Is It About Ego or Values?

Self-righteousness makes the difference.

Posted Aug 09, 2020

With current media and political discourse rife with anger and resentment, it’s sometimes hard to tell how much of the rancor is due to polarization over deeper values and how much is a product of offended egos. We know empirically that narcissism is on the rise, so it’s reasonable to assume that narcissistic injury (producing vindictive anger) is increasing as well.   

Functionally speaking, ego is how we prefer to regard ourselves and how we want others to regard us. Though values are more central to the sense of self, ego disputes are usually more intense than value disagreements. The hard-wired threat-detector embedded in the central nervous system to keep us safe from harm has been commandeered in modern times to protect the ego.

No longer about mere loss of status, ego-threats can seem wrought with danger. (Perceived threats to survival override dedication to values.) The adrenaline of anger creates a temporary rise in energy and confidence. On the surface, this amphetamine effect comes off as self-righteousness.

Driven primarily by values, conflict is always respectful—respect for human dignity is a core value. Disagreements can be disappointing but never personally devaluing. The well-being of the family is viewed as a core value, and connection to loved ones is allowed to have its natural calming effect.

In Love Relationships

Committed relationships have a foundation of common values, yet most arguments are about perceived ego offenses, not values. Partners feel self-righteous and entitled to punish disagreement, usually by withholding affection, compassion, and kindness, which, in love relationships, feels like rejection, betrayal, or abuse. Ego-conflicts in committed relationships breed resentment, contempt, and eventual detachment. There should be a sign over the altar of commitment in paraphrase of Dante:

Abandon ego all ye who enter here.

Love without Hurt Boot Camps train couples to enhance their value of each other and connection to each other under stress, which, in effect, turns ego-conflicts into mere negotiation about behavior choices. Couples must learn to convey something like (the meaning, not the specific word-choice is important):

"I’m going to love you whether you agree with me or not. This is why I think it would help our connection if we do A rather than B. What do you think?"