Welcome to the Masculine Psychology Podcast, where we answer key questions in dating, relationships, success, and fulfillment, and explore the psychology of masculinity. Now, here's your host, world-renowned therapist and life coach, David Tian.
David: Welcome to the Masculine Psychology Podcast. I'm David Tian, your host. In this episode, I'll be revealing to you how you can undo the inner conflicts you might be feeling around important decisions, or achievement or accomplishments, or just in your day-to-day life.
This is obviously important, because if you're plagued by inner conflicts in your life, you will end up only being able to achieve or accomplish major goals in your life through stress and anxiety, and resistance inside, inner resistance, and overpowering parts of yourself in order to achieve when you repress, exile, disown, cut out parts of yourself that you don't find useful, for achievers, that might be your ego, which is going to be the example that I focus on, the case that I focus on in this episode. [01:12.0]
But for guys who are trying to get better with women, it could be the shy guy, the socially-awkward guy, the anxious guy or nervous guy, those parts of yourself that if it's true that they're there, and instead of trying to understand them and help them, you just, instead, want to exile them, kick them out, cut them out, disown them, wish that they never were a part of your life. If you rely on that energy, the only way that you will achieve is through repression.
Repression is what happens when you suppress parts of yourself for so long and are so used to it that it becomes unconscious, and it then becomes repression. Repression is unconscious suppression, and when you've been trying to suppress parts of yourself, again, the socially-awkward version of you or part of you, or the ego part of you that needs to think very highly of yourself or that is constantly comparing to others and needs to compare well in order to feel good about yourself, and you don't like that those parts of yourself. [02:16.7]
If you are relying on repressing those parts of yourself in order to achieve or to feel good about yourself, you will lead a disintegrated life, a life in which all of the parts of you are not integrated in our harmonious whole, but are, instead, in conflict, and that's why you experience inner conflict.
The normal solution that you find on the internet and just sort of common sense, but especially life coaching and especially life coaching in athletics, the normal solution to inner conflict is to repress one of the sides, right? Inner conflict would be assuming there are two sides and sometimes more, two or more sides that are in conflict, and one way to, quote-unquote, “resolve it,” at least in the short term, is to just cut out one half of it so that there's no conflict anymore, because one of the sides won out. [03:10.2]
But that's a repressive strategy. You're trying to repress the half, the side that you don't like, but instead of that half that you have cut out dying off, it just gets exiled. It gets locked up in the basement of your mind and now it gets pushed further down into your unconscious where it still is active and it still is feeling, and it still is doing stuff under there to sabotage you, but you're now no longer aware of it. Now it's no longer accessible to your conscious, and as a result, because it's in your unconscious, there's nothing. You can’t do anything about it.
That's why the therapeutic process is so important, because it brings up the unconscious parts of you that have been repressed that are still very much active, but you've simply exiled them out of your awareness, and this is why achievers experience so much inner conflict that they don't know how to resolve. [04:01.7]
Sometimes they're experiencing active inner conflict where they just can't decide. They literally have two voices sort of like the angel and the devil, one on each shoulder kind of thing. I mean, it's not clear which one is the angel or the devil, they're just fighting. But more often, especially if you're a more advanced, seasoned, veteran achiever, the parts of you that were getting in the way of your accomplishing your goals have been repressed so far beneath the surface into your unconscious that they just sabotage you.
Then you're not even aware of why you're unable to find fulfillment, lasting happiness in life, or calm or peace or satisfaction for very long, or while your relationships keep imploding or exploding. You try your best, but you just can't figure it out, but there's something there that is undermining you from within. We start with noticing how you can only achieve through stress or anxiety or pressure, and then we notice one of the reasons why that's the case, instead of being able to achieve with ease or with joy, or with flow, and having instead to rely on stress, anxiety, and pressure. [05:06.8]
One of the reasons for all the stress is the inner conflict, and the reason there's inner conflict is because you are trying to decide which side to side with, or you've repressed the part or parts that are in conflict that resist or disagree with the part that's running your conscious decision-making.
