Who’s the opposite of the inner critic? The inner egomaniac. Locked in an eternal tug-of-war with you in the middle, the critic tries to tear you apart, while the egomaniac tries to shamelessly patch itself up.
I can barely look in the mirror when I think of all the times in my life when I have employed craven, ugly means to save face. Lying. Rationalizing. Justifying. Twisting. Is there anything more shameful than this sort of behavior?
I just hate looking stupid or bad in front of other people, like saying something ignorant in a group setting, or getting in trouble at work. When this happens, if you’re anything like me, you’ll try and justify yourself. You’ll come up with reasons why they’re wrong. “Oh, well, they’re missing X point that I didn’t get a chance to say,” or “Someone else told me the wrong thing so it’s their fault.” Maybe you’ll wear out your computer trying to cherry-pick Google for confirmation of your point, or try and convince yourself that well, it could have been true, and sort of was, when you consider…
The little egomaniac will just not accept being wrong and demands that you repair his image immediately. But unfortunately for him (and mainly us because we’re caught in the middle of this), he is soon confronted with more ignorance or wickedness. He refuses to believe it so he cracks the whip, and together we enter a vicious circle—the realization of these bad qualities leads to shame; shame leads to the desire to fix the image; in attempting to fix this image, one discovers more bad qualities and the beat goes on, because the egomaniac simply won’t stand for it.
Alternatively, I could just keep quiet, I suppose, and avoid any potential trouble. But that’s a blow to the ego as well and he will not take it lying down. Humility is simply not an option.
Let me give you a benign little example. I’m a lowly administrative assistant, the lowliest of the lowly because I work in retail, and if I run into someone I know, I magically become an office manager. Or if someone catches me working on the register, I’m just making a few bucks while I’m working on my master’s degree (the one I completed five years ago). And, somehow, these “someones” are always people I looked down upon in college (because I was soo much smarter than they were) who now make at least 4x what I make.
Here’s a much darker and uglier example: I bullied a kid in middle school and they told the teacher, who asked me if it were true. I denied it of course, and the teacher sided with me. Afterwards, the individual apologized to me, and I accepted it graciously and said it was okay.
But I had done it. And to this day I feel sick remembering how I was too cowardly to tell the truth and be the one to apologize, how abominable I was to accept the apology like they were wrong, virtually gaslighting them, and how the innocent one was truly the better person.
And what really tears me apart is that he probably got in trouble for lying and was told to apologize. How disgusting am I? Suppose his parents were abusive?
(As a side note, maybe this will make the victims of bullies feel a little better—while you have suffered the pain and damage that was done to you, still the bully has to live with the fact that they did it and nothing can change that. It’s not your fault. It was never your fault. I’ve been on both sides of the equation and I know which one is worse.)
I have lots of examples that I could have confessed to you in detail, but I have to save face in case my mom somehow reads this. It’s disgusting. But even minor examples matter. They show that this ugly tendency is deep-rooted. It doesn’t just show its face when the level of potential embarrassment reaches a certain temperature, as though you’re honest up until you reach that point and then you’re cowardly and pathetic after. No, it’s an evil trait that shows itself in even the most pointless things.
Could this all just be a product of fear? In either case, whether we be tortured by the critic or the egomaniac, is fear at the bottom of it? Are our true souls–who we really are and would be without all the garbage piled on top–caught in the middle of a battle between low self-esteem and the desire to look better in other people’s eyes? Or, God forbid, are we really just bad after all? I’ve found in my own life that a lot of my bad behavior stems from low self-esteem, and I feel myself constantly caught between feeling like crap, acting like crap, feeling guilty for acting like crap, and fearing that people know I am crap. Maybe that’s just it and there’s nothing more to it. When we have a bad opinion of ourselves, we’re scared other people do, too, and for good or bad, we act out what we’re feeling. I, of course, am one of the lovely people who choose to act bad.
I don’t know if even religion can help me. I’ve tried to change. And as a Christian, theoretically I should only worry about what God thinks and behave accordingly. But even then, my sneaky little egomaniac is secretly at work behind my back, because when I decide to finally act like a Christian, I suddenly feel very pleased with myself. So the little egomaniac sits back and pats himself on the back for having tricked God into thinking he’s humble. Then he sits up and spits out his drink, realizing that God probably overheard what just came out of his mouth. So now he has to send me back into damage-control mode right away. I guess I better head to the nearest soup kitchen and start ladling.
Please tell me I’m not the only one who has caught themselves behaving this way. Have you? And can you share why?