Ego on the spiritual journey (part 2/2): ego backlash or the upper limit problem

In the previous post, I described how ego can sneak in as a wolf in sheep’s clothing and can be difficult to discern. In this post, I mention some noteworthy phenomena which I encountered.

Flip-flopping between perspectives

Often, I found myself flip-flopping back and forth between the ego’s perspective and the perspective of my higher self. One moment, I would be ranting about how awful and unfair things are, and a while later, I would listen to the inner voice that told me to be grateful and see the possible benefits of a disturbing situation. Until I would drop back into the ego’s perspective again. Back and forth over and over again until it settled down into a peaceful attitude eventually.

The ego backlash phenomenon or upper limit problem

I have observed a tendency in myself to keep my emotional thermostat at a certain setting which feels familiar. My normal mode of mind is relatively calm and focused on getting the tasks of the day done, be it work, household chores, or writing weekly blogposts. Occasionally, there is a bit of feeling of overwhelm with my long todo list, a bit of annoyance when things don’t go as planned, and some general grumpiness about why I had to incarnate at all.

Strangely though, when things happened which put me into an elated and enthusiastic mood for a period of time, I would come crashing down with a bout of negative feelings afterwards. And from there, I would move into the calm, focused, and slightly grumpy place again. It was as if I needed to stay in a certain range of emotions for most of the time.

This phenomenon has been termed ‘ego backlash’ or the ‘Upper Limit Problem’, a phrase first termed by Gay Hendricks in his book The Great Leap. (Here is an interview with Gay Hendricks about how he discovered this upper limit problem).

Spiraling forward

As I have mentioned before, the path is not a constant climbing up of the rungs of the emotional ladder from depression to peace and bliss. Rather it feels like back and forth and back and forth. It feels more like a spiraling forward motion.

How to deal with ego

In the spiritual literature, I have come across various suggestions about how to deal with ego.

Some say you have to kill it.

Some say that fighting with ego only makes it stronger. Therefore, our only option would be to ignore it because it cannot survive without attention.

Others say that what works best is some kind of appreciative cooperation. So, if the fearful part which believes in separation acts up with only the best of intentions to keep us comfortable and safe, then we should talk to this part and thank it for its good intention, and then tell it to relax and that we are going to try a different route this time.

Maybe there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Or maybe all of these view points together make up the whole picture (like in the parable with the group of blind men describing an elephant).

My path has been yielding to guidance because of the sheer necessity of it. When I struggled to get over the fear of sharing my story, not yielding would result in clogged things everywhere in the house (and boy are there many things which can be clogged, like drains, coffee machine, shower head) and in my body (breathing issues in my throat). But yielding and sharing, even though it was very uncomfortable to go through the fear, cleared these external issues.

So, other people may have a different approach, but for me, dealing with ego meant constantly coming to this place of submitting to guidance with ‘Okay, Thy will be done’ over and over again – because any resistance would have become too painful. So, it was basically an approach of disregarding the ego’s opinion.

8 thoughts on “Ego on the spiritual journey (part 2/2): ego backlash or the upper limit problem

  1. I think ego does have great purpose, those arguments allow us to seesaw through those many adventures to finally find us. How many times have we walked away from our fears, if it wasn’t there to argue we would never go back…face them…and appreciate us in facing them and finally being free. Love is built on those acceptances of what we have become in going through and understanding those many hard bits. Ego…bring it on and tempt me…forward or back 😀 ❤️ 🙏🏽 🦋

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks again for sharing your journey and perspective. I don’t think I’ve found one definition of ego that’s truly consistent. And as far as the idea of killing the ego, it sounds like something a man came up with. As I’ve connected to my inner world to see what’s behind all sorts of negative emotions, they’ve all emanated from parts of me who were scared, angry, didn’t trust, etc. My perspective these days is that what so many people refer to as ego is our inner child acting out. And we can either use the emotions to propel us, to motivate us (as in channeling our anger into creating social change or using it to get us to finally clean out the garage), or heal what really isn’t serving us. And I too see that so much in life seems to spiral back around or cycle up and down.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for commenting and sharing your perspective. I like the perspective of seeing the ego as the inner child acting out. And yes, the emotions can be used to motivate or heal. Thanks for sharing.

      Liked by 1 person

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