SkyDancer Essays
Music List
CHC home
Ego > Negative Ego

What is the difference between having a "self" — which we certainly need to function in everyday, relative reality — and being attached to it? How do we manage "ego" with skillful means?

In Buddhism After Patriarchy, Rita Gross describes how feminists, on hearing some Buddhist preaching against ego, often react, “That sounds like a good religion — for men!” She observes that “it is often claimed by feminists that Buddhist concepts of ego and egolessness would be more relevant for men than for women because many women ‘need more ego, a stronger self-concept, not less ego.’ ” (p. 161)

This was my feeling when I first started studying Buddhism. My concept of myself was that I was depressed, incompetent, codependent, fearful and a victim. It did seem to me that I needed a stronger ego. But I was startled by the next thing Gross said.

From the Buddhist point of view, someone who is intensely co-dependent and someone who is intensely macho or self-aggrandizing suffer equally from ego. any style of habitual patterns and responses that clouds over the clarity and openness of basic human nature. Self-effacement is just a style of ego different from self-aggrandizement, but both equally cause suffering to self and others. “Ego” names the defense mechanisms, projections, and other tactics habitually used to cope with and ward off direct experience. All ordinary people have some ego-style, some style of grasping and fixation. The amount of ego really isn’t quantifiable; someone who is forceful doesn’t have ‘more ego’ than someone who is shy and retiring. (p. 162)

Self-deprecating distress patterns are the inverse of self-aggrandizing distress patterns, and both are forms of that habitual way of thinking that shuts us off from reality. Just as aversion is the flip side of attraction, and both are forms of attachment.

Understanding this allowed me for the first time to watch my habits of defensiveness and victimhood — and not identify with them.

See also my comments on

© Copyright 1998 and 2006, Catherine Holmes Clark. Last Updated 8 November 2006