Sometimes the ego acts out in sneaky ways, even in ways that might appear spiritual, noble, or good. This is especially the case when it comes to the Diminishing Ego.
Let me back up for a second. In spiritual teachings, the word ego refers to your conditioned self – the accumulation of feelings, thoughts, biases, and wounding. Most people identify with the ego, but that’s not really who you are. Your true self is deep within, underneath all the conditioning. Awakening and embodiment are, in part, a process of healing and clearing the conditioned self to reveal the true, authentic you underneath.
One of the things I learned in this process is that the ego can never just be with what is; it either has to exaggerate or diminish. It was that realization that helped me understand a facet of ego that is rarely talked about – the Diminishing Ego.
Culturally, we associate the word ego with arrogance – that experience of someone who thinks they are often (or always) right and might be pushy, stubborn, aggressive, or narcissistic. That’s Arrogant Ego, and it’s just one side of the coin.
On the other side of the coin is its opposite – a facet of ego that dismisses itself, puts itself last out of feeling not enough (= false humility), feels wholly unworthy, is burdened by nagging self-doubt, and tends towards co-dependence. This is the Diminishing Ego.
Here are some examples of how the Arrogant and Diminishing Egos act out.
The Arrogant Ego will assume that it knows the answer and broadcast that loudly, while the Diminishing Ego is more likely to have the right answer but will hesitate to speak up.
The Arrogant Ego asserts its projection of value at work (right or wrong), while the Diminishing Ego assumes that it’s not quite good enough and does not stand up for its value or worth.
Literally or metaphorically, the Arrogant Ego will take the last helping of food thinking it is well deserved. Meanwhile, the Diminishing Ego will go hungry and then create a story of martyrdom or noble self-sacrifice, while deep inside it really hurts.
Many spiritual teachings in all traditions are actually intended for the Arrogant Ego. Two of these most popular teachings are: put yourself last and be humble. These are critical and necessary practices for an Arrogant Ego. Unfortunately, sometimes these teachings push the Diminishing Ego further down the low self-worth rabbit hole.
Spiritually, a Diminishing Ego needs to learn to be selfless enough to receive and to let the light and love in. A Diminishing Ego needs to learn that Divine Love is 360 degrees – within you and all around you, for you and for all – not just for everyone else but you. A Diminishing Ego needs to accept that she or he is worthy beyond the question of being worthy of love, abundance, light, etc.
The source of the Arrogant and Diminishing Egos is the same – a fundamental belief that there’s not enough or I am not enough. The Arrogant Ego compensates by externally asserting that he or she is more than enough. The Diminishing Ego compensates by taking on the story of not-enough-ness and then serving everyone from a place of lack. Neither coping mechanism is sustainable; both create a lot of suffering for self and other.
You can experience being Arrogant or Diminishing in different situations at different times. As they are both coping mechanisms, they can be used interchangeably. However, I’ve noticed that most people tend to be dominant in one or the other.
Ultimately, ego – whether Arrogant or Diminishing – is meant to be fully seen, compassionately witnessed, seen through and transcended. The gift of awakening out of the ego is this:
- You can be humble and selflessly serve from a place of wholeness and not lack.
- You can give to others and take care of yourself in a way that feels aligned, true, and compassionate for all.
- You can know that you are inherently whole and perfect in your essence, and also continue to grow and evolve.
- You can make choices from a place of Oneness, Love, and Abundance.
No matter how strong the habits of Arrogance or Diminishing may be, they aren’t meant to imprison you. You are free to see them, learn from them, and grow through them… and, in the process, discover the Radiance of who you truly are.