Happy Birthday Sigmund Freud. Way back when I was a Psych/English Major in college Freudian analysis was one my favorite things. I was not a big fan of the man, but his id ego superego model is a neat and tidy way to explain all human behavior and it lends itself so completely to simile, metaphor, hyperbole.
The id is our animal instinct, the system that allows us to fulfill our most basic needs and our basest desires. It operates on comfort and pleasure. The ego is conscious and aware of reality, and tries to satisfy the id by making seemingly rational decisions. The superego is organized and has a lot of rules. It is discerning and judgmental. It is at odds with the id most of the time, so the ego is like the poor middle child who has to mediate his siblings’ arguments all day long.
In order to keep itself safe, the ego builds up a wall of defenses such as; denial, rationalization, compartmentalization, repression, projection. Often, especially when one of the defenses breaks down, the ego’s attempts to protect itself manifest physically; dry mouth, sweaty palms, stomach aches, tension headaches, panic attacks. Stress, anxiety and worry are ego driven. They come from the ego’s fear.
Real fear is one thing. We need it to protect ourselves in actual dangerous situations. It puts our body into fight or flight mode when necessary. Real fear is productive. It protects us and it serves us.
Ego fear is unproductive. It sends us into fight or flight mode when we are not in any real danger. It makes us think we really need to be afraid by rehashing stories of the past and imagining things that might happen in the future. None of that is real fear, because none of that is happening in this moment. Only what is happening in this moment is real.
The way to overcome anxiety and worry is to keep coming back to this moment. Whenever you realize that you are stressed or anxious, notice your thoughts. If you are rehashing a past event, stop yourself, and come back to this moment. If you are imagining something that hasn’t happened yet, and may never happen, stop yourself and come back to this moment.
Your ego is trying to bring you somewhere else, it is trying to take you away from this moment. Don’t let it. Bring yourself back to the present moment, and take a breath.
Over time, this gets easier and easier. If you practice bringing yourself back to your breath in your quiet calm moments, it becomes a habit that you can invoke when you are stressed or anxious. Whenever you are in a situation that would normally invoke stress, come back to the breath, and the present moment. When you find yourself getting a dry mouth, or sweaty palms, or panicky stomach, come back to the breath, and the present moment. When you find you are in a situation that would send you reaching for a cigarette or a glass of wine, or into a rage or a panic, come back to the breath, and the present moment.
The id and ego and superego are like the three little pigs. They keep trying to build themselves a house of defenses; straws of desire, sticks of anxiety, bricks of rationalization. But you are the big bad-ass wolf. You can take them all down with your breath.
Get those little pigs under control. Come back to the moment. Come back to what is real. Fill up your lungs. Exhale.