By Dr. Russ,
Optimism is enhanced by the absence of ego from our self-worth and the absence of ego from our communication with others. Here is an example of what I mean.
A friend of mine recently inquired: “Dr. Russ – How can I communicate more effectively with my fiancé?” He explained that while they dearly love each other they are still having unhealthy and emotionally draining arguments over minor and sometimes really petty things.
The Problem of Ego
He gave me the example of how he might express some negative or critical feelings about something her family said to him. He explained that he felt hurt and unfairly criticized, even “put down.” But, when he brings up his hurt feelings to her, she gets upset with him and then he feels attacked. It is clear from the description that his fiancé also felt attacked because she took the criticism of her family as a criticism of her and as a threat to her ego. Pessimism is the only result of such an interaction.
I explained to him that they were both letting their egos get in the way of effective communication and their happiness in the relationship. I said the key is to remove the ego from the communication. Here are some suggestions that I made.
- Use ego-detached communication. Instead of saying, “I felt hurt when your parents compared my profession to low life in a polluted body of water,” try to communicate with a detached ego and say, “I am wondering what your parents meant when they said most people in my line of work are equivalent to “pond scum.”
- Admit to your ego sensitivity and reactivity. Describe your ego-involvement and then communicate with ego-detachment. Begin with a description of your ego involvement: “When your parents started talking about their past experience with the low life of my profession, the hair on the back on my ego’s neck started to stand up.” Then explain you are trying to keep your ego in check and see what they might have meant by saying: “I am telling my ego to chill out because I can’t imagine they would be talking about me like that. I am wondering what they were trying to convey.”
Using such ego-detached communication poses the issue as a problem for joint deliberation and exploration without arousing an ego-defensive response in the fiancé. Thus, she is now able to respond in an ego-detached rather than ego-defensive manner. She might come back with one or more of the following:
- “I too was wondering what they were thinking.”
- “They did have some negative experiences in the recent past with people from your profession, but they have told me how different you are. I may need to make sure they tell you that person-to-person.”
What do you think? With this exchange - will the rest of their day be positive or negative?