The case that I'm focusing on here is the ego, because this is so common for achievers to think that the ego is the enemy, and I'm not bringing up that phrase in order to attack Ryan Holiday's book, Ego Is the Enemy. I think Ryan Holiday does a great job explaining the Stoics and Stoicism. Instead it’s that “ego is the enemy” is a great phrase and I'm hearing it a lot in the internet that I consume or that I am shown through the algorithms, and I'm noticing that this is now just sort of taken for granted that ego is the enemy without much explanation. [06:03.0]
There was a time when my achiever parts ran with that phrase because it is very consonant with Evangelical Christianity and traditional Christianity, and that's something. The ego is the enemy was a kind of view that I took already since my teenage years and relied on to achieve a lot. Actually, the whole time I was in academia, the three master's degrees and a PhD, I believed that the ego was the enemy, and as a result, I led a disintegrated life of repression and I was only able to achieve via deadlines, and the accomplishments, any major accomplishments were accompanied by stress and anxiety and pressure.
Now I know better and I’ve led many people through this realization that the parts of themselves that they think get in the way of their success or the things that they want to accomplish in order for their need for significance in the sort of external way to be fulfilled, those parts are not the enemy. But if you view them as the enemy and you attack them as the enemy, and you try to kill them off or exile them as the enemy, it will only lead to a repressive life. [07:10.2]
In the shorter medium term, you may not notice this. Plenty of achievers can go for a decade or two or more, relying on these repressive strategies to get stuff done, especially if they get used to relying on stress, anxiety, pressure, deadlines in order to get things done and not experiencing accomplishment with ease and joy, and fulfillment and flow, because the toxicity in the internal system that repression brings builds up over time. It rusts or like plaque.
Eventually, you'll get burnt out. You'll find your work meaningless or no longer satisfying, and finding very little fulfillment in it, and then you'll really have to force it. Then because you're so good at forcing it, because that's what you've been actually doing for a decade or two, you just keep doing it, but then you start to notice how this has been infecting and sabotaging your personal life. [08:07.7]
If ego or the part of you that needs to think highly of yourself and that compares yourself to others and needs to compare well for you to feel good about yourself, that part of you—we’ll just call that provisionally for now, the ego—if the ego part in you is not the enemy, then what is it? And what do you do with it?
Instead of demonizing your ego or that part of you that is the ego, you could appreciate it for its positive intent. How could your ego have positive intent, you might ask. Let me use an example. I have a client whose name is Eugene, and Eugene growing up was bullied, and this is quite common for intellectual types. In their childhood, they probably didn't stand out for their athletic abilities and they probably weren't socially savvy, but luckily for them, they had intellect and that was their redeeming quality that gave them some value in the school. [09:06.4]
They may not have had much social value on the school playground, but in the classroom they got better treatment from the teachers. They stood out. They were rewarded, and that was their saving grace, and if they kept at it, they probably would've been identified for some sort of intellectually-gifted school so that they went to the type of school that had or concentrated more intellectuals, more nerds, as they might have been called back then, so then they maybe didn't get bullied physically so much anymore. But now maybe in that school, you are intellectually bullied if you didn't know the answer, because now it gets more competitive, and that was the case for Eugene.
From about the second or third grade, he was bullied all the way until around puberty, and at that point, he tested into one of the more scholastically-difficult or challenging schools, and there he was free from the physical bullying, but now in the classroom, it was a lot more competitive. [10:04.4]
But he rose to the occasion and did well because this was a game that he understood. This was a battle that he could win and he was rewarded for it, both by the school system, the teachers and so on, and the grades, of course, but also by his parents whose approval he craved.
Because he was rewarded so many times for his intellect for being smart and having that reinforced over and over the many years, and this was his way out of being bullied and picked on, his most redeeming trait, the one that he perceived in himself gave him higher value, in his eyes, the most valuable thing about himself. By the end of puberty, he adopted being smart as the core of his identity, the thing that made him special. [10:53.8]
Because his parents, whose love and approval he craved the most, responded with so much effusive adoration as a result of his academic achievements, the proof that he was smart in his eyes and in their eyes, being smart was the main way that he could prove that he was worthy of their love. Of course, that means that he'd be worthy of love, in general. There was that part of him that had to be smart, and then there was, of course, the other part that had to be a good boy, in the eyes of his parents anyway. Those were the two main ways that he was able to prove to himself that he was worthy, worthy of their love and therefore worthy of love.
