Why Does Your Ego Care What Other People Think?

Easy. Let’s begin with an answer to this question from an earlier post:

Well, for one thing, it is about our very survival! That’s why we care. Back in the day, millions of years ago when the modern human brain was forming, social connection and reputation mattered—a lot—so much that now this normal human characteristic of ours is probably stuck in the brain and our being for good.

So it is baked in and not going away any time soon, for some more than others, but there within us all. And, this tendency to care a lot about what other people think—even when it doesn’t really matter and makes no difference—can be found on any and every rung of the ladder. Basically, wherever there are humans.

Whether it’s happening between the CEO and the Board, or the VP and the CEO, or the Director and the VP, or the Manager and the Director and so on up and down the line—people are paying attention to who thinks what about them.

There can be big problems with this.

What’s Wrong with Caring About What Other People Think?

Nothing, as long as it’s not in the way of your growth, development, success, and satisfaction in work and life. Again, excerpted from that earlier post:

In Civilization and Our Discontents, Freud talked about the need to keep up with society’s rules and regulations. Caring about what other people think about how we live helps us to behave in ways that help us to reap the many benefits of group acceptance, even if, and especially if, it does take the fun out of our instinctual drives sometimes.

This post, however, is for the ones who take it so far that it boomerangs, doing more harm than good, especially at work.

Just this week, I heard someone say that when someone tries to teach them something, it makes them feel like the person thinks they are not smart—and then they are so busy licking that wound that nothing else is possible in the conversation after that.

In fact, at this point, they are not even in the conversation. At this point, they are in a conversation with themselves, and it is not pretty.

So, let’s see what is actually happening here; In the brain, that is.

Your Brain on Defense

Although it is natural for humans to seek approval and validation, especially at work, when they don’t get it, the ego can become mighty ticked off. Or the ego can feel dejected so the defensive closing off we see can be to protect the injured ego.

Many parts of the brain are involved in these flight-fight-freeze defensive reactions, and you can read about them in more detail here. To keep it simple for now, the amygdala can become activated in a way that impairs the prefrontal cortex’s ability to plan, decide, and regulate our emotions so we can think straight.

Instead, we may fall prey to the default mode network’s negative thought ruminating, making it hard for us to take in another’s perspective, or to process anything the other may be thinking, feeling, doing, or saying at all.

Two cases come to mind immediately, as just last week both clients told tales of not being able to receive good-willed and potentially useful feedback—when it didn’t begin with the praise and recognition they were craving, so their egos got bruised.

Off they went down the rabbit hole and, once there, it can be hard to climb back out. But not impossible. So what could help?

2 Tips to Overcome the Tyranny of The Ego

At work, or home, or wherever we may roam:

  1. For the Feedback Giver: There are upsides and downsides of the Sandwich Technique, but I think there is a way to address the concerns to make it work. The technique is basically that we start out with something we appreciate about the other, then we make our request, then we finish with something positive at the end. Notice I said “request” not “complaint.” Yes, we turn our complaint into a request. People respond much better to requests than to complaints.

The concern is that it could actually be a turn off if it sounds like BS. But we can make sure that we say only that which is true. And we can say out loud that sandwiching is what we are going to do. This way the listener is not distracted by feeling played because they are in on it from the start.

And the ego stroking at the start and finish takes care of the ego so it doesn’t go berserk and mess everything up.

  1. For the Feedback Receiver: Breathe. Power Breathe. In 30 seconds or less, you can get yourself out of the rabbit hole into your higher brain for a much more constructive conversation than you would have otherwise had.

Go here for the simple, easy instructions on how to Power Breathe.

And, for help with this or something else, Contact Me at [email protected]

Warm wishes,


Photo by Freepik

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About the Author: Madelaine Weiss
Madelaine Claire Weiss (LICSW, MBA, BCC) is a Licensed Psychotherapist, a Board Certified Executive-Career-Life Coach, and bestselling author of “Getting to G.R.E.A.T. 5-Step Strategy for Work and Life.” sfas

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