[The above question in the title and below in the heading were presented to me as a request for an answer on Quora a few weeks ago. Beneath that was my reply. Weeks later, I thought it may be worth sharing. NOTE: this is purely theoretical and is not to be interpreted as a statement of objective fact or truth. It is merely what makes the most sense to me at this time.]
“In business, in personal interactions, in love relationships, is it possible for a person with a strong ego to coexist and interact with others who appear to be more fragile, psychologically? Are there any keys?”
At the risk of sounding facetious, the most accurate answer to your question is, “It depends on the circumstance.”
The first challenge that your question presents is the way that it’s constructed. The wording of the question limits the answer to one of two possibilities (help or hindrance) and presumes that it will be applied to all of life’s scenarios. In reality, whether a strong ego will be a help or hindrance will depend on the circumstance, scenario, or social context. In addition to the dualistic limitation, the question presumes that a “strong ego” is a fixed/permanent characteristic of a person’s state of being. In other words, it presumes that a “strong ego” is something a person was born with and is therefore unchangeable.
I think you’ll easily identify the answer if, instead of viewing the ego through the dualistic paradigm of strong vs weak, view it in terms of orientation (internally oriented vs externally oriented). If your sense of identity, values, ethics, and prorities are oriented to yourself (internally) as the primary focus, then you’re going to prioritize your own experience, needs, and desires first. The opinions of other people won’t matter very much to you since what matters the most is what you think. When our ego is oriented this way, it’s a very secure position. You end up presenting a secure and confident Self to the world because you don’t need the world to tell you what’s right or wrong, what you’re worth, or what you deserve.
The downside to this internal orientation is that, the longer you stay in this orientation, the less connected you are to others. Your empathetic sensitivity diminishes over time, you become indifferent to the emotional needs of others, and you resist any sense of responsibility for how others feel about your words and behavior. “I don’t get all upset when you say/do what you prefer. I’m just minding my own business. If I don’t take it personal, why are you taking what I say/do personally? Why are you making me responsible for how you feel?”
In contrast, when your ego is externally oriented, your sense of identity, values, ethics, and priorities are oriented to the world around you. Think of it like your consciousness has thousands of tiny wire sensors that are connected to every person in your environment. Yur sense of self worth is essentially the sum of how all of these people perceive and interact with you. As a result, you’re extremely sensitive, compassionate, empathetic, and aware of their needs. Your relationships are very healthy as long as you aren’t connected to any individual who lacks empathy ie. a narcissist, sociopath, or psychopath. This orientation leaves any person very sensitive to all of the energy in their environment, and much of their vital energy is outside of their body so they feel, and are often perceived, as “weak” or “too sensitive”.
Most people, in my experience, have been living their lives with their ego oriented in the same way. Whether their default orientation is internal or external, the alternative orientation feels inherently repulsive to them. A person who’s been sensitive and empathetic to others their whole life is likely to perceive the state of internal orientation as selfish, self serving, and in a sense, an experience in which they feel incredibly isolated and cut off. They’ve surrendered their Self in deference to others their whole life. It’s likely a badge of honor for them, and a sense of validation. Inverting their orientation would amount to surrendering the identify they admire in favor of one perceived as inferior.
With that said, this inversion does indeed happen often, but it’s rarely voluntary. It usually happens when an externally oriented ego experiences intense betrayal or trauma from someone in their environement. The mind’s defense mechanism kicks in, their orientation flips around like a turtle, and they withdraw to an inner world that’s entirely unfamiliar to them. They feel completely numb compared to the ocean of sensory stimulation they’re accustomed to. As weeks and months go by, they adjust and find that they’re able to engage with people without any emotional exchange or risk involved. They grow to like the freedom of internal orientation, and many people run with the empowerment that comes with it. Think of a sensitive child who had their heart broken, then growing up to being entirely insensitive to others. Case and point.
As for the people whose ego is internally oriented a.k.a. “strong”, their perception of those who are externally oriented is incredibly distasteful. There’s nothing that disgusts a “strong” ego more than someone who appears to be voluntarily weak and leaving themselves in that state. In order for them to enjoy the quality of relationships that the externalized orientation does, they would have to surrender what makes them feel strong. They would have to externalize their sense of identity and vitality into the world around them. Surrender is the ultimate fear of the strong. Yet again, this orientation can change involuntary when trauma is experienced.
As you can see, both orientations end up developing a sort of bias against the other over time. Purely because each orientation has been in that position for so long, these people believe that it’s an inherent part of their personality when it is not. Both orientations are equally available. It all comes down to comfort, familiarity, and acceptance of the state we’re in. We can always changing it if we want to have a different experience of our environment, or if we want others to have a different experience of us. And that is the longwinded answer to your question.
The ideal state to be in depends on what’s happening around you. The goal is to be dynamic, rather than in the “best” fixed orientation, so that you can shift your orientation on the fly depending on whether you need to be bold and tough or to be compassionate and empathetic.
Discernment and adapting appropriately to one’s environment are the primary keys to success in every aspect in life. I would even venture to say that conscious evolution has never occurred without them.
– M.J. Verdun