Avoiding Self-Centeredness: How to Keep Your Ego in Its Place
One of the major issues that causes severe dysfunction in people’s lives is having an ego that’s out of its proper place.
All of us have an ego -- that sense of self that says I am a unique and valuable person, fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God, and I’ve got something worthwhile to contribute to this world. But when that self-appreciation of who God made us to be turns into self importance, when it becomes a self-centered attitude that says, “It’s really all about me,” then our own out-of-balance egos will rob us of much of the joy and peace that God intends for us to have in life.
In other words, if I am a person who is all wrapped up in myself, I’m going to have a miserably dysfunctional life!
How Having an Out-of-Balance Ego Causes Dysfunction in Our Lives
1. It causes dysfunction in my relationships with others
When my ego overflows its proper bounds, it puts a strain on all my relationships. Nobody likes dealing with a self-centered, egotistical, “me-first” type of person. Think about all the words commonly used to describe people who have that kind of attitude -- proud, arrogant, thoughtless, inconsiderate, rude, unfeeling, stuck up. All very negative terms.
Self-centeredness probably destroys more relationships than any other single factor. Particularly in a marriage, when both spouses are as concerned about the other as they are about themselves, the partners can face just about anything together. But when that factor is missing, and either spouse is looking out for himself or herself at the expense of the other, the marriage can become an exercise in torture.
2. It causes dysfunction in my relationship with myself
Think about what it’s like when my focus is all on what’s going wrong in my life; when I spend a lot of time talking about this person or that person who hurt ME or offended ME; and, oh, look at what so-and-so did to ME, and how inconsiderate they are of ME; and the more I think about it, and the more I talk about it, the more bitter I become because of how they’ve treated ME. When I allow myself to go down that path, my emotions will be in a continual state of turmoil, irritation, and resentment.
This is not a recipe for emotional health! The more I allow my emotions to spiral downward into negativity, the more my peace and joy just evaporate away. I become a perpetually unhappy person.
3. It causes dysfunction in my relationship with God
Self-centeredness and the pride that comes with it disrupt our relationship with God. If it’s all about me, then it can’t be all about Him. But there is only one King of the universe, only One who should rightly be at the center of all attention; and that One is not me! God is God, and He will not share His glory with anyone.
Lucifer was the most beautiful of angels, but his ego got out of place and he tried to elevate himself to God’s position. That’s how he became the devil. James 4:6 says that God actively resists the prideful, but gives grace to the humble. So, I must get my ego in order if I am to have a real relationship with Him.
Most ego-centric people don’t realize they are
One of the greatest obstacles people with out-of-place egos face is that they are usually unaware that this is their issue. They really believe they are the normal ones, and it’s everyone else who has a problem. So, how can I know if my ego really has overstepped its proper bounds?
5 Signs I May Have an Out-Of-Place Ego
1. I habitually look at things mostly from the standpoint of how they affect me. Whether they admit it to themselves or not, self-centered people aren’t really that concerned about how other people are affected by a circumstance, as long as it works out for them. For someone with an out-of-bounds ego, it is extremely difficult to follow the Scriptural admonition to “look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
2. I find myself frequently being offended and hurt by other people. Since self-centered people see themselves as the center of their universe, they interpret what other people say and do mostly in light of how it impacts them. That often causes them to be offended by unintended slights. For example, the fact that an acquaintance who passes them by without speaking may be distracted by their own thoughts may not occur to a self-centered person. They receive it as that person intentionally ignoring them.
3. I frequently mistrust and dislike people. Because self-centered individuals usually evaluate others based on the effect that person’s actions have on themselves, they will often be distressed by other people’s lack of consideration toward them. People who neglect or refuse to pay them proper attention obviously cannot be trusted, and are not worthy of being liked or respected.
4. I am often surprised and dismayed by negative reactions of others to things I say or do. A self-centered attitude keeps us so focused in on ourselves, that we totally miss how the things we say and do, or just the attitudes we display, affect other people.
Many times when a husband or wife walks out of a marriage, the other spouse is shocked and devastated. They didn’t see it coming. Their self-centeredness kept them from being aware of the other person’s pain.
5. Most of my thoughts and conversation have to do with what’s going wrong in my life.
Self-centered people are, of course, absorbed with self. Since they are at the center of their universe, and other people are there basically to serve their needs and desires, they naturally complain when the rest of the world isn’t doing its proper job for them.
How to Keep Ego in Its Proper Place
What can I do to keep my ego in its proper place? I believe the apostles in the Bible point the way. In the introductions to their New Testament letters, Paul, Peter, John, James and Jude all spoke of themselves as bondservants (the Greek word means slave) of Christ. Look, for example at how James introduces himself in his letter:
James 1:1 James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings.
Ask James who he is, and he will reply, a servant. The same with Peter, Paul, and the rest of the apostles. All these men, who’s lives and ministries have had an enormous impact on the church and the world, saw themselves first as servants. No ego problems there!
The antidote for an out-of-bounds ego is the humility of servanthood. Jesus Himself led the way.
Matthew 20:28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.
If I, like the apostles and like Jesus Himself, name myself a servant, and see myself as a servant, placed where I am in life to serve those around me more than to be served by them, I will be well on the way to having my ego stay within its proper bounds.
This is something Jesus wanted to make sure His followers didn’t miss. So, He provided a graphic demonstration of what it means to have a servant spirit.
John 13:5 After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.
John 13:12-15 So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.
Jesus gave us an example to follow. Not that we need to grab a basin and take off someone’s shoes to wash their feet, but that we be willing to take the place of a servant, thinking of others and how we can minister to their needs before we think of ourselves.
Practical Steps I Can Take
- Like James and the other apostles, I need to identify myself as a servant. That doesn’t mean making a big production of telling other people what a wonderful servant I’m going to be from now on. It can be as simple as coming before God in prayer and confessing to Him that I want to become more like Jesus in this area of my life. Just actually saying the words, “I am a servant” can be powerful in a person’s life.
- I need to obey Philippians 2:3, and “esteem others better than” myself. That means I consciously and habitually give preference to others. For example, it may mean deliberately giving respect to people I feel have not respected me as I deserve.
- I need to follow the example of Jesus, and actually do the work of humbly serving someone rather than waiting for people to minister to me. With every person I come into contract with, I need to ask, “how can I serve this person in the name of Jesus?”
When the spirit of a servant becomes ingrained in me, I won’t have to worry about my ego getting out of bounds.
© 2013 Ronald E. Franklin