science of us

How to See Your Ego Blind Spots

Photo: Lambert/Getty Images

Sometimes I drive myself nuts by having the same non-helpful knee-jerk reaction to an upsetting stimulus. Even when I know my reaction doesn’t achieve what I hope it will, still I do it. Why? It’s madness.

In an essay called “How the Stories We Tell Ourselves Control Our Lives,” writer Peter Crone suggests that these kinds of knee-jerk reactions could be caused by something called “ego blind spots.” I like this idea, and I like the idea that they could be torn out. Or at least monitored with an elaborate system of side-view mirrors.

In the past, he writes, our egos — our senses of self-preservation — were essential for keeping us alive. But the ego is almost mismatched to modern life, he argues, since few of the things we worry about will actually kill us. So when we get upset, it’s “less about a threat to our actual existence,” and more often about a perceived threat to our sense of who we think we are. And those egos are often outdated, too, apparently: what drives us now — the deep internal cornerstones of our egos (our fears and desires) — might have been appropriate when we were younger, when our egos were being formed, his argument goes, but they’re not necessarily what fit us best now. These are our ego blind spots. (I’m envisioning this as my ego wearing JNCO jeans and having braces.) “If you look at your own life,” he writes, “wherever you feel any kind of dismay, I can almost guarantee it’s due to a limiting view of your ego.” Is that true? I don’t know, but I have been feeling a sense of dismay about something, so I used his approach to reconsider it.

Following his advice, I asked myself: Why am I upset? Well, I’m afraid that someone I care about might not care about me. Why? I don’t want to feel rejected. Why? It hurts, and it’s not how I want to think of myself. Is that something I can change? Maybe.

For a while this did seem like a revelation — and I think it still kind of is: maybe I’m more scared of the ego-dent that accompanies rejection than I am of actually being rejected. It’s an appealing idea, because it gives me more control, but I’m not sure.

Ultimately I think it’s more complicated than that. I doubt it’s that easy to just “fix” an ego blind spot, if they exist, but I like the idea, and it’s always nice to feel as if I’m rooting around in my own mind for things to improve or eliminate, Marie Kondo–style. In the end, I visualized dropping a pair of boxing gloves and trying to be more open.

How to See Your Ego Blind Spots