Unit 5 – Are you using your life to prove that you are okay?
Ego-References and Other Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms
So, indirect motivation is the immediate result of the dependency on our caregiver’s approval that our understanding as a child takes for acknowledgment. Now that we have a sense of the difference between Direct and Indirect Motivation, let us shed a light on the pathway that is responsible for the motivation to be indirect.
So Ego-References refer to a set of required conditions to be performed at a high quality, and include specific behaviors and actions that we believe will satisfy the parent if we can improve our performance of them and that will get us the needed approval. They stem directly from the observations made in early childhood that are referred to in this work as the Early Childhood Survival Strategy (ECSS) (link).
The term Ego-Reference is central and unique to the Sense of Self (SoS) Method. It is a complex concept and part of the Substitute Sense of Self (SSoS)–oriented System.
Ego-Reference as a whole has everything to do with referring to the Substitute Sense of Self, mistaken for the real (healthy) SoS.
Each Ego-Reference, when worked on, is solely geared to win approval while soothing the fear for the perceived ever-present threat of (link) Annihilation that is lurking. Ego-References are grown into solid, unchangeable strategies. You have to think of them as less dense items, with an energy that is still not hardened into, what it becomes in later days, the compulsion a person can’t remove from his or her path because it has become part of him or her. So in general when we speak of Ego-References the child has already grown into an adult.
The specific desired behaviors are meant to result in the person receiving the right “vibes” from his or her caregiver. For example, a person may think: “I have to finish this work today,” not so much because the work needs to be finished—which would be Direct Motivation for finishing the work—but because by finishing it early, I anticipate a sense of approval that will lead to me “Feeling-good-about-Myself”—which is the real motive for finishing the work.
Conditions That Become Ego-References
Which characteristics or behaviors become Ego-References depend on a person’s individual specific circumstances. What the young child discovers when trying to adjust to the caregiver’s demanding behavior or to the caregiver’s responses to its own behaviors determines what Ego-Reference the person will develop. Each individual child discovers different behaviors (to do or refrain from) that evoke approval from his or her particular primary caregiver. Thus, each child develops actions and behaviors unique to itself and its situation, although there most likely are common patterns. It would be interesting to identify those by researching them more in depth. Chosen Ego-References might also have to do with the child’s own specific temperament and inclinations and be colored by the particular conditions and requirements the child senses the caregiver is imposing on him or her. They can be, but are not necessarily, the caregiver’s own Ego-References.
For example, whenever Erica, who had a hard time falling asleep, overslept, her aunt (who had raised her from when she was little) looked at her in a manner that said, “Why do you do this to me?” She would look at Erica with the look of an abused dog, which made Erica feel very guilty. It is not hard to fathom that Erica’s Ego-Reference became “sleeping well.” “I need to sleep well in order to get my aunt’s friendship and approval, which would feel for her as if she was getting the keys to the castle.” (This is a metaphor for her being allowed into her aunt’s environment while feeling included. See The Castle of Enmeshment on page 97.)
Similarly, when Erica was sick or feeling under the weather and had to stay home from school, her aunt silently resented the situation, because it would give her extra trouble. It would be a Hindrance on her way to having a clean house and everything taken care of, which would give her the desired FgaS state. Another interesting detail is that Erica’s aunt did not allow herself to be sick either. Being sick was something the parents of Erica’s aunt despised as well. It possibly was even an Ego-Reference to Erica’s grand- parents. No wonder Erica developed the inner command to make sure she was OK at all times, which would lead her to pretend she was fine, even when feeling under the weather, lousy, or nervous.
Ego-References and Vehicles
As discussed in the preceding chapter, the term Vehicle is used to indicate an action, activity, or behavior that serves as a carrier for and an opportunity to work on an Ego-Reference. The action that functions as a Vehicle has two functions: It brings about an overt result and it serves to realize a person’s Hidden Agenda, which is a positive outcome of an Ego-Reference. A person’s focus is only indirectly on the overt goal; the person’s real intent is to attain the Hidden Goal and/or the FgaS state, feeding his or her SSoS.
Here are some examples of behaviors used as Vehicles: household- or job-related requirements, paying a visit to someone, sending a card to someone, helping someone in any way, pursuing a certain education, educating children a certain way, going places, washing your car, being on time, and having a relationship partner, among others.
You’ll find other examples of Vehicles discussed throughout this book.
Examples of Ego-References
Remember that Ego-References are held subconsciously. Considerable introspection may be required to discover that you hold the belief—accepted in early childhood—that you desperately need to fulfill these conditions and requirements. We can think of Ego-References as self-imposed conditions but we need to be always aware that this was the best that could have been done. It was a second best option. Note that Ego-References are rules with unrealistic demands of “always”—there is no allowance for circumstances. Holding on to Ego-References degrades these peoples’ quality of life and makes them the slave of fulfilling the conditions.
To get a better feel for what aspects of a person’s life can become an Ego-Reference, here is a list of the ones I had.
- As a mother, my family has to be positive and have a positive atmosphere at all times.
- I need to be in shape physically, emotionally, and psychologically so that I am always OK.
- I need to sleep well, be fit, be in a good mood, and look well-rested.
- I need to know what I want.
- I need to be on time.
- I have to have my act together.
- I need to achieve something in life, make something of myself.
- I need to stay away from getting angry, upset, irritated, or even annoyed.
- I need to avoid conflicts at all costs.
- I should never have or create problems for myself or anyone else.
- I have to make sure that I do not become sick or am not feeling well because it is not appreciated.
- I need to do things differently from other people and find a sense of being special.
- I need to be different from what and who I naturally am; I cannot just be who I naturally am.
- I have to stand out from the crowd.
- As a mother, I need to spend enough time with my children and husband.
- As a person, I must achieve great things in the world.
- As a housewife, I have to have my house clean and well-organized.
- As a spouse, I have to be in a good mood and never be angry.
- I must not complain.
- I have to be successful and admired.
When I visited my mother in the last decade of her life (I was in my fifties), I would not enter her house without bringing some flowers or a little gift. I never thought of actually making her a bit happy; I did it to get approval. (Ego-Reference: “not being selfish.”) I had to keep up with my sister who gave her so many presents and flowers. I had to keep up so much that there was no room left for any spontaneity.
Other times, I felt I had to take her on a few trips to change the impression that I was leading a selfish life. My sister did it, so I also had to do it so I would not lose points. But due to the lack of predictability in my sleeping pattern I was unable to offer that as generously for it tied directly to another Ego-Reference, one that already was a hot item during my visits to my mother: I had to sleep well to actually be able to plan to take her out.