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How Your Ego Thrives on Fear and Keeps You Panicked

“The ego is the false self—born out of fear and defensiveness.” ~John O’Donohue

“The soul is like a wild animal—tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy.” ~Parker Palmer

Does it sometimes seem like the world is just a little too much for you? Do you feel that you need to protect yourself from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune? (Thank you, Hamlet.) Are you a fragile flower being buffeted by life’s storms?

Then I think you’ve been listening to your ego too much. I understand all of those feelings very well, but I’ve recently discovered something life-changing: It’s only the ego, or small self, that’s fragile.

The soul—your authentic self—is a honey badger.

You know those honey badger videos on YouTube, where the little guy gets bitten by a cobra or stung by a whole swarm of African killer bees, but just keeps on going? That’s what your soul’s like. “Honey badger don’t care…”

We always have access to these two different perspectives, but most of the time we’re so identified with the small self that we forget about our honey badger souls.

The ego is a prickly little thing, with a hair trigger reaction, ready to go off at a moment’s notice. The soul is incredibly calm and resilient—not touchy and reactive, and yet capable of taking effective action when needed with a minimum of fuss.

The ego’s self-appointed function is to help you get what you think you need from the world and prevent you from losing what you have. It’s fueled by fear, and sees threats everywhere. This fear leads inevitably to feelings of separation, lack, competition, judgment, grasping, and deep loneliness—in other words, suffering.

The soul, in contrast, is rooted in love and a deep-seated well-being. Things that put the small self in a tizzy often bounce right off it.

Recently, I had two experiences within days that gave me a brilliant chance to practice switching focus from ego to soul and seeing what a difference that could make. Neither one was really a “big deal,” and yet both had my poor little ego off and running. What a drama queen the ego is!

In both cases, a person I loved and trusted hurt my feelings, probably unintentionally. Misunderstandings happen; we’re all human. The real issue was my ego’s reaction, which was to immediately shut down in an effort to protect myself from being hurt again.

It went something like this: “Well, I’m certainly going to have to stop being around those people, because I never want that to happen again, and they obviously can’t be trusted anymore.”

The problem is, both of these people are part of a wellness community that I love. This community is all about personal growth—about learning to overcome the illusion of ego and live from the authentic self, or soul.

Pondering my instinctive response to protect myself, I had to ask: Just exactly what needs protecting here? The only answer I could come up with was my ego.

My ego felt hurt and vulnerable when these two people seemed to not understand or value me. My ego didn’t think it could handle that happening again, but when I checked in with my soul, it was like: “Honey badger don’t care…”

I had to laugh when I realized how unperturbed my soul was by what my ego saw as a huge affront and threat. Stonewall Jackson once said, “Never take counsel of your fears,” and yet that is exactly what we do when we put the touchy ego in charge of our reactions.

Ego is like the boy in the fable who raises the alarm at every passing shadow. Ironically, though, crying wolf like this only makes it harder to perceive a true threat when it comes along. The soul doesn’t waste time on false alarms, but when there’s a real need for action, it will roll on that just as fearlessly.

Here’s what my fragile ego thought it needed in order to be okay in the situations I mentioned: first and foremost, an apology to salve my hurt pride (ego is always big on pride); assurances that I really am loved and valued (more pride, with a touch of emotional neediness); and finally, an ironclad guarantee that something like this would never happen again (is that even possible, given that we are all human?).

Now, all of those things would be lovely to have, I’m not kidding. But do I actually need them? Not really. When I drop down to soul level, I find a sense of well-being and security that far transcends my ego’s desperate grasping for reassurance and amends.

Soul knows that I already have everything I need to be okay. Not that it’s a pushover by any means, but things like wounded pride, which are all-important to ego, don’t really faze the honey badger much. He’s got a much tougher hide and a bigger heart by far. Honey badgers do care, but not about the things ego finds important.

