When you look at Ego, it sure seems to be responsible for all the negative stuff in the world. From that personality conflict with such-and-such that drives us to distraction, to genocide and the threat of nuclear war, if you drill down to the core of it, you can plainly see Ego’s machinations.
So why, in the name of all the wisdom in the universe—and even from an evolutionary perspective—do we develop these ugly, obnoxious little selves that end up causing so much heartache and strife?
Well, when we were young, vulnerable infants, we strategically developed some coping mechanisms to protect our baby selves from the inevitable pain that results from having a human body in this world. Whether it be going hungry or needing to be changed for a time before our caretakers are able to feed and change us or something more traumatic like abuse, we all had to learn to self-soothe and deal with the veritable “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact it was normal, absolutely necessary and intelligent. Dealing with pain by dissociating from our bodies, exaggerating opposing emotional reactions or acting out (to mention just a few possibilities) is quite brilliant. Weren’t we smart little tykes?
Not only is Ego our intelligent way of building a body of coping strategies, according to Peter Bauman and Michael Taft in Ego: The Fall of the Twin Towers and the Rise of an Enlightened Humanity, Ego is responsible for our capacity to conceptualize, imagine and create. They theorize that Ego evolved about 50,000 years ago as evidenced by the thinning of the human skull to allow for pre-frontal cortex development. So, without Ego, there would be no 9/11, but no Taj Mahal, either.
Similar to Bauman and Taft, Eckhart Tolle sees Ego as one evolutionary step in human history that signaled a huge shift in our capacities and consciousness. They see another shift happening now as we wake up to the realization of the limitations of Ego.
The problem arises when we reach adulthood still dealing with life using these coping strategies from infancy. If we, for example, “check-out” and dissociate every time we’re presented with a problem, obstacle or emotion we’d rather not deal with, we’re going to run into some issues in our lives and relationships. We also begin to limit our self-concepts to this body of defense mechanisms because they’re so habitual. We tell ourselves that being otherwise is not an option for us because “that’s just who I am.”
This is where the Enneagram comes in. By laying bare our habitual defense mechanisms, we can learn to observe our own behavior and see ourselves acting them out in the moment. In the beginning, we may be motivated to stop these behaviors, to try to root them out. But that can actually be counter-productive. All it really takes is self-observation, just watching it play out. Over time, what happens is we begin to learn, one experience after another, how self-defeating the behaviors are. As we allow these realizations to land, the behaviors naturally and effortlessly fall away.
The Enneagram also teaches us that we’re not just one of nine personality types, we actually have access to the full range of human expression. It’s just that we limit ourselves to the patterned behavior of our type because it works for us. It gets us what we want and helps us avoid what we don’t want.