Quiet ego, happy life

The ancient Greek philosopher Plato is known, among other things, for his Theory of Forms. In his view, you could understand a perfect pyramid, but you can never fully understand a pyramid that you see in real life because it differs from the ideal in too many ways for the mind to comprehend.

My goal is to find the perfect Form of a satisfying and distress-free life. While there is no ideal, perfect life, like Plato, I am intrigued by its shadow, that is, the best version of existence in our imperfect world.

I have discovered signs of such a Form in my research for these blog posts.  I've examined various theories about how to live a more satisfying life.  First, I looked at ideas about what makes a well-rounded person.  Then I discovered the concept of ego strength.  Finally, I did research to determine what self-esteem is and how it relates to a satisfying life.  In the process, I discovered many similarities among the three ideas.

Was that a coincidence, or are those three concepts different "shadows" of an ideal life mindset?

It is my intention to see how other methods of research confirm my discoveries, or, like any competent scientist, admit my mistake if I find contrary evidence.

Last week I mentioned my discovery that Nathaniel Branden's work on self-esteem is actually a blend of concepts. As I considered this, I wondered if other scientific theories would support similar conclusions. Recently, I found two that do, and I discovered a study that ties them together.

Shh, quiet, ego!

Heidi A. Wayment, lab director at Northern Arizona University, and her colleague Jack Bauer coined the term quiet ego in 2005 to describe "a self-identity rooted in balance and growth goals." After having written several articles on the subject of ego myself, this topic caught my interest.

According to Wayment and Bauer's extensive research on the subject, a person with a quiet ego:

  • Detaches their feelings of self-worth from their everyday affairs
  • Feels their worth is a given, not something that must be earned
  • Acknowledges and accepts their own shortcomings
  • Balances a strong sense of agency with concern for the well-being of others
  • Possesses higher levels of self-esteem, resilience, life satisfaction, and open-mindedness and flexibility
  • Is more likely to set compassion-oriented goals, have better self-control, and more self-compassion, which results in less perceived stress and higher life satisfaction

There are four aspects of a quiet ego, as defined by Wayment and Bauer.  The first two and the last two are closely related:

  1. Inclusive identity: the extent to which an individual identifies with others in terms of personal qualities
  2. Perspective-taking: taking the time to consider others' perspectives instead of one's own
  3. Detached awareness: mindfulness and a focus on the present without preoccupation with expectations or ideals
  4. Personal growth, or growth-mindedness

That's a brief overview.  We will look at more aspects of this theory later, when I compare it to the others, but first, let's examine a related theory.

Get real: authenticity

There are two popular models (among scientists, at least) of authenticity.  The first, developed by Carl Rogers in 1961,Rogers, C. R. (1961). On becoming a person: A therapist’s view of psychotherapy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. centers on three factors:

  1. An individual's experience
  2. Their conscious awareness of their experience
  3. Their outward communication and behavior

Brian Goldman and Michael Kernis developed their own model of authenticity in 2002.Goldman, B. M., & Kernis, M. H. (2002). The role of authenticity in healthy psychological functioning and subjective well-being. Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association, 5(6), 18–20. Goldman and Kernis break down authenticity into four components:

  1. Awareness: The degree to which individuals are aware and trust themselves about their likes and dislikes, motives, standards, and other aspects of personal identity
  2. Unbiased processing: People do not ignore or deny information about their strengths and weaknesses
  3. Behavior: The degree to which an individual engages in actions that align with their core values, beliefs, and self-concepts
  4. Relational orientation: The extent to which individuals wish close others to know who they really are

As with quiet ego, I'm not going to delve further into the details here.  Let's do that in the next section.

How strong are the pillars?

As mentioned in the introduction, I've already compared two concepts to Branden's Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, but now I'm going to compare two more: Wayment and Bauer's Quiet Ego Theory and Goldman and Kernis' Authenticity Theory, both introduced above.  I'll use the pillars as the outline and we'll learn similarities and differences with our two newcomers along the way.  But first, one more thing.

I've already written quite a bit about self-compassion, but it's worth summarizing three points here:

  1. Self-compassionate people value self-kindness over self-judgment. 
  2. Instead of feeling alone and isolated in their feelings, they focus on their common humanity.
  3. Instead of overidentifying with problems, they perceive mindfully.

The first pillar: The Practice of Living Consciously

Branden emphasized:

  • Seeking and being eagerly open to any information, knowledge, or feedback that bears on our interests, values, goals, and projects
  • Seeking to understand not only the world external to self but also our inner world, so that we do not act out of self-blindness

These points harmonize both with the Awareness aspect of Authenticity as well as the Detached Awareness aspect of Quiet Ego.

