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When Weakness Turns Your Ego Up

Daily Stoic Emails

There are things that look like strength but they aren’t. An aggressive, mean person can seem strong but oftentimes they aren’t. It’s an act. “All cruelty,” Seneca wrote, “springs from weakness.” The bully, almost invariably, has been bullied.

So it goes for ego. To the untrained eye, it can be mistaken for confidence. The person’s self-centeredness, their certainty, their entitlement—this seems like the way that only the most important and gifted person in the world could get away with acting. In reality, the person doesn’t feel that way inside at all. On the contrary, they feel very small. Nero, for instance, demanded that enormous audiences celebrate his greatness. This was also the same emperor who banished a poet from Rome for being too talented, and thus a threat.

We have to be wise enough to recognize these signs of weakness in our leaders, in our bosses, in the people we look up to. But most of all, we have to recognize it in ourselves. Confidence is quiet—it doesn’t need to be celebrated or worshiped. True strength and power are restrained. They are not easily threatened, they don’t need to make themselves felt—except for in extraordinary circumstances.

Ego is not just the enemy. It is the canary in the coal mine. It’s a sign you’re going in the wrong direction. That you’re not as good or as strong or as secure as you think you are.