That drove Eugene to get into a really top Ivy League university and then to get a graduate degree at a top school, and then in his mid-twenties, to get in a very high-paying position in a major tech company. But then every time there was a setback—like for university, he didn't get into his top choice or he only got a mediocre performance review at his job, or a more recent example is when he got passed up for a promotion that went to, in his eyes, his competitor at the company—whenever these setbacks came up or threatened to come up, his what he called his ego reared, in his view, its ugly head. [12:14.5]
It would always come up in these comparisons with that closest competitor at work or other kids who got into a school that he was trying to get into and didn't. Not only did he compare himself to those, of course, that he lost to, as a result of these setbacks, but in order to make himself feel better—of course, he was doing this unconsciously—he would compare himself to people who were worse off than him, and every time he did that, he felt superior to them and the view was “At least I'm not as bad off as this guy.” Then other parts would chime in and chastise him, and he'd feel guilty for even thinking the thought, but, of course, he still thought the thought. He still harbored these thoughts, these feelings of superiority. [12:56.7]
[Alfred] Adler has written quite a lot about this sort of inferiority complex that postures, that overcompensates by focusing on its perceived superiority or possible superiority as, of course, an overcompensation for the underlying and stronger inferiority complex, and that's what was happening with Eugene's ego part.
Because his whole identity, core, the core of his identity was wrapped up in being smart, any threats to that or perceived threats to it would mean that he was no longer worthy of love. Eugene was brought up a good Christian kid like me, and already those parts that chastised him and made him feel guilty for harboring those thoughts that he was better than others were responding with that sort of energy and those views of how important humility should be. Of course, those parts too are presenting valuable opinions and views, and also had positive intentions to make sure that he was a good boy. [14:03.5]
In working with his ego part that these other parts of him that wanted him to be a good boy, when working with the ego part, these good boy parts were trying to exile the ego part. In working with all of these parts, we first helped him to notice what was actually going on, that he wasn't a bad guy or a bad boy for harboring these thoughts and needing to feel superior to others in order to feel security or to feel some certainty in his life, and more deeply, to feel significance and to feel that he's worthy of love.
Both sets of parts, both the ego part and the good boy parts, were trying to get the same thing for Eugene. They were both trying to ensure that he was good enough, worthy of being loved. They were just doing this in very different ways, and for a lot of his life, Eugene's good boy parts won out over the ego part, except in more trying times when there were some sort of external circumstances that cause him to doubt whether he was smart enough—and that throws the ego off, and the ego part then jumps in and responds by trying to make himself feel better or beating himself up so that he'll work harder, so that he can compare more favorably with those who beat him in competition. [15:27.4]
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The first step was just to notice what was going on, that he wasn't a good boy who was trying to fight those bad parts of him that he called ego. In other words, to first notice that the ego is not the enemy. Instead, it's a part of you that's trying to get love. It's just doing it in a way that is no longer working well and is causing more harm than good.
After we got to know the good boy parts, which is one side of the polarization, one side of the conflict, we then were able to turn to the ego part, and the ego part started to show us, as we were able to come to it with loving understanding, first with acceptance that it is there and it's not a part of you that you can cut out or kill. [16:49.5]
Part of the working assumptions of IFS Therapy and major types of experiential therapy all the way back to Carl Jung is that you can't kill any parts of yourself. Once they're fully fleshed out and online, you can only repress them, exile them, lock them up in the basement of your subconscious.
But then, in a way, they're even more powerful in a kind of lashing out, backlash type of manner, because it's in your unconscious, so because it's in your unconscious, you can't work on it consciously. The first step is to notice that it's even there in your unconscious so you can bring it out into your conscious, so that then you can actually work with it.
Working with it here means, just as Eugene did as we turned to his ego part, it was to first accept that it is there and then to move into a kind of interested curiosity about it. Why is it that you're doing this? First of all, what is it exactly that you think you're doing? And getting clear on how it views its own role or its own job.
