The unconscious ego is really good at protecting its stories…really good. It finds so many ways to justify and defend every idea and action the person wants to keep around. On the other side, the ego will mitigate, denigrate, and avoid any and every idea or experience that challenges how the person wants to view him/herself, others, and life. This puts the individual into tunnel vision about life, and that blocks from view many events, ideas, and situations that fall outside what the ego is willing to accept.

One of the ego’s favorite ways to protect its story is to justify something as having had to happen. If something happens–particularly if it doesn’t go well for the person–then the ego says, “Well, this had to happen.” This fatalistic justification neatly avoids looking within to how a person may have co-created a situation. It avoids looking at the beliefs that underpinned the actions the person took that lead to whatever happened. It also avoids looking at any fears and insecurities the person may have. It’s a protection racket that tends to be a masterful form of self-imposed ignorance and denial.

But if you’re really walking the spiritual path, then you cannot allow one ounce of intentional ignorance. There is so much unconscious ignorance–ignorance that we don’t even know about–that we need to get out that we can have no part of with avoiding anything. So, this aspiration to truly know ourselves leads us to looking for these ego defense mechanisms so that we don’t stay trapped in delusion.

Know Yourself and Your Ego Defenses

One key aspect of the spiritual path is that it leads people to answering this simple question:

“Who am I?”

One key trait of the ego is that it attempts to keep you safe. Those two forces very often conflicting because sometimes–actually a lot of the time–who the ego wants to be and who you actually are are different.

By and large, the ego’s interests in keeping you safe will lead you to identify with different traits, people, and situations that appear to be safe. Anything that might question that identification can be seen as potentially unsafe, and because of that, the ego finds ways to stop any further inquiry.

As I said earlier, it likes to come up with blanket statements and generalizations to  justify its existence such as: “This had to happen.”

It also says:

“This is who I am.”

“That’s how it goes.”

It will even try to use spiritual truths to aid its quest in self-preservation. Sometimes, people will say, “Nothing ultimately matters.” But when someone says it like this, it stops being a spiritual truth; it’s now a justification for something. Perhaps, it’s a justification to keep doing whatever it is the ego already is doing. The ego thinks this is very clever, but it is actually very stupid. And it is easy to see through this. The more you learn to look through these defenses, you’ll realize how truly stupid and ignorant they are. Realizing these things, however, is part of cultivating your true intelligence.

Yet More Ego Defenses

The ego has more than a few defenses, and when things on the spiritual path get serious, it’ll find ways to threaten you. Ego threats are actually a good sign. They’re a sign that you’re moving outside your comfort zone and that you are exposing something that does not want to be exposed. The closer you get to some powerful truth or realization, the more the unconscious ego will scream and object. It may say things like:

“I can’t do this!”

“This is too overwhelming!”

“I’m going to lose everything!”

“I’m going to die!!!”

You may have noticed the exclamation marks here. That’s just how dramatic the ego is. Drama is a way to distract you and to frighten you into submission. The last exclamation about dying is particularly amusing because unless you have had a near death experience, you don’t actually know what it’s like to die. So you see, the ego is just trying to control you, and you have to be stronger than the worst of these defenses.

Near Death Experiences and Spiritual Awakening

The Problems With the Ego Protection Racket

The problems with these justifications, threats, and other ego defenses should be clear, but if it is not, then let me emphasize that they keep you trapped. They keep you trapped in your identity. They keep you trapped struggling to find safety in a world that is inherently unsafe. Ironically enough, many of these ego defenses also make you feel unsafe. So regardless of if you are under any actual physical threat or not–and we often aren’t in physical danger–the ego make it seem like you are. The more you allow yourself to be frightened by the ego, the more you will do any and everything it tells you–the more you will do anything other people tell you. That is a disempowered state, and it leads you to being susceptible to manipulation by others, including false spiritual teachers.

7 Signs of False Spiritual Teacher

Ultimately, the irony is that the ego makes you feel bad when there is rarely any reason to feel that way, and it is all in an attempt to keep you from bad feelings like not feeling safe. So the person protecting your windows from getting broken is the one breaking your windows. Clearly, this protection racket is not serving you. It’s time to give it up.

Bad Bargains and the Spiritual Ego

In doing inner work, you’re going to discover how much committment to your ego you have. You’ll give up a few things as you do your inner spiritual work, and then the ego will try a new tactic to protect its story.

The ego will start bargaining.

It’ll say, “We’ve given up enough.” It’ll say, “Okay, I can give up those things, but not that one thing.” It’ll keep trying to protect things and start by letting you give up the things to which you’re least attached. But if you accept any of these bargains, it generally leads to feeling like you are caught between two worlds.

The ego will also try to stick around by making superficial changes. It’ll become a spiritual ego. It’ll put on all sorts of spiritual clothes and ideas to dress itself up, and then it’ll say, “Ta da! We’re spiritual. We’ve figured it all out.” Then it’ll hope you’ll stop your inner investigation. But you have to be smarter than this fraud. Don’t settle for part way on your spiritual path. Go all the way.

Giving up the Ego Again and Again and Again

The more sincere and dedicated you are, the sooner you’ll notice when the ego comes up again. It’ll start to have an inner funk to it. Your inner nose will start to smell that something is off, and then the hunt begins.

Because if that hunt doesn’t begin, you’re settling for a new cage. You’re in a new trap, feeling caught between worlds, or worse. Soon, you’ll be back to justifying, mitigating, avoiding, defending, and using every other kind of ego protection scheme that you can imagine. But even then, if you learn to notice these things, you can turn it around. You can always go within again any time you get caught in an old ego trap again. In so doing, another layer of ego can drop away as you move into deeper states of peace and love.

For some more thoughts about the ego, feel free to check out these posts:

The Many Levels of Ego

The Return of the Ego

Beware the Spiritual Ego


I'm a spiritual teacher who helps people find freedom from suffering.

1 Comment

  1. hi jim – i’m wondering if you would be willing to discuss the extremely overused term “ego” – which is really just one dead man’s word for his particular interpretation (and a translation to boot!) of a mind function. I have been looking for many years of a better way to look at this aspect of our behavior and our brain biology; any thoughts?

Write A Comment