The Epic Battle of Right vs Wrong
Way back in 1890 Sigmund Freud was developing the science of Psychology and popularized “Ego Defenses” or the mechanisms we used to keep the mind free from shattering. “Denial” makes us believe something didn’t happen, and “Repression” makes us believe the bad events that happen to us will go away if we don’t think about them. Sigmund Freud started a revolution that is common in our everyday language.
Our Ego helps us cope with pretty difficult stuff and the two just mentioned are keys to protecting us when we are young with limited life understanding. Our Ego also has another tool, it creates the rules to live by in order to keep us safe. For example, looking both ways before crossing the street is one rule. Doing unto others so they will do back to you, is another. Needless to say, we have hundreds upon hundreds of rules that we operate by, but are all of them functional? When they work against us, all efforts must be taken to change the rule so we can live a more functional life.
Where do these Ego rules come from? The majority of our rules are handed down by our family, friends, at school, and even on social media. Since everybody holds these universal rules to be the truth, then why wouldn’t we? So we hold onto rules that worked as a child, but as an adult, if fighting got you through life’s difficulties, it may not work well in your marriage or at work.
Obviously, we need rules or we would be living in chaos. For example traffic laws. If we just decide to drive onto the off-ramp of the freeway people die. So traffic rules are important, but the day-to-day rules that we feel are obvious may be a problem to our overall well-being.
If people don’t follow the rules they need to have some kind of punishment. The traffic laws keep the roads safe – mostly. Though, when dealing with the rules of our Ego, our rules can get very complicated.
“If people are in the quick checkout line with more than the posted items they are rude.” This may sound trivial, but when it upsets us, our Ego Rule was violated and the anger stirred is not harming them, but ourselves. The sudden rise in blood pressure, the moving of the blood to our extremities to fight and its leaving our internal organs that need the nutrients to do their work, only harms ourselves. Why this physical reaction takes place, has many reasons. The key here is to realize when we get upset by the actions of others, perhaps they are violating an Ego Rule that may be outdated. Let’s be honest. You’ve counted the person’s items checking out in front of you.
Our Ego rules can be as simple as: Everybody has to be nice to others. This is an example of a rule that we learned in our childhood. Because many of our Ego rules were created when we were young with limited life experience, wouldn’t it follow that they may be a little bit outdated? Does everybody really have to be nice all of the time? Even nice people have an off day. Then what? Are these people labeled mean for the rest of their lives?
I’m right, you’re wrong. There’s something innately wrong with this picture. When we make ourselves right, it makes the other person wrong. In relationships this spells doom. How loving is it to make somebody wrong? My family weaned me on that. I had to be right. I had to win at all costs. Then I walked into my graduate school and before my seat was warm they told us: “There is no right and wrong but only learning.” No rules! I was flabbergasted! No right and wrong, this was crazy! So I thought. This was when I had my first wake-up call. My schooling came to me on an epic journey through my unconscious rules and I began to scrutinize them.
The teachers kept repeating a poem from the poet Rumi from the 14th Century – “Out beyond right and wrong doing, there is a field, I’ll meet you there.” What field? And what am I supposed to do in that field? Win? All kidding aside, instead of right versus wrong I learned how important it was to learn, grow, and connect with others in a caring manner. The us versus them mentality was soon blown away, especially after I learned about the process of projections and the mere fact that when other people bother you they may be reminding you of yourself.
Welcome to the world of psychology and the weirdest thing of all is the realization that we cannot change anybody else but ourselves. We can’t inflict our rules on others, no matter how hard we try. Stephen Covey, the author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People”, said other people are in our circle of concern. We have no effect on them. We are, in the circle of influence. The only person we can influence is ourselves. Sobering, but true. When we start off a sentence with, everybody has to, must, should, etc, it is pointing out an Ego Rule you have. Instead, personalize this. I choose to… I choose to be nice to others. Or, to finish off the format, “I choose to be nice and others are doing the best that they can”. This focus on self needs to be practiced and repeated again and again for it to sink in that we cannot change them. We can model it, or provide an example to others, basically live the message, but when it gets down to forcing people to do something, we are in the circle of concern only.
If you have children, teach, or coach sports, you understand this. In these situations, praise works well when they do something well. “Great job Sofia!” Though the challenge is backing away from trying to take control and make them be the way you want them to be. Thus the title of this article – The Epic Battle of Right vs Wrong.
I started to make good progress when I asked myself why I believe everybody has to follow my rules. Who was I? I was acting as if I was elected God. Hey, I didn’t create all of this and I don’t know all the answers for even myself. Life to me is a game of coming up with solutions in the moment. I think that is why I can relate to hockey right now. It is a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants game in which people have to stay in the moment and do the best they can. Though fights tend to break out, but it is a lot of fun to see these guys go full-on and put everything on the line.
Each day the battle with my Ego rages on. As a therapist, we have been taught to rationalize our judgments. We aren’t judging people, we are assessing them. That’s a bunch of BS. We are all judging ourselves and each other, though to minimize this, we learned to allow people the dignity of their own process. Yes, this person may be naive and try to figure something out on their own. This is the natural progression and the way people learn. Us rushing in and trying to fix things for them can be looked upon as demeaning. Allowing people to figure things out, like the way we did the majority of our growing, is incredibly loving.
The top two items to avoid are thrusting our rules onto others, and trying to live other people’s lives for them. In empowering others, we need to let them fumble around a bit. My grandmother told me, she never gave advice until somebody asked her a question. At that time she did her best to give a proper answer. Who are we to fix? This is all about our Ego. I am superior is what we want to feel. Is that a loving thing or something that separates and makes one person above the other?
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There are many more tools and strategies you can use in your pursuit of happiness. Here is where we come in. Contact us at Basic Steps Mental Health and let us support and educate you on this journey back to your loving heart center. Imagine living a heart-centered life, regardless of what is happening externally. We’d love to be of help.
For 25 years, Dr. Scott Alpert, the clinical director of Basic Steps Mental Health, has treated over 7,000 people with mental health and addiction problems, using a Psychological approach that mixes and matches ten of the top approaches used in the industry. We are here virtually and in-person to help you get through this COVID-19 pandemic and many other difficulties you may be experiencing.
May you have good mental health.