I have an unhealthy habit of reading internet comments. Not engaging, just reading. I don’t know why I do it (probably has something to do with human nature’s tendency to watch horrors like train wrecks or reality television), but I do know that it’s one of my most self-destructive habits.
It’s also an enlightening, albeit exhausting, experience. In the wake of every tragedy, human rights violation, and political embarrassment, I watch as people’s egos come out to play online.
I see egos rampaging in comments like “not all men” or “all lives matter” or “there’s good people on both sides”. I like to hope that the majority of these comments don’t come from a source of real hatred, although in every case, the same insidious issue is at play. Our ego has blind spots, and we don’t always take the responsibility to check them. And that hurts everyone—including ourselves.
So, inspired by this exploration of ego blind spots and this essay on limiting beliefs, let’s explore what it means to have a blind spot, why egos thrive on the internet, and how we can be more responsible with managing our ego response.
The Fight Or Flight Response
Think about your ego as a three year old. When we don’t get what we want—or are challenged in a way we’re not comfortable with—that inner toddler falls into an inconsolable meltdown. If you don’t know what I mean, dig deeper. We all have one.
This version of ourselves doesn’t realize (or doesn’t care) that she’s causing a scene, or screaming over others, and she’s most certainly not looking to change her mind. The ego clings to what she knows, at the expense of reason, relationships, and personal growth, because she only wants to preserve her self interests.
Your ego is born out of your lizard brain, which operates from a primitive place of fear. It’s a fight-or-flight instinct that helped our prehistoric ancestors stay alive in the face of danger. But today, it’s nothing more than an incessant call to remain in our comfort zones—or to remain blind to social constructs that happen to work in our favor, like race or gender identity.
Some of the most toxic examples of ego show up in the form of unchecked privilege—like white privilege and male privilege—which causes a blind spot we can’t see unless we examine ourselves closely. Even then, acknowledgement is not enough: stripping away our ego’s control over our actions can take years of unlearning. Which is why we need to start right now.
The Perks of Anonymity
Your ego on the internet is like a kid in a candy store. There are so many things she wants, and unlimited things she can throw a fit about. The perks of anonymity send some egos into full tantrums, which is where we find groups clinging to their power and claiming that they’re actually the ones being marginalized. Think: men’s rights activists.
If we’re not engaging our thinking brain, our ego can weaponize our personal pain against marginalized groups as an attempt to validate ourselves. Our ego loves to elevate our suffering as somehow more important than that of another person’s. What’s more, our egos operate from a scarcity mindset, like there’s only space for one person’s pain in a space. As if there’s not enough pain and subsequent compassion to go around.
With the impersonal nature of the internet, our egos feel safe to trivialize, ignore, and recenter the attention to themselves. But what’s really happening here?
Aside from the conscious and overt -isms and -phobias, most of the internet rage I read comes from real pain or fear. And while I’m not in the business of determining whose pain is valid and whose is not, I have a rule of thumb when it comes to how I can process this fear in myself and others.
I ask myself, “is this pain coming from a place of unwillingness to change?”
If the answer is yes, that usually identifies which side of a conversation is operating from a place of privilege. The other side of that would be pain that comes from systemic oppression, personal tragedy, or a wide swath of disadvantages.
The Ramifications of Unchecked Blind Spots
You might be thinking “well I’m not an extremist, so I’m fine.” While exaggeratedly unchecked egos are at best cringey, and at worst commit human rights atrocities, there are more subtle ways ego affects your daily life and how you move about in this world.
Our blind spots can create a homogenous view of the world where racism and sexism are problems of the past. We may operate under the idea that hard work is the only factor to success, when in reality there are social, economic, and systemic obstacles that provide additional layers of complexity. And if you’re in a position of power, ego blind spots perpetuate oppression without you realizing it.
If you’re not exploring your own blind spots, the consequences also affect you on a personal level. To use a tired phrase, you end up building a wall—around yourself. The more you close yourself off, especially if you’re in a creative field, the less you expose yourself to the richness of the cultures around you and the power of learning from individual experience. Allowing yourself the space for self-reflection makes space for growth.
How To Start Checking Our Blind Spots
It’s a heavy topic, and not always a pleasant one. There’s nothing fun about confronting our own shortcomings and initiating the process to change.
But the fix for these blind spots can be a simple one: open your mind and close your mouth. If you’re part of a privileged group, spend some time researching and learning about what your privilege has allowed you that it has not allowed someone else.
Then, arm yourself with as much humility as you can muster. I continually try (and often fail) to check my privilege in a world that’s still designed to work in my favor as a white person. Checking my ego blind spots frequently reveals the things I don’t know that I don’t know. Stay receptive, and question your defensiveness.
When you feel a rage boiling up, ask yourself if it’s coming from a true sense of injustice—or if it’s coming from a place of unwillingness to change. Use this same self-reflection when you find yourself clinging to assumptions, too. Ego’s worst enemy is honesty.
Don’t let your discomfort be the bounding box of your beliefs. Push into it, seek what makes you uncomfortable and be honest with yourself about why it’s uncomfortable. Then go further.
And stop reading comments on the internet.
Emily Torres is the Managing Editor at The Good Trade. She’s a Los Angeles transplant who was born and raised in Indiana, where she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her reading or writing, caring for her rabbits, or practicing at the yoga studio. Say hi on Instagram!