So this is how my soul dealt with these situations: First, because I felt genuinely hurt, I let myself feel that pain with compassion. I didn’t dismiss the hurt. Next, I looked carefully at my own part in what happened, to find out if there was anything I needed to clarify or apologize for. Then I reached out and expressed my feelings as kindly and truthfully as possible. And then I stopped.

This part is the trickiest of all. The ego hates uncertainty with a passion (at least, mine does). My ego wanted things resolved, pronto, and it was screaming at me to take action.

Maybe I should try to garner support and sympathy for myself by telling other people about what happened? That always feels good. Or else I could apologize profusely—for what, I’m not sure—and get everything patched up and smoothed over as quickly as possible. Or….

So once again I consulted my honey badger soul, who said: Sit tight. Everything is just fine. No worries at all, mate. As long as I was clear about my own role in the disagreements, my soul was content with that. No need to escalate, but also no need to overly justify or explain or “make nice.”

Unlike the ego, my soul knows that it’s only responsible for its own reactions, not everyone else’s. Gotta love that.

And so I waited. In one case, things have already ended up sorting themselves out very well—I’m sure far better than they would have had I listened to my ego. In the other, I’m still waiting (and that’s okay).

I’ve decided that, even in the face of this uncertainty, I don’t need to take extraordinary measures to “protect” myself, at least not yet. There might come a time for that, and I trust my soul to recognize it if it does.

When something like this happens to you—when your small self feels threatened and is telling you to attack or pull up the drawbridge—stop for a moment first and check in with your soul. Take some deep breaths and sink down under that surface panic.

What do you really need to do, if anything? Is there truly a threat, or is it just your fragile ego crying wolf again? Chances are slim that you’ll find your honey badger soul in a panic. Whether there’s action to be taken or you just need to sit tight for a while, the calm, resilient, and loving energy of your soul is always there to draw on.

About Amaya Pryce

Amaya Pryce is a spiritual coach and writer living in the Pacific Northwest. Her newest book, How to Grow Your Soulis available on Amazon. For coaching or to follow her blog, please visit www.amayapryce.com.

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  • If you stop even for a second, you’ll notice that your mind will keep on going and have fearful thoughts. It is not you. It is how your mind works.

  • sandy

    Reading this was the perfect way to start my day. I am going to channel my honey badger!! Thank You!!

  • Monica Elrod

    Just what I needed to hear today! When in ego upset, I tend to pull up the drawbridge, and it’s good to realize that practicing self compassion for the suffering of my naughty ego is a better path toward peace and serenity. I didn’t sleep well last night because of worrying about a work situation and what others think of me. Now I see it as the ego trying to avoid dealing with my emotional pain, mainly due to grasping and living in the past/future rather mindfully in the present.

  • ccrgirl

    I needed this! Thank you <3

  • The path of mindfulness meditation is all about awakening to see the habitual reactivity of the ego and to embrace it within the greater non-reactive space of your True Self – the awakened Buddha mind that is your true nature. In this way we become free from the trap of reactive thinking that feeds our fear and anxiety.

    The Boulder Center for Online Mindfulness Therapy

  • Amaya Pryce

    Yes, I tend to withdraw as well. That was my main lesson from this situation, and once I realized it I felt better almost instantly! And you’re right, compassion never goes amiss. The ego is just doing its best to protect us, however misguided its methods are. 🙂

  • Amaya Pryce

    So glad! I love that image of the honey badger too. 🙂

  • Kristine D. Vik

    I love this article! But I got to ask…when “should” the soul start to panic? If not to avoid getting hurt (although I’m thinking more about physical pain than emotional), when?

  • Amaya Pryce

    Well, I would say there are no hard and fast “should’s” since every situation is unique. I have a great deal of trust in intuitive knowing, which is the soul speaking (and “sounds” a lot different than the ego’s somewhat hysterical voice). Intuitive knowing is more like a strong, clear directive, like “Stay away from this person.” It takes some practice to differentiate the two, although they really are quite different. In this case, I didn’t have a history of problems with either of the two people, so my ego was definitely over-reacting. Does that help a bit? It’s a great question!

