3 min

The Aftermath Of Ego

My attempt last week to create boundaries with kindness was a fantastic failure. 

While on family vacation I had a checklist of four items to go through every time someone said something that made me upset, angry or defensive. But I never made it to Step 1 (Three deep breaths with the mantra, “They’re dealing with their own unhappiness and insecurities”) because there was no recognition in the moment when someone said something that made me upset, angry, or defensive. 

Instead, there was an immediate and intense need to make the other person understand my perspective. Only in the middle of a heated conversation did I realize what was happening and by then my ego had taken over and I didn’t know how to get out of it. 

For dinner one night Mom made shrimp and scallops. They were huge and fresh from the local market (read: pricey). One shrimp was left on the serving plate in the middle of the table. Mom announced, “Somebody better eat that last shrimp and I’m not even kidding.” 

I felt triggered. That is not the way to eat food. I calmly asked, “Mom, why does someone need to eat that?” She responded matter-of-factly, “Because it’s good shrimp.” 

Just the day before, Mom was complaining of heartburn. But she wanted to finish her delicious and dense seared ahi tuna sandwich even though she wasn’t hungry. I was incredulous.

“Mom, you know you don’t have to eat something if you’re not hungry.” 

I could see her mentally rolling her eyes. “Yes I do.” 


“Because it’s good tuna.” 

This is my mom’s world view. No good food is to be wasted, even if it makes her feel sick. 

Back at the dinner table and the great shrimp ultimatum, my sister Jess joined in with a note of condescension in her voice, “I already know your stance on this, Charlie. You told us at Alexis’ bachelorette party. I don’t need to hear it again.” 

Another trigger, this time I felt my whole body emanate heat. Jess was referencing an event that occurred four years ago. Her comment was dismissive. This is when my ego fully took over. I felt so angry, so indignant, and so strongly that I needed to make them understand my perspective and why it was important. 

I had a completely life-changing transformation in the past five years with food and body image and I’m so much happier because of it. I want my mom and sisters to experience this freedom but the more I try to share my insights, the more it feels like a Chinese finger trap. They reject and dismiss my comments until they eventually just ignore me with disdain.

It’s easy to recognize this in the aftermath, but in the heat of the moment I’m stubborn and bull-headed and see only one way through. Blunt force. 

Later that night as I lay in bed, horribly sick with a sinus infection, I played the event over and over in my head and thought about the way forward with my sister. Mom is old and set in her ways so I don’t feel like I should bother trying to change her mind, but for Jess, there is still a chance. So I made a plan for the next day to pull her aside and have a real conversation with her. We don’t have enough of them. I know that if I start with vulnerability and can hold vulnerability, she might let some of her walls down.

I’ll start with an apology. I’ll say, “I’m sorry if I came across preachy about the food stuff.” She’ll hopefully say it’s okay but more likely she won’t be ready yet for vulnerability and will respond with something closer to, “Yea, you were.” But at least she’ll then be willing to listen to the next part. 

I’ll tell her I’m not sure she understands the experience I’ve had with food in the past five years but my life has completely changed for the better so when she says she already knows my position on it, it feels very dismissive and mean. I’ll briefly tell her about the way my life looked like before and be sure to say, “I know we’re not the same and I was in a very different place than you but I still see some similarities and the reason I try to share my insights is because I want you to be happy.” She’ll probably respond that she is happy, and I won’t argue with her even though she’s 33, single, hates her job, and lives with our parents. I’ll just say, “Okay, I won’t say anything more about it. I just hope that in the future you can see me as a resource and not an enemy.” 

Something like that. It won’t go exactly as planned because it never does but I like to have some kind of script because I hope it will keep me from becoming defensive and angry.  

Unfortunately, the conversation never happened. I was very sick and spent the entire week in bed. 

But I learned two things: 

  1. The only way to have the self-awareness to recognize when someone says something that triggers me in the moment is probably a meditation practice. Which I don’t have right now. 
  2. When my ego takes over I need to focus on the aftermath and embrace the hard conversation with vulnerability. 

I suppose I should call my sister. Or maybe I’ll just put it off until the next family vacation.