According to Collins dictionary, someone’s ego “is their sense of their own worth.” In psychoanalytic theory, the ego is that portion of the human personality which is experienced as “self” or “I” and is in contact with the external world through perception (Britannica.com).
Our self-importance, self-esteem and self-image are all tied to our ego, and we can have a healthy ego, or have a fragile or inflated one. People in the latter category are not difficult to spot.
A Nigerian thinker once said that one of the common expressions you will often hear when two Nigerians are having an altercation in public is: “Do you know who I am?”
The truth is, many of us move around the public space with a towering ego that rivals the Eyo masquerades of Lagos Island.
Most people with inflated egos are trying to hide their inner insecurity, pain and inferiority complex. Thus, the emptier the barrel, the louder the noise. The smaller the dog, the louder its barks.
Recently, I came across a conversation between two people in a certain Facebook group. One of them, whom I will call Abdul wrote:
“I work hard to be were [sic] I am today both [in] Nigeria and outside Nigeria … I have been to so many country [sic] abroad. I am well exposed to life … I have two solid degrees abroad too. I am a humble person if you are close to me … I have a great personality. that is why anybody i date will never want to break up with me.”
Of course, the exchange went downhill from there. The arrogance in there killed the discussion. No, this is not an unusual experience, especially online. I personally know people who talk exactly like Abdul. They have an oversize ego problem.
This disorder prevents many people from opening their minds to learning or embracing novel concepts. A typical Nigerian knows-it-all and you dare not suggest that he’s wrong on any subject matter.
A typical Nigerian is a jack-of-all trades; if you try to educate him or teach him something, you injure his ego which fills up space and has a crushing weight, and he will fight you with his best weapon: infantile insults.
Alvin Toffle was right: the illiterates of the 21st century will not be those who are unable to read or write, but those who are unwilling to learn, relearn or unlearn.
We have many of such functional illiterates all around us who can never admit to any mistake or ignorance on their part much less receive the illuminating light of instruction and knowledge.
We used to have a next door neighbour many years ago who volunteered to help us move a large stereo of ours to a safer place. While trying to carry the stereo, he found series of wires at it’s back attached to its big speakers, instead of asking someone who knew better for help to disassemble the wires, a bright idea beamed into his nimble mind.
He walked back to his flat, picked up a pair of scissors and proceeded to cut off all the wires! I’m sure he smiled to himself after his “quick fix,” admiring his own faux ingenuity.
And he carried it on as if nothing had happened. My parents were horrified when they later checked the stereo.
People with ego problems are very unteachable. The buck must always stop at everyone else except theirs. They never consider other people’s opinions. They argue blindly on issues, even when they know down deep that they are plain wrong – because to admit that they are in error is a reality too fearful for them to behold.
Folks like these project their inner insecurity onto others and blame others for their own blunders to numb their conscience. It’s always about protecting the “I” factor.
1. People with this personality disorder need to first of all admit that they have an ego problem. The first step to dealing with a problem is to acknowledge its existence.
To cover up an ego problem with convenient cliches of being “assertive,” “confident” or “having a robust self-image” is akin to covering up a festering sore with lipstick and Mary Kay powder.
Some folks are blind to their own selves; they need people around them to tell them how they act. So, getting feedback from folks close to you is a good place to start. A stranger may mischaracterize or misunderstand you, but your family and friends will tell you if your ego is oversized.
Like a saying goes: “If one person calls you a donkey, ignore it. If five people call you a donkey, go get a saddle.”
2. Tell people what you can’t do. Bragging repels reasonable people. You have no idea how many people will be more endeared to you if you’d just admit that there are stuffs you don’t know or can’t do.
This is humility, and it is not mutually exclusive of a healthy self-esteem. In fact, by saying “I am not very good at this, can you please explain it to me” or “I don’t know how this operates, do you mind calling an expert?” you are displaying honesty and emotional intelligence.
I can’t forget a day – that was in 2007 – during my undergraduate days, when a friend, Francis, walked into my room and he found an iPod on my roommate’s bed. He asked him, “Is this an iPod?” My roommate bursted into laughter, “So at this stage, you still don’t even know what an iPod is!” he said in a mocking tone.
Francis just turned to me and said, “You see, this is a problem we have in this country. People always expect others to behave as if they know everything and never ask questions. How do we learn new things if we aren’t free to ask questions?”
That statement lit a bulb in my head. He was right on point. We have a culture that derides people when they admit to not knowing what we think they must know.
I still remember the garrish looks I got from my colleagues when I first told them that I didn’t know how to play football. They just assumed that if you are male, the know-how of football must have been pre-installed in your testes! Such shallow reasoning.
I have grown to watch, ask and listen to people whom I know better than – even my students – in learning several things. I don’t want my ego to pose an obstacle to my personal development.
Learning is part of living; don’t you ever allow anyone – no matter who they think they are – to make you feel guilty for admitting what you can’t do.
3. Don’t die under the weight of public opinion. Ego thrives on public perception:
“What will they say about me?”
“What will they think about me?”
“How will they look at me?”
“How will they respect my education, background or social class?”
“How will they react to my errors and gaps in knowledge?”
Sometimes, these thoughts ring in our heads each time we step out of the door or walk into a place. Look, you can’t live your life to please everybody! Just be yourself. Be free to be you.
Don’t place the public at the driver’s seat of your life, because they will ultimately drive you off a cliff and put the steering wheel right on your fractured chest.
We are all complex beings; we are not actually consistent. So to build your self-confidence on the plinth of public perception is to hinder yourself from living a good, productive and explorative life.