The term, “ego” has a benign meaning of “self-worth.” In this sense, ego is indistinguishable from one’s deepest values, as a sense of genuine self-worth depends of fidelity to our deepest values.
The problem comes when ego inflates to a feeling that the self is superior to other people. This leads to entitlement, i.e., a belief that you deserve special consideration, which is bound to produce resentment and discord in relationships. Love relationships in particular require compassion and equality in terms of value, which is why ego is the worst enemy of marriage.
Ego: The World’s Worst Defense
Inflated ego is a defense against shame or feelings of failure and inadequacy. It is based on a profound misunderstanding of the role of shame in the human motivational system.
Shame is a correction message, not a failure message. It tells you to do something different that will improve your experience of life at that moment. As a defense against shame, ego prevents improvement, and thereby undermines the motivational system. The larger your ego grows, the less self-aware and able to improve you become, which is why ego is the worst enemy of the self.
Shame and Values
Shame serves as guardian of our deepest values. Whenever we violate them, we experience shame, not as a punishment that requires defenses, but as motivation to be true to our deepest values. As soon as we think and behave according our deepest values, shame diminishes. As long as we do not, shame increases, forcing us to develop elaborate avoidance strategies, such as distraction, drinking, drugging, thrill-seeking, blame, criticism, resentment, anger, and aggression.
In love relationships, shame motivates integrity to our deepest values, which usually means behaving more compassionately toward loved ones. Inflated ego short-circuits the purpose of shame and eventually destroys intimate relationships.