Tuesday, June 15, 2010

gin and dys-tonic (part I of II)

egosyntonic /ego-syn·ton·ic/ (e´go-sin-ton´ik):
a psychological term referring to behaviors, values, feelings, which are in harmony with or acceptable to the needs and goals of the ego, or consistent with one's ideal self-image ... Acceptable to the aims of the ego.

egodystonic /ego-dys·ton·ic/ (e´go-dis-ton´ik):
a psychological term referring to thoughts and behaviors that are in conflict, or dissonant, with the needs and goals of the ego, or further, in conflict with a person's ideal self-image ... Repugnant to or at variance with the aims of the ego.
- Wikipedia

As parents there are things we're really proud of. We tend to express these things vocally, while actively disowning (just as vocally) what does not fit with the complex beast of a self-image we have constructed. My question is: why? Why are we making these loud and bizarre announcements?

I know someone who basically introduces herself as, "Hi I'm Ellie Ego-dystonic* and we don't have TV. We have a car, but we seldom drive it."
* name changed to protect the privacy of egodystonic person.

At little (or no) provocation we all launch into in these tonic monologues ... these strange braggadocio/defensiveness combinations ... don't we?

I do it all the time. Recently I was caught red-handed at McDonald's Playland (okay, it was our FIRST time and my kids only had the apple slices, etc, etc.). I spent most of my time offering up funny ditties to illustrate how little my children knew about the products and services provided there. Totally weird: these other moms were there, too, and I don't recall anyone asking me, "Come here often?".

<< Who's creepier: me on a rant, or this guy? I say it's a McToss-Up.

And here is something really sick: I even do it when I am alone. To myself! Am I afraid of my own judgment? (probably -- I can be a real bitch). Just the other day I pondered the three items purchased at the grocery store: soda, disposable diapers, and frozen pizza. All things I theoretically have no use for; but the evidence suggested otherwise. Even with no audience, I moved quickly to dismiss and justify both the purchases and the assessment of my family that could be extrapolated or "thin sliced" from this ugly still life. Even Renoir could not have made pretty "Still life with Red Baron, Pampers, and Coke"

Here is my theory towards one piece of the judgment puzzle: We fear judgment from others and especially judgment from the harshest of critics--ourselves. This fear of judgment leads us to project a loud and false certainty. Next thing we know, move over Eve Ensler, we are performing a one-woman-show in "The Tonic Monologues" and giving diatribes on strange things. Strange things (mayhaps even ridiculous things) such as: someone who hearts high fructose corn syrup, or doesn't wear their baby, or won't put their baby down, or what-the-F-ever.

So, what if we start by accepting ourselves and our choices and then extend that courtesy to others? I try and live according to my family's values. When I fall short I either need to change direction or just own it and quit making excuses.

If you hear me doing it, hold me accountable. But do it gently, and preferably over my favorite kind of tonic: gin and tonic. And let me know what you think:

Why do we talk so loudly and so often about our choices? Why do we move to defend something when no one even asked in the first place? What do you fear admitting, and what do you offer up with little provocation?


  1. One thing I would especially like to let go of is the desire for approval. It's rooted pretty deep, and I'm finding it very tough to shake. These days I usually don't take it so far as to actually change my behavior or my often not-so-hip or not-so-mainstream views just to fit in with the crowd. But I don't always feel comfortable speaking my mind or defending my choices in every situation. I think there's a time and a place for this.

    This is a little different than the phenomena you're describing, which I've also done. It's kind of like announcing that I forgot to wear deodorant, which I always feel compelled to do. Now why would I volunteer that information? Just in case someone thinks I stink, I want them to know that I know that I stink, and somehow that makes it better? Have you ever seen a cat fall and then immediately begin cleaning itself nonchalantly as if to say "I totally meant to do that"? I think that's it... it's like we're trying to head-off the crash and offer defense for the terrible things we think people are thinking about us. Probably 80% of the time, they didn't even notice. But our ego thinks all eyes are always on us.

    I've got news for my cat though. Yes, I was laughing at you. And no, I didn't buy the cleaning facade. Nice try, tho.

    :) anj

    p.s. I say go for the "Still life with Red Baron, Pampers, and Coke" every once and awhile... maybe when you're in a pop art sorta mood.

  2. I love this post because it rings true. Humans are such strange, egocentric creatures and I am no exception. You have referred to this phenomenon before as "Center Stage Syndrome." People tend to think that they are on center stage being watched all the time by the rest of the world and that everyone else TOTALLY cares about every choice they make. Also, we always think that other people care about how we are dressed. The best way to counteract our own case of "Center Stage Syndrome" is to consider what kind of impact others' choices have on us.

