Ego: Healthy vs. Unhealthy

Identity is the natural seat of the ego. When the ego is injured in some way it becomes inflamed, like an injury to the skin will. A healthy ego develops and learns over time, and does the essential job of self-protection, self-awareness, and self-care. But when a healthy ego sustains repeated injury in childhood and is not allowed to heal (often due to the same neglect and/or abuse that injured it in the first place), it remains wounded and painful. The child grows up anyway, but has to compensate for the wounds with defensive behavior. A "swollen" identity can develop as a defense-mechanism, instead of a healthy identity.

Instead of the person identifying themselves internally as a "human being" just like everyone else, they can take on an outer identity. They use it like a shield, and protect it with social (or literal) weaponry.

The person who has a healthy identity of "human being" can learn and develop many skills, and still retain their identity of their original "ME". That original "ME" grows, learns, and develops, but does not change into an external identity.

In other words, Ben is still Ben whether he learns to paint houses, do accounting, pass the bar exam, or play the flute, because his ego is healthy. He does not change his