your birthday.