  3. Yes!!! Desire for approval (even our own) = center stage. Let go of both and lose the dissatisfaction. Nice perspectives! Doesn't it always come back to ego in the end? It is so clear-all I need to do is get a cat get and dress it silly.

  4. Okay, so I had to rethink your blog when I actually had someone say some rude & stereotypical stuff about a HUGE and I mean HUGE life choice of mine (I don't want to go into details about what it is in a public forum because that seems like a bad idea). It makes me think there are lots of little choices we defend when no one even asks about them, but what about those huge choices that another person criticizes? Choices that are near & dear to our heart. How should we handle that? In my case, the comments made me uncomfortable and hurt my feelings...but I have to see things in a bigger perspective--am I going to change this major thing in my life just to please one friend? Obviously not. Right now this particular choice is what works best for my own family and I would be devastated if I had to do the opposite of this choice. Having every person I know approve of what I'm doing is SO SMALL compared to what is best for my very dear & beloved family.

  5. Most of the time we are just assuming everyone is looking at us and our choices BUT clearly there is a lot of judgment out there. How to handle those types of overt (and not imagined) situations is much more complicated. When you figure it out maybe you can guest blog the answer here. Yuck, sorry that happened.

  6. I have been on a real personal accountability kick and really reflecting on how much of my own dissatisfaction I generate; the essence of this series. However, I have thought some more about it after my initial response and you are SO right that sometimes people are so blatantly offensive. It is funny how we always know just what to say to ourselves but stand there catching flies when someone is letting us know in no uncertain terms how much they disapprove of our choices. TFPA (titillating future post alert) I am cooking something up about this. Since this is a work in progress I would HUGELY appreciate any thoughts, stories, comments, personal experiences you readers have had with this type of situation.

  7. So now that I've got that first post (ever!) under my belt, here's goes another. I know it has been awhile since this was posted, but I do actually have thoughts on this issue . . .

    So, this whole wanting to be perfect or the best or at the top of your own personal mommy or human being ranking thing, yes, I do that all the time. But since I've become more conscious of it I've been trying to quit. It is hard. This tendency is sneaky and it's everywhere, and when I started paying attention to it I realized almost everything I do/think/feel in the presence of others is really about MY ego. Sometimes even what I do/think/feel when by myself is also about my ego. That sounds terrible, but it is true. Or was true. Like I said, I'm trying to quit.

    So what does this have to do with the question about how we act and what we think when someone does or says something blatantly offensive. For me, it's that I know any keyed up response on my part to this person is totally a function of my own ego. My ego is under attack! Batten down the hatches! Get the thoughts and feelings flowing! And so my thoughts and feelings whatever they are (in my case usually getting mad but not showing it, getting my feelings hurt, distancing myself from this person mentally or in terms of future affection/friendship) are all about my ego. Nothing else. My ego. Because if you take ego out of the equation then the comments or behavior, however misguided or offensive are just comments or just behavior. They don’t mean anything real about me, and I don’t really NEED to do or say anything. I don’t even need to feel anything. I don’t need to write this person off or keep a mental list of their offenses toward me. I don’t need to worry if others share their views. It’s only the ego that has to keep score and worries about ending up on top. If someone misunderstands me, or if in their opinion I have made bad choices or whatever it is, it’s okay. Even if there’s a grain of truth to what they say and I HAVE made bad choices, and what they are saying does make me look bad, it’s okay. It’s only my ego’s incessant need to be adored by everyone that makes it so hard to be misunderstood or judged by someone and realize it doesn’t matter. Because what someone else thinks or says to me doesn’t matter in any real sense in and of itself. It only matters if my ego’s keeping score. For me, there is so much peace in realizing this, but it is hard to put into practice. But if you can stay in this calm place that is not run by your ego a response (or a non-response) comes to you or from you that is very different that what you would have done/said/thought/felt otherwise.

