It all starts with you being a child. You have it really good. People take care of you, they feed you, clothe you, give you hugs, and put your awful drawings on the refrigerator with unrestrained praise. But nature cannot allow you to remain a child forever. It needs to stir the pot. It wants you to get out, take chances, spread your seed, and do stuff. How does nature get you to leave childhood? It casts a spell on you, makes you an adolescent and a little bit crazy. It takes you for a ride on the ego balloon.
I’m not sure just how it happens, but something happens in the brain of an adolescent. All of a sudden you think you know better than your parents, your teachers, and anyone who ever lived longer than you. You’re idealistic. You’re above practical concerns. You’re attracted to risks. You act like you’ll live forever. You think anything from your childhood will just about kill you. You think you’re unique and, being so, no one can understand you. You can see further than anyone else.
You’re ascending in the ego balloon.
The ego balloon is necessary. It’s nature’s way of getting you to leave childhood. Nature inflates your ego and enables you to rise up to escape your parents. If you didn’t have the ego balloon, you wouldn’t try anything. You’d never leave. The better your childhood, the more cared, watched over, affirmed, and protected you are, the harder it is to leave your parents, the more hot air you need.
It’s fun to ride the ego balloon. You see better, you feel better, you’ve got a different point of view; but, there’s no question about it, the ego balloon is very dangerous. It’ll give you an unearned sense of self confidence, you’ll try things that are crazy to try, you won’t know when to stop, you’ll put your trust in anyone that appeals to the rebel in you. You can descend too quickly and hurt yourself and quite a few others when you crash. If you come down too soon, before the ego balloon has had a chance to carry you far, you’re back again in the confines of childhood or the institutionalized childhood of extended welfare or disability.
You can’t fly forever. Eventually, you have to come down. Once nature gets you up there and helps you escape your parents , it needs you to return to earth. You’ve got to work with other people, learn to love, and raise children. You can’t do all that up in the ego balloon. You can’t grow anything from an altitude of three hundred feet. The next thing that happens, is you start to lose air. Nature sends these darts that prick your ego. You experience rejection, disappointment, and failure. Then there’s disillusionment, discouragement, and disease. That’s just the start; nature has a millions ways to burst your bubble.
If you enter an intimate, long term relationship, there will be many occasions that injure your ego. If you have children to raise, then you’ll experience the inflation of their ego balloons. If yours is not fully deflated by the time they reach adolescence, they’ll finish the job. The inflation of their ego balloons coincides with the deflation of yours.
If your ego starts to lose too much air, you try to patch it up. You look for honors, status, fancy cars, nice clothes, beautiful women, attentive men, above average children, anything you can slap on those holes and delay the deflation of your ego. You try to plug the holes with alcohol or drugs, some gambling, some shopping, some internet porn, anything that gives you the illusion that you’re not crashing to the ground. Eventually, however, all the patches blow.
If you manage to land the ego balloon, rather than crash, you find that it’s not so bad to be back to earth. You’re more grounded, more humble, more realistic, and more Zen. People like you better and say you’re more approachable. If the ego balloon did its job, enabling you to leave your cushy, over-protected childhood home, emboldened you to take risks, and didn’t crash you too violently, then you have something that needs your careful attention. You have a company to nurture, a trade to practice, disciples to mentor, a partner to love, or children to raise. These all require that you stay in close contact with people.
So, you see, the ego balloon can be a very good and necessary part of human development. The ego is a useful tool if you understand its uses and limitations. It can make us crazy, but it’s often a good crazy, a necessary madness, provided you can land the thing when it needs to come down.
Keith R Wilson is a mental health counselor in private practice and the author of three self-help books, two novels, and innumerable articles. A third novel, Who Killed the Lisping Barista of the Epiphany Café? is currently being published one chapter at a time in Medium.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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