In this case, the ego, as for most people's ego parts, especially achievers’, the ego is there to make sure that you compare favorably with others, because if you compare favorably with others, then you'll be rewarded, and most importantly, rewarded with love and connection and approval. [18:10.3]
Underlying all protective parts, like this is a job that's trying to protect Eugene from being found unworthy and, therefore, losing love, for all protective parts. They're doing this job because they're trying to ward off some deeper fear. As you come to them with interested curiosity and acceptance, and as you learn their job, maybe some appreciation for their hard work and their positive intention, then you can turn to this transitional question of “What are you afraid would happen, or worried or concerned would happen?” part, in this case, the ego. What are you worried a concern would happen, if you were to stop doing this job?
When we asked Eugene's ego part this question about his fears, it began to show us or show Eugene these memories surfacing that he had long forgotten of the time before he had taken on that identity of being smart as his core value, as what was most valuable about himself. [19:13.4]
He remembered these times when he was bullied, and he was looking for some way desperately to distract the bullies and to protect himself from getting bullied the next day, and other things that he had tried that he saw other kids try, like cracking jokes or fighting back, didn't work for him, partly because he wasn't particularly athletic at that time and he was outnumbered.
That was the fighting back part that actually made things in a way worse, because it confirmed to the bullies that they could do anything they wanted and there would be no physical repercussions. When he tried to be funny, he just wasn't very funny. I think, even now to this day, he's not particularly funny. [19:53.4]
Instead, he eventually found this way of compensating for being picked on as his intellect and that was what he leaned on to get him out of that situation. This fear of the ego was that if he couldn't be proven smart, so it was constantly scanning, “Am I smart enough? Am I smart enough? Am I good enough? Am I intelligent enough? Am I proving that we will continue to become smarter and continue to achieve more?” constantly scanning.
It was coming from a time when he was afraid that if he ever were to be found wanting in terms of intellect, then those fears would come rushing in where he would get bullied, and even worse, that he would be proven to be unworthy and insignificant.
Ultimately, the ego showed a memory of the time when he first tried to bring the bullying to his parents' attention and this he had long forgotten, and his parents brushed it off. They didn't take his pain seriously. The adult Eugene thinks it has to do with how much stress his parents were under as immigrants just to get by. [21:00.5]
They owned a shop that required all their attention from the morning when they opened until very late at night when they closed, and adult Eugene thinks that they just didn't have the bandwidth to be able to take on their boys' problems at school, so he had to figure it out himself. Of course, when he started to get really good grades and really distinguished himself scholastically and intellectually, and he did very well on those standardized tests that would get him entrance into various prestigious schools even at the younger age, his parents paid a lot more attention to him and they started talking about him to their friends, and so he felt special, as a result.
This became, as I'd already charted out, the core of his identity and it became, in his eyes, inseparable from who he was so that if he were somehow to lose his intellect, maybe in an accident or something, it would be such a shock that he might as well kill himself, because he wouldn't know who he was and he would think of himself as not having any value or much value. [22:02.8]
After learning all this about how the ego part came online, as a result of needing to protect Eugene from being bullied physically and verbally, but also of ensuring and getting more of the love and connection that he crave from his parents, and then having that linked to the worth, his worth being linked to his intellect as the way he can secure love and connection, he was then able to fully appreciate and understand why the ego part was so harried, why it was always so panicky and had this feeling of anxiety accompanying it, of constantly scanning whether he's good enough compared to that person or the other person.
That's what the ego does. The ego comes up and compares. When you compare favorably with the people you're comparing against, you pat yourself on the back and you have this smug self-satisfaction, and that's linked to a kind of superiority complex. When you compare less favorably, you feel inferior and you really beat yourself up. These are extremes of highs and lows. [23:10.6]
The ego part is constantly feeling anxious because it's constantly comparing, and when it compares well, it's on a high, and when it compares poorly, it's on a low, and it's constantly scanning and, therefore, it's constantly going up and down and it really depends on or it's totally subjective who you're comparing it yourself to.
The natural self-help, life coaching approach and the kind of common sense approach is just to kill the ego, and so you get the ego as the enemy, and this just makes intuitive sense—yeah, kill the ego because it gets in the way, because you shouldn't be comparing yourself. You should just get your head down, lose yourself in the activity, forget comparing, just lose yourself in the process and all that.