  • Amaya Pryce

    Yes, this is true – it’s just what the mind (ego) does. It really wants to help, but it’s all about fear and illusion.

  • Amaya Pryce

    You are so welcome! <3

  • Amaya Pryce

    I agree with everything you write here. Mediation is my main path and practice. I especially like that you say to embrace the ego – rather than fight it. It is just doing its “job.” The only problem is when we put it in charge!!

  • Yes. This is most important because if you fight the ego it will simply reinforce it and the emotions suffering produced. It is also important to understand that mindfulness = awareness + compassion. Both must be present during mindfulness meditation on the thoughts and emotions of the ego structure. This approach works.

  • Amaya Pryce

    I have found that too! I use Lovingkindness (metta) meditation a lot, for both myself and others, to remind me to be compassionate.

  • Justme

    This is just what I needed to hear!!! I feel so hurt and rejected 🙁
    A year ago, I made a HUGE leap of faith… I sold my house and many possessions, paid off all of my debt, quit my job and moved to a place where I didn’t know anyone, nor did I have a job. I wanted to live by the ocean. At first it was great. I met some new friends and even fell in love for the first time in my life. It so fun and amazing in many ways. Then, my “friends” suddenly turned on me and essentially ghosted me by refusing any contact whatsoever. (One was the leader, the other was a follower) I think it was related to jealousy over my new love interest but I’m not sure because they just dropped me. The person I fell in love with was going through a very difficult time in her personal life including a divorce and caring for sick family members. Because of this, I did not push for a romantic relationship because I felt she needed time. She was 100% aware of my feelings for her, and we spent countless hours together for 10 months. I thought our feelings were mutual, and she just needed time. Finally, I began to think (or realize, I’m not sure which), that she does not have romantic feelings for me and that she was just using me during her time of need. I’m sure my constant love and attention felt good or at the very least flattering. Anyway, here I am a year later with nothing – no friends, no love, and a broken spirit. I am so hurt and angry (mostly at myself for being so open, trusting, and loving to people who treated me so wrong.) I am broken,ashamed, and completely alone. I am trying to find the lessons, but all I feel is distrust and depression. I don’t know what to do or where to turn. Right now, I am just focusing on my own health and wellbeing. I hope I can tap into my inner honey badger too. Damn ego!

  • Amaya Pryce

    Your honey badger soul is there for you. 🙂 There’s a current of wellbeing that never goes away, no matter what is happening on the surface of your life. It sounds like you made some really positive changes in your life. Try to drop back into the feelings you had when you first moved to be by the ocean. Focus on what you love about living there, rather than the things that have gone “wrong” recently. And send some love and appreciation to yourself for being courageous enough to make that move. I’m wishing you all the best!!

  • Justme

    Thank you. Is there any way to reach you? I could really use some guidance right now and your words really resonate with me. I really liked your I Choose Me article too. I ordered your book on Amazon too – not sure when it will arrive. If you are open to helping me, please let me know. Thank you.

  • Amaya Pryce

    Follow the link in my bio to my website. You can register for a complimentary coaching call there. 🙂

  • Now remember. Metta meditation means being compassionate towards our negative emotions and painful emotions; it should not be reduced to a generalized wish for happiness for all! That is too simple and applying meta in the wrong place.

  • Amaya Pryce

    The metta meditation I learned is applied to both self and others: “May I be well, may I be happy, may I be free from suffering; May you be well, may you be happy, etc.” Did you learn a different form?

  • This is a brilliant article…so many truths, and I don’t even know where to start.

    I loved the bit about treating the ego like it is a little boy, scared of its own shadow. I will tell you know, as someone who is recovering from OCD, that is not too far from the truth, especially at 1.30am in the morning.