  8. Wendy,
    So this response is sort of blowing my mind. Something I have worked SO hard on (and btw not very successfully) is "sticking up for myself"-letting a person know, in a way that is calm and reasonable, when they have offended me. Mostly- I just don't, make a little mental note, and distance myself. I have thought this was the wrong thing because 1) it robs the person (the offender) of the opportunity to clarify, clear the air, say what they really meant, or just tell me to f off. and 2). It is not assertive

    BUT wow. I just really have to sit with you what you said for a while. Once I went to a forgiveness seminar (would that be a forgivinar?) and the speaker said a key hangup in forgiving is the offended person feels like if they forgive, then the offender is "getting away" with something but that really we have to leave justice in the hands of God, the courts, the universe, NOT ourselves, our job is simply to live a good, just life and not dole out justice. I think that relates to what you said on some level. I just need to integrate the ego aspect in there. So I am going to think about that, like right now.

    When you live by this simple and beautiful code would there ever be an occasion where you would give an "I message" or make the decision a relationship is too hurtful? How would you execute communicating (and feeling) that apart from ego?

  9. Excellent questions. And like I said, I am still on my own journey here, so I will tell you my thoughts on this so far and I'd be curious to hear yours in return.

    To me, I messages and standing up for yourself still fit into the picture, but the difference is the why or the how of what you do in relationships.

    If this is a relationship that is important, that you'd like to take to a deeper level (a level that involves more understanding and consideration and less judgement for example) then you need to communicate (with I messages for example). But in doing so, you still realize that nothing anyone can say or do can ever make you less than you are. You are whole and worthy in and of yourself. The ego's issue is that it is afraid that you're not whole or worthy, so it engages in all kinds of mental/emotional warfare because it has to fight to make sure that "everyone else says you're whole and worthy" or that "you're more whole or more worthy than persons x, y, or z" and therefore good/whole/worthy enough.

    So if you're giving an I message or being assertive to take the relationship to a higher place, a more honest place, then to me that is not ego. Ego is "I need you to know that you've wronged me, or that you are wrong and/or rude." Ego needs them to know that to hold it's place in the rankings, but you (the real you behind the ego that knows there's no need to compete) doesn't NEED anyone to know anything.

    So, in my humble opinion, it would actually be easier to leave a hurtful relationship when the ego doesn't run your life. You can see that you are not being valued as you should be, and you're not all tied up in getting love back from this person you've given love to. You wouldn't let the ego plant that seed of doubt in your mind--what if they don't love me because I'm not really loveable? I have to get them to love me to prove that I am! The ego feels diminished by someone not loving them (even someone hurtful who treats them in an unhealthy way) and seeks to fix it. A lot of times that can mean going back to something unhealthy and re-doing the sick stuff over and over. When you can step away from those egoic needs and know you are lovable and whole by yourself and that nothing anyone ever does or says about you can change that, you can start to deepen your relationships.

    I have come to a sort of spiritual place with this. I think that 'you' behind your ego is the real you--your being or your soul or whatever you want to call it. In other words, we are not our egos and don't have to be run by them. They have served us well in times where we needed to judge quickly and fight for our own survival over the cave man next door, but they don't serve us so well now. This is something I've come to over a period of time through reading and my own experiences and struggles. It's still something I'm working on figuring out, but there's my two cents so far.

  10. Wendy,
    This is just so timely for me. Ego has been on my mind and heart all summer. I have really been focusing on how my ego creates my own unhappiness from within.However,it is occurring to me that maybe much of my interpersonal reactions have more to do with my ego and less to do with my lack of assertiveness than I had previously thought. This gives me lots to think about. I would really appreciate it if you would let me know if there are any particular books you have been reading on the subject and if you would consider doing a guest spot on my blog-this would make a wonderful post. I know you guys are super busy-but please consider it! Thanks Wendy.

  11. I do not claim to understand or truly appreciate or even agree with all the ideas in Eckhart Tolle's books--I have found them to be quite challenging. But challenging in a very growth-producing way. There is a lot he writes about that is so consistant with the science behind counseling/psychology as well as what I know from personal experience seeing clients. And many of his ideas have been nothing less than life-changing for me. I think if you haven't read those, Power of Now is a good place to start. And wow, I'd love to take a crack at a guest post! Not sure how that works, but let me know the specifics of what you're looking for. And feel free to post or not post this comment or edit out bits as you see fit. Thought about just sending you an email, but this was right here and easy!

  12. I'm so glad you are interested! And thank you so much for the book recommendation. I plan to read it ASAP. I am not one to take lightly the recommendations of the shouting universe (see word of the day is magic post). I want you to have complete artistic freedom so take or leave any of this but I am particularly interested in knowing more about the basic fundamentals and the specifics of how you do it, how the concepts translate into real life and real situations. Whenever you have it ready (no deadline!!) just email it to me and I will paste it into post. Thanks Wendy, I am really excited!


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