If that is true for you that you can just get into flow and you don't even have an ego part, then that's awesome. But if you happen to find an ego part and it's comparing, it's going to be almost impossible for you to actually kill it. If you demonize it as the enemy, the best you can do is to lock it up in your unconscious where it then will sabotage you from underneath and undermine you. [24:10.1]
As I was sharing earlier, you either have inner conflicts consciously or you have them unconsciously. As a result of these inner conflicts, you are only able to achieve and accomplish major goals in your life with great stress, anxiety, pressure of deadlines, and that sort of thing, the sort of approach to work that most achievers are very familiar with.
That leads in the long term to burnout, but even worse, to a feeling of sort of meaninglessness and a kind of emptiness, an inability to actually derive much satisfaction or fulfillment from your accomplishments that you sacrifice so much for and work so hard for.
The thing to do, if you want love, joy, fulfillment in your life, is not to see the ego as the enemy, but to see the ego as a part of you that's got positive intent and to appreciate it for that, because if you can appreciate that part, the ego part of you, it will relax and then it will show you how it started this job. Then it will reveal to you the underlying fears and insecurities, and worries and concerns, that are driving its activity of constant comparison and needing to compare well with the sort of frenetic, frantic, anxious energy. [25:17.8]
Once your ego part trusts you enough to show you how it started this job, the sources of its fears and insecurities, and of it's identity, of its very being, how it started to take on this job, then you can go through an unburdening process. I have something akin to that in my online courses, which you can access through the Platinum Partnership, and you can also do this unburdening process with a good IFS therapist and there are other types of therapy that have their own version of this, like Gestalt Therapy, for example. As a result of this unburdening process, that ego part is able to let go of these fears that are driving its constant comparison. [25:59.3]
Now, one extra step that you find, especially in IFS Therapy that I’m only throwing here at the end so as not to tempt those who have not even started this therapeutic process of turning toward their ego, is that the ego is actually protecting a more vulnerable part that was being hurt, and in Eugene's case, it was the part of him that was expecting his parents to be able to protect him from the bullies or that they would at least come to him with understanding in their presence and so on.
When they didn't repeatedly, eventually this ego part jumped in and said, “Of course, they wouldn't do this, you sniveling idiot, you pathetic little thing. We have to achieve in order to be worthy of their attention. We've got to figure this out. We have to come to a solution and implement it.” At that time, that gave birth or activated multiple parts of him, including these intellectual parts, the achiever parts, and one of those parts was the ego whose job was to monitor whether they were on track. He did that by scanning the sort of intellectual status of the other people that he would be in competition with. [27:11.0]
I just wanted to point out that there is that further step very commonly that there is a more vulnerable part that the protector is protecting. That's why we call them protector parts. All of this would become clear as you go through these various steps in the therapeutic process.
That's what I recommend, and if you want to stop relying on stress and pressure in order to achieve your goals, and instead you want to actually experience what it's like to accomplish with ease, because you're in flow. To find fulfillment in your work and in the activities that you do during the day, and in your personal life, is you want to be able to be self-sufficient for love and connection to be able to meet your own needs for love, connection, significance, worthiness yourself, which, by the way, is the prerequisite for a lasting, successful long-term relationship and is a prerequisite sort of length the foundation for experiencing unconditional love. [28:06.2]
Then don't see your ego as your enemy. Your ego is not your enemy. It is a part of you that has positive intentions and is trying to protect you from some kind of hurt or pain, and has probably been working very hard. The first thing you can do after you notice it and come to a place of acceptance of it—you can't kill it off and you wouldn't want to, is appreciation.
Your ego is not your enemy. Your ego actually has positive intent and it is craving your appreciation, and when it gets your appreciation, it will reveal to you its sources of its insecurities and its fears. When it does that, it'll be ready to let go of those so that it can take a new role in your life, one that is actually constructive and is a healthy, positive role, and one that it enjoys. As a result, it will come into a naturally more harmonious integration with the other parts of you. [29:02.8]
If this sounds appealing to you, if this is something you're interested in, check out my online courses. The “Platinum Partnership” is a really great way to start on this therapeutic process, and thank you so much for listening. Let me know if you have any feedback, any comments. I love reading your comments, and please share this with anyone that you think would benefit from it.
Thank you so much for listening. I look forward to welcoming you to the next episode. Until then, David Tian signing out.
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