Tracey Shipley
Youth, family and addictions counselor/creative therapist

Taming the Ego

It seems that so many of our problems in life as parents, teens, young adults, partners, etc. stem from our need to be in control.  As we know, often this need comes from fearing a lack of control.  What will happen if things don’t go the way we want? What would happen if we allowed someone else to get their way? What would happen if we showed that we were not in control? Would we ever get a chance to get it back again?  Will we lose respect if we show that we are not in control? Would we lose our self respect?

I have a client who I have been working with for years.  Each time we worked together we discovered new issues to work on.  Lack of self esteem, addiction issues, his need for immediate gratification, using mood altering chemicals to escape the pain that life situations have brought him, a serious lack of boundaries, not fully respecting what is his and what is another’s and more.  Add to those an apparent fear of success and an almost deliberate need to prevent it from happening.

He had countless opportunities to make changes in his life.  His parents would have given him anything if he would only earn it.  Get the help he needed to stop drinking and drugging.  Stop getting into fights. Stop stealing from others, including family.  Focus his energies on his incredible musical talents.  Allow him to forgive himself for mistakes made and face his family and friends to make amends.

Obviously these are challenging demands of any non-functioning person young or old but not impossible.  After countless drug rehabs, special school programs and once again jail, one would think that he would get the message. His way isn’t working.  So why is he so insistent on making the same mistakes over and over again expecting different results?  It finally occurred to me: EGO!!  There was something inside of him so desperate to maintain control that he was willing to give up everything in his life to hold on to it. He lost his relationships with his family, friends, girlfriends, neighbors, teachers; you name it, just to hold on to an appearance of control.

As we know, control is like water, the tighter you grip it the quicker it slips away.  Working with him now as he calls me from behind bars for the fourth time in his young life we are working on relinquishing control and accepting that things don’t just happen to him.  That he is the cause of his circumstance.   Years of blaming others for his poor choices have earned him a loss of decades.  He has the maturity of a young teenager who can’t seem to see himself as he truly is.  Now our discussions revolve around what he has done recently to earn him a reputation as someone not worth investing in, even in the jail system.  He is taking a look at not only what his poor choices have been, but rather the voice inside him that convinces him that this time he won’t get caught, that this infringement of the rules is not so bad, that this jailer who is obviously not as nice as the other one will still excuse his behaviors and if he doesn’t: “Oh well…. The price won’t be that high…”

How about the rest of us? How many times do we need to win the argument at the expense of our relationships?  What happens if we let go and let the “other” win, have the last word?  Will we lose our self respect? Will our relationships crumble?

Living in the Middle East where Ego seems to be a holy element, something worth dying over, I think it’s time to take a good look at the price we are paying.  We may not end up in jail but we imprison ourselves with our need for self righteousness and the inability to allow ourselves to see the other person’s point of view.

I must admit, it has happened to me on many of an occasion. This fear of not knowing, not having the right answers, losing control over my choices, life and future.  My father told me many years ago to surround myself with people who know more than I do and have something that I want.  I pray my young unfortunate client continues to feel that way about me and that I will find more and more people to surround myself with that I can trust with control when I obviously don’t have it. And then there is the Man upstairs; my Higher Power.  When I am truly quiet and trusting, he speaks to me. I’m working on getting better and better at listening.

About the Author
Tracey Shipley is a youth and family counselor specializing in addictions and family communication. She was born in the US and moved to Israel in 1984 to continue her studies in Art Therapy. She moved back to the US in 1989 and began working in a drug rehab for teens where she was trained while she worked as a primary counselor. She moved back to Israel in 1996 and continued her work in addictions at the Jerusalem Methadone Clinic for a total of 9 years. She initiated projects for the children of the addicts at the Center, for Ethiopian Teens and a Sober Music Bar for teens and young adults: Sobar Jerusalem.
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