Under this pillar, Branden also emphasized being present to what we are doing while doing it, the essence of mindfulness (included in Detached Awareness and Self-Compassion). One thing that all of the theories/concepts under consideration have in common is a strong focus on reality, accepting the world as it is and not denying it or wishing that things were different.

Awareness, as defined by Goldman and Kernis, includes being aware of one's emotions, core values, and goals. I'll need to look closer, but I haven't seen this explicitly mentioned by Branden under this pillar. I identified it in the other concepts I examined though, so it clearly belongs here.

The second pillar: The Practice of Self Acceptance

  • Owning, experiencing, and taking responsibility for our thoughts, feelings, and actions, without evasion, denial, or disowning
  • Giving oneself permission to think one’s thoughts, experience one’s emotions, and look at one’s actions without necessarily liking, endorsing, or condoning them
  • The virtue of realism applied to the self

As with the first pillar, these aspects all fall under Detached Awareness.  However, in Authenticity Theory, these clearly correspond to Unbiased Processing.  There is a difference between Unbiased Processing and Detached Awareness, however. Detached Awareness includes mindfulness - a suspension of judgment -while Unbiased Processing includes the idea of thinking critically about the self without being self-critical.

Yes, that is confusing, so I'll explain. As I see it, mindfulness involves observing thoughts, feelings, and events without judgment, whereas Unbiased Processing involves judging the thoughts themselves to make sure they are not self-critical. That's in line with the emphasis Branden puts on noticing and confronting impulses to deny or ignore painful or threatening realities. He placed this under the first pillar, not the second.  However, this is a minor point.

The third pillar: The Practice of Self Responsibility

So far, we've seen a fairly close correspondence between the three primary theories/concepts we're considering.  However, considering Branden has six pillars and the other two have four primary aspects, it's not reasonable to expect there will be a close correspondence, and indeed, that's what happens here.

For the correspondence to make sense, I need to introduce another concept. This is commonly referred to as being "above the line" or "below the line." It's a great metaphor for taking responsibility versus making excuses, transferring blame, etc. Thinking and acting above the line involves taking responsibility, being accountable, and so forth. Those who think and act below the line blame, offer excuses, and don't take action.

Neither Authenticity Theory nor Quiet Ego Theory explicitly mentions this concept. However, Unbiased Processing contains the concept of acknowledging one's weaknesses, which is very much above-the-line behavior. Relational Orientation also means caring for others, understanding their needs, and wanting to be counted on to do the right thing. Quiet Ego includes Inclusive Identity and Perspective Taking. People who feel as if they are part of a group are less likely to evade their duties. They can also understand the disappointment that others would experience if they engaged in below-the-line behavior.

So I would say the two theories implicitly, but not explicitly, support Branden's assertions:

  • The question is not “Who’s to blame?” but always “What needs to be done?”
  • The world doesn't owe us anything. If we need the cooperation of other people to achieve our goals, we must offer value in exchange

In addition, under the third pillar, Branden adds, "We are the author of our choices and actions; ... each one of us is responsible for life and well-being and for the attainment of our goals." I don't see this incorporated into either Quiet Ego or Authenticity. I think it logically follows, by extension from the above, but this idea falls under the Behavior aspect of Authenticity and the Personal Growth aspect of Quiet Ego, in my opinion. What do you think?

I think it's important to add that resourcefulness and a healthy sense of boundaries also logically fall under the umbrella of this pillar. Branden does not emphasize these, but these are important enough that I'm repeating them again.I found two such references in the book that are somewhat relevant. "If I feel centered within myself, secure with my own boundaries, confident in my right to say yes when I want to say yes and no when I want to say no, benevolence is the natural result." And "A mind that can later learn to trust itself can begin to emerge. A person with a confident sense of boundaries can develop." So Branden does acknowledge the value of boundaries, despite not presenting them front-and-center as an important part of promoting self-esteem, as I would do. When it comes to resourcefulness, Branden considered this a result of self-esteem rather than a contributor: "The value of self-esteem lies not merely in the fact that it allows us to feel better but that it allows us to live better—to respond to challenges and opportunities more resourcefully and more appropriately." All three of these primary concepts stop short, in my view, of articulating the importance of not only taking responsibility for one's own challenges but also being willing to allow others to handle theirs.Although you could logically place this under Authenticity/Behavior.  Furthermore, the point I'm trying to make here logically overlaps with the next pillar.