    I also loved the logical explanation afterwards, which helps detail the problem so that you can emotionally resolve it more quickly.

  • Amaya Pryce

    Thank you so much for the kind words, Julian! This was actually a breakthrough realization for me. Writing is usually my best therapy – in writing a book about ego and soul, and how to tell the difference, I really got to know their MO’s!!

  • Yes. That is a religious interpretation of meta. Remember, that the Buddha taught anatta, so may “I” be happy, or “You” be happy is problematic because what is this I or You that you are referring to? The reality is that it cannot be found. All that can be found are the individual and unstable mental formations known as sankharas that arise moment to moment. These are what we direct compassion and metta toward. Otherwise the practice becomes too vague and abstract. The Buddha taught against such abstraction and always aimed at the pragmatic and direct experience of mindfulness. Hope this makes sense?
    Love yourself means love your ego (mental content, sankharas) – just don’t identify or attach to it; similarly don’t push it away with aversion. This is the Middle Way as taught by the Buddha.

  • Amaya Pryce

    I agree that “I” and “You” are meaningless constructs from the perspective that we are all one. I still find it helpful to practice metta this way – actually the opposite of vague and abstract. 🙂

  • Melanie Davis

    You have helped me tremendously today! This is right on time as I continue to push toward living fearlessly. I have been enlightened, inspired, encouraged and challenged all in one post! Thank You!

  • Melanie Miceli

    Thank you so much for this! I LOVE the honey badger! My daughter and I channel our inner honey badgers on a daily basis (we both have depression and anxiety) but I didn’t know that it was our souls until I read your article! It makes so much sense. Quiet the ego that is bouncing around and chattering, ready to fly off the handle, and focus on the soul that is sitting in a powerful and calm quietness ready to ground you. Now, I need to find a t-shirt with a honey badger on it… 😉

  • This great analogy is point on for the ego and the soul! The soul sits through the storm and acts only as needed! I love that honey badger. Thank you.

  • Kristine D. Vik

    Thank you! It does help a bit – I guess we all need to find out something like that for ourselves in our own time, but I fully understand what you mean. I have to once again say that I love this article, it has already helped me in several situations. 🙂 I feel I have a pretty big ego, so slowly trying to let go of it by challenging myself in all kinds of ways.

  • Amaya Pryce

    That is exactly what I’ve found! I have to really work to keep my ego from trying to fix all kinds of “problems” that don’t bother my soul one bit. It’s much more relaxing to listen to the soul. 🙂

  • Amaya Pryce

    I’m so glad this helped!! 🙂

  • Amaya Pryce

    I love that you use the same image of a honey badger! It really fits, doesn’t it? I hope you find that T-shirt!!

  • Amaya Pryce

    Good for you! It’s not easy to dis-identify with ego. I work on that all the time too. 🙂

  • Sheri

    Wow! You gotta love the Universe. It delivers messages when you need them most! I had a fragile ego moment this week. “Honey-badger don’t care” is going up on my white board in my office! I also love the part where you said to allow yourself to feel compassion for the pain. I truly feel this is a game-changer for my life. Thank you for your powerful message!

  • Amaya Pryce

    I’m so glad it helped! This was definitely a game-changing realization for me too!!

  • Amy Nock

    Thank you, Amaya. I was in the grips of my ego last night, but today, my honey badger is letting me know it’s all ok. What a wonderful essay. Thank you, again, for this lesson – Amy

  • Amaya Pryce

    You’re so welcome. Thank you for letting me know!

  • Great post Amaya – the ego gets in the way so often doesn’t it? I love your tips on the deep breathing – and stoping and doing a little soul check… The only things that will help you realise sometimes that ego and fear are running the story

  • Amaya Pryce

    Thank you, Melanie! I agree – the ego’s agenda is so automatic. It usually takes me a while before I realize I’m at it again! But the lag time is getting shorter as I practice more, so that’s something. 🙂