Throughout our lives, we will all experience endless irritations and frustrations, as well as many losses, such as losing a job, suffering betrayal and abuse, and the death of a loved one. What makes the difference between those who stay down and those who pick themselves up and start rebuilding? The answer is the level of ego-strengths the person possesses. I do not mean “ego” in the sense of egotistical, self-centered or arrogant, but rather in the sense of knowing what you like and dislike, how – and with whom! – you want to spend your time, as well as validating your right to actualize talents and strengths without being ashamed of your limitations.
We recognize people with ego-strength because:
They are not afraid to honestly acknowledge and feel the full range of their feelings, yet do not get bogged down in bad mood states for long.
When they suffer a loss, they push forward, focusing on what they can give to others and accomplish, not allowing self-pity or resentment to cripple them.
They use these painful events to strengthen themselves spiritually, focusing on compassion, humility, creativity and faith.
Despite loss, they engage in positive activities (exercise, cleaning, chesed, learning, etc.), knowing that all feelings are transient and eventually fade.
They empathize with others, willing to hear and “hold” the pain others are experiencing without trying to reduce or eliminate the pain.
They are self-disciplined, resisting temptations and fighting addictive urges, even if doing so means going against the crowd.
They take responsibility for their actions, not blaming others and maintaining their independent sense of self-worth, knowing their essence is good and holy even if others are scornful or dismissive.
They accept their limitations, striving constantly to do their best.
They set firm limits, saying “No” even if it means disappointing others or risking ridicule and rejection. They avoid people who drain them physically or emotionally.
People who lack ego-strengths can be recognized by the following signs:
They are on a perpetual roller coaster, controlled by their moods, fears and anxieties, constantly thinking, “I can’t cope with life.”
They take everything personally and, therefore, are easily insulted.
They give up easily, thinking, “What’s the use? I’m a loser and a failure.”
They give their personal power over to others, feeling “big” when others admire them and “little” when others are disapproving.
Their sense of self is rooted in others. Since they believe, “I’m not good enough,” they are sure others feel the same way about them. Thus, they don’t trust those who care about them and fear those who don’t.
They try to control others with guilt tripping, anger and resentment.
They constantly complain about not getting enough from people; there is never enough love, help, understanding, approval, respect, compassion or sensitivity.
They constantly judge themselves and others as inferior or superior, rating people according to their looks, income, accomplishments and other superficial factors, turning relationships into competitive power struggles.
Fearful of ridicule and rejection, they give up their own dreams and then complain, “I can’t do what I really want, because they won’t let.”
They are undisciplined. If an urge to explode or addictive impulse arises, they give in to it, feeling that, “I don’t have the strength to fight.”
Ideally, parents should help their children develop ego-strengths during their formative years. But if they were not able to do this for you (often because they, themselves, did not have such strengths), you can begin to develop them now, on your own. This requires that you make small, conscious efforts during the day to think and act differently from the negative script you adopted earlier in life. It’s a lot like making the decision not to wear the same clothing you wore when you were five!
1. Realize that only you have the power to determine your self-worth. People think they have the power to decide who is “big” and who is “small.” This is an illusion. You are a ben/bat Melech! This gives you worth – even if others think you’re a “nobody.”
2. Shlomo HaMelech said, “No one gets even half their heart’s desires fulfilled” (Koheles 1:13). Feeling, “I deserve more,” leads to bitterness. Remind yourself, “Hashem gives me everything I need. It might not be all I want, but I’m getting exactly what I need for my growth.”
3. Know that you can always give – even if only a smile or a word of praise or gratitude. Being in the giving mode puts you in the driver’s seat.
4. Notice and value your smallest acts of self-discipline throughout the day. For example, eating 1 cookie instead of 10 – or no junk food at all? Great! Then, from the thousands of victories you have each day, write down the 5 you are most proud of in a little notebook. Every act of self-discipline is an act of self-respect!
5. Make a conscious effort to practice gratitude. Write down 5 things for which you are grateful each day.
6. The greater the pains, the more action you must take. If you don’t have the time or money for a gym, take brisk walks or turn on the music and dance.
7. Keep telling yourself, “Even if I’m not all I’d like to be, I choose to love and accept myself as I am right now and to know that Hashem loves me.” Even if you think this is a lie, thinking the words over and over throughout the day will have the same effect as a tow truck pulling a car out of a snowdrift. The alternative, i.e., continuing to dislike and feel like a failure, is not a healthy choice!
Notice and value your healthy choices. You can choose right now to think an inspiring thought! The ability to choose is what distinguishes us from animals. Each time we value a healthy choice, we strengthen the “Moshe Rabbeinu” within us and this is what enables us to take ourselves out of “Mitzrayim.” No one else can do this for us – no therapist, advisor or pill. So give yourself some soul food today!
The ADAHAN FUND has no office or salaries to pay. All donations are gratefully accepted and will be given directly to the impoverished people who turn to me for help. Send to 13/5 Uzrad, Jerusalem 97277 or 2700 W. Chase, Chicago, 60645. I can be reached at email@example.com, 011-972-2-5868201 or www.adahan-online.com