I, like many people, battle with grasping the difference between self-love and self-assurance, and ego. The constant crusade between loving myself and protecting myself has built slowly as a result of a series of heartbreaks—from lovers, from mothers, from friends, from mentors… from all of the people I let into my most intimate, tenuous spaces.
My ego began to stand in my place when I was told (as so many Black women often are) that I wasn’t pretty, or fine, or gentle, or smart, or fly or enough. She became my greatest ally and gave me voice to say, “Yes, I am.” In some ways, and at some times, I needed her, but not nearly as much as I’ve pretended to.
If I’m honest, I realize that many of the hardships I’ve faced repeatedly in the last several years—within my love relationships and otherwise—have come specifically to push me past my ego and cement me into my true self. That’s all our egos really are anyway: a representative that allows us to escape vulnerability; a protector of sorts that keeps us from becoming injured by our failures, heartaches and frailties.
Our egos are crafts(wo)men that build forts, walls upon walls, around us to supposedly keep us safe. What we often forget is that those walls keep everyone out, not just the bad guys we’ve created mostly with our imaginations. What we also fail to recall, as our egos build barriers brick by brick, is that they also trap us inside, alone.
Solitude is sometimes an important tool. Often we need to sit quietly with ourselves in order to heal, learn and grow past our pain—and even more often to relish in the blessings that the universe grants us daily. The solitude that ego brings isn’t the kind of regenerative, peace-filled solitude I mentioned above. It’s the kind of quiet that simmers self-talk, that leads to depression and anxiety, that makes us concentrate more on what others think about our lives than what we do, and that ruin our chances at healthy, fruitful and long-lasting love.
If you aren’t aware, relationships guided by egos are guaranteed to fail. I was reminded of this while revisiting a post from writer and clinical psychologist Dr. Kelly Flanagan, where the author (through a letter to his son) reminds us of the only good reason to marry. That reason, according to Flanagan, is “to practice the daily sacrifice of our egos.”
We cannot love fully and completely if we’re not fully available to the people we love, if we’re peaking out from behind our ego-walls.
He goes on to write about why we develop egos and continue to feed them as we age:
At first, we only use the ego-wall to keep people out. But eventually, as we grow up, we get tired of hiding fearfully and we decide the best defense is a good offense. We put cannons on our ego-wall and we start firing. For some people that looks like anger. For other people, it looks like gossip and judgment and divisiveness. One of my favorite ego-cannons is to pretend everyone on the outside of my wall is wrong. It makes me feel right and righteous, but really it just keeps me safe inside of my ideas.We create a world where we believe we’re safe and right and amazing… and then we f*ck around and fall in love. When we love genuinely and earnestly, our hearts begin to attack our ego-walls. And hearts always win. That’s the magic and terror of love, right?
As James Baldwin wrote while contemplating true love in The Fire Next Time, it “takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” We cannot love fully and completely if we’re not fully available to the people we love, if we’re peaking out from behind our ego-walls.
Listen, if we’re loving the right way, we’re handing our lovers every single tool, experience and insecurity that might injure us. We’re serving ourselves up for slaughter. We’re feeling all those things we said we’d never feel and doing all of those things we said we’d never do. Behaving so foolishly is the only way we can achieve the intimacy, closeness, and oneness we desire.
Flannagan goes on to write:
People have sex because for a moment, at the climax of it, their mind is without walls, the ego goes away, and they feel free and fully connected. With sex, the feeling lasts for only a moment. But if you commit yourself to… the long, painful, joyous work of dismantling your ego-walls for good. Then, the moment can last a lifetime.If you, like me, are in search of a continuous climax, send your ego packing and stay for the love below.
Josie Pickens is an educator, cultural critic and soldier of love. Follow her musings on Twitter @jonubian.