The fourth pillar: Self Assertiveness

While I'm on the subject of identifying missing pieces, Quiet Ego really misses the boat on this one. I haven't read everything Wayment and Bauer have written on the subject, so they may have touched on it somewhere, but it's not obvious. On the other hand, the Behavior aspect of Authenticity seems to fit this pillar hand in glove:

  • Being authentic in our dealings with others
  • Treating our values and other persons with decent respect in social contexts
  • Refusing to fake the reality of who we are or what we esteem in order to avoid disapproval
  • The willingness to stand up for ourselves and our ideas in appropriate ways in appropriate contexts

Moving on.

The fifth pillar: The Practice of Living Purposefully

I'll just reiterate Branden's points about what this entails:

  • Identifying our short-term and long-term goals or purposes and the actions needed to attain them (formulating an action-plan)
  • Organizing behavior in the service of those goals
  • Monitoring action to be sure we stay on track
  • Paying attention to outcomes so as to recognize if and when we need to go back to the drawing-board

This seems to fall under the Personal Growth aspect of Quiet Ego. It's not too hard to see a connection with Authenticity/Behavior here. And the identifying and monitoring would logically fall under Authenticity/Awareness.

The sixth pillar: The Practice of Personal Integrity

  • Living with congruence between what we know, what we profess, and what we do
  • Telling the truth, honoring our commitments, exemplifying in action the values we profess to admire

There's no need for me to elaborate on the connection with Authenticity/Behavior. On the other hand, I don't see any connection with Quiet Ego.

Here's a table summarizing the connections:

The Six Pillars Quiet Ego Authenticity
Living Consciously Detached Awareness Awareness
Self Acceptance Detached Awareness Unbiased Processing
Self Responsibility Inclusive Identity/Perspective Taking/Personal Growth Unbiased Processing/Relational Orientation
Self Assertiveness no connection Behavior
Living Purposefully Personal Growth Awareness/Behavior
Personal Integrity no connection Behavior

Where's the science?

Most of my articles are based on scientific data, but we should have something solid to sink our intellectual teeth into. I have just that in the form of a recent study that includes all the aspects we have discussed so far.

The study, "The relationship among quiet ego, authenticity, self-compassion and life satisfaction in adults," was published Published May 22, 2021 by authors Ling-Choo Chew and Chin-Siang Ang.Chew, L.-C., & Ang, C.-S. (2021). The relationship among quiet ego, authenticity, self-compassion and life satisfaction in adults. Current Psychology: A Journal for Diverse Perspectives on Diverse Psychological Issues. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-021-01867-5  You can tell from the title that it encompasses several of the concepts I discussed above. A caveat or two: Self-esteem was not included in their study, although it was acknowledged as having a relationship with life satisfaction."the variables examined are based on dimensions of self that contribute low to moderate variance in capturing life satisfaction. Other dimensions of self-concept were not included in this study. For example, self-esteem, as an expression of perception and evaluation towards oneself, is positively associated with life satisfaction (Patel et al., 2018)." The reason I chose the topic and format of this article is that the factors considered in it are all related to self-esteem and more importantly, to life satisfaction, which is a major focus of this blog.My other caveat is this: Although the authors did discuss the Goldman & Kernis authenticity model, they used the Rogers model for their calculations instead because it shows greater "validity and factorial structure of authenticity measures." Nonetheless, the Goldman & Kernis model is widely used and considered valid.

The study involved 203 adult participants larger pool and a wider age range. The results were interesting:

  • Quiet ego was a predictor of life satisfaction
  • However, authenticity and self-compassion were much greater predictors, eclipsing the contributions of quiet ego

For the math-minded, the study identified quiet ego as having a .193 correlation with life satisfaction.  Authenticity (Rogers model) was .261, and self-compassion was .446.  Also, quiet ego had a .489 correlation with authenticity and a .298 correlation with self-compassion. (A correlation of .5 means the variance is 25% related.)This harmonizes with a previous study involving hundreds of participants: "Moderate to larger correlations were found between QES and authenticity, life satisfaction, and coping efficacy. Mindfulness, self-compassion, and authenticity were intercorrelated moderately, r(156) range: .332 to .554, average r(156) = .448." In that study, the Goldman & Kernis authenticity model was used. Wayment, H.A., Bauer, J.J. & Sylaska, K. The Quiet Ego Scale: Measuring the Compassionate Self-Identity. J Happiness Stud 16, 999–1033 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-014-9546-z 

The authors referenced a 2016 study illustrating "the underlying mechanism between self-compassion and life satisfaction with hope as a mediator."

A hopeful mindset enables individuals to identify desired goals in life and leads to increased confidence and motivation, and in turn promotes life satisfaction.

A bright outlook leads to increased confidence, motivation, and life satisfaction? Of course, you already knew that.