It’s funny where our egos show up. For some, it’s their sense of pride when they accomplish a difficult task. Others, it’s how they express themselves through creation. For me, my ego tells me I can do something physically, when in reality my body can’t keep up.
Ego — that psychological phenomenon popularized by Freud and since adopted into the mainstream vernacular — can be best described as “how you see yourself”. I find that ego plays a surprisingly large role in our health journeys, especially as we start to navigate disease or injury. But I’ve yet to see any health experience address ego, especially when it comes to a treatment plan.
I’ve been getting a rude awakening to my ego recently as I’ve struggled to overcome an injury. For me, I’ve always seen myself as athletic, strong and able to push through pain. My sense of self is somewhere between “invincible” and “tough”, yet the reality is quite different. The things I thought I could do with ease are now hard and risky. My frustration has grown, now realizing that my ego is causing me more harm than good. Who am I if not the “tough one”?
While this is a good question that any self-help guru could guide me through, I see this as an opportunity to craft a new story — a new ego.
If egos are a sense of self, then that means they are the stories we tell ourselves about our identity — who we are, what we can and cannot do. And as a story, we have the ability to rewrite it.
We still need to acknowledge the egos we are working with. How we see ourselves and our health is something that needs to be explored with more care and consideration. If a patient has always seen themselves as a caretaker, and now they need help with daily tasks, how can healthcare help reconcile their sense of self with their new reality? When we ignore the story the patient is in, we lose their attention. We need to recognize the ego as a starting point, not an obstacle.
I had a physical therapist who completely ignored my sense of self. My ego made it clear: “I’m an athlete”, yet the physical therapist wouldn’t acknowledge my story. Needless to say, I didn’t follow her guidance and spent a good long time avoiding physical therapists altogether.
Only recently have I found a physical therapist who understands my ego. My story as the “tough athlete” hasn’t been a detriment to my treatment plan. Rather my story has expanded. I’m not just the “tough athlete” who pushes through pain, I’m the tough athlete who cares enough about my body to do the rehab and extra work necessary to succeed.
Egos are still fuzzy, less than tangible concepts, but if we start exploring egos as the stories we tell ourselves about our identity, perhaps we can see the patient’s ego as an asset in healthcare rather than a burden. As a species that thrives on storytelling, what do we have to lose?