When Stress Causes Ego to Invade the Workplace

When Stress Causes Ego to Invade the Workplace

“He’s so arrogant. How in the world can he parade his work and attributes to everyone as though he is THE expert? And his persona on social media isn’t really who he/she is. Doesn’t he realize that he is making a fool of himself?”  

Have you ever had frustration or anger or puzzlement about someone with whom you work?  Perhaps it is even a family member.  All of us have, and these individuals usually tend to “trigger” us and stir up a multitude of emotions including frustration, anger, sadness, or obsessive thinking.  We are especially prone to these ego triggers when under extreme stress (like during a pandemic).  Ultimately, we may be consumed by our thoughts about the intentions of certain people around us.  During a coaching session a client recently said, “I’m left with all this residue after having contact with him.  It practically immobilizes me and because I can’t shake these thoughts, I resort to commiserating with others and hope that they will agree with me.  No doubt I’m seeking validation of the way I feel, but if someone will just agree with me then I must be right.”

And what about other incidents like these? 

  • You feel hurt when someone criticizes your work
  • You get overly frustrated at someone who makes mistakes
  • You find yourself being hyper-critical of someone who is self-centered
  • You dismiss people who seem too sensitive
  • You fear speaking up or disagreeing when you know you should
  • Everyone loved what you had to say during your Zoom presentation, but there was that one person in that upper corner of the screen who continually scowled and kept his head down and worked on something else the whole time

While these occurrences may sound familiar, you may be wondering why it’s important.  Why give brain-space to thinking about incidents that are, while unlikeable, a normal part of life?  After all, aren’t we always going to experience conflict, frustration, dissatisfaction, fear, or anger?  Shouldn’t we just accept that this is going to happen until we ascend to that heavenly pre-planned nirvana called retirement?  The answer to this is no, because these reactions are not you. They are conditioned reactions that are attached to you, and you can reduce them or eliminate them altogether.  

In one of our previous articles there was mention of the “Shadow Self”, which alludes to ego-that part of self that was conditioned to survive emotionally during our earliest years.  The upbringing within our family of origin as well as other environmental factors, including the way we uniquely process the events of our lives, are key contributors. Some of it positive, but most of it not-so-positive. Those more negative remnants tend to be those unconscious nasty messages inside our heads that set off a chain reaction of negative self-evaluation and destructive behavior.  For example, the playground bully is often using force and manipulation to gain a sense of power and control when little is available at home.  The so-called “hero” child of a dysfunctional family learns to handle life’s challenges through hard work and perfectionism, sometimes exhibiting frustration to those whom they caretake or supervise.  Again, this is often completely out of awareness. 

When “ego” is triggered in your workplace it WILL affect the communication, trust and productivity you have with your employees and colleagues.  So, what can you do about this if you find yourself in this situation?  

First of all, and perhaps most importantly, practice self-compassion and observe what you are doing. Making conscious that which usually hides in the unconscious can be a real gap-breaker in halting destructive behavior. Throughout the day take a brief moment and ask yourself the following:  

  • How am I doing?
  • What am I feeling?
  • What are these feelings really about?
  • What is happening right here and now?

Observation without judgement is a skill that takes time to acquire. As you begin to think about how this might apply to you, remember to go easy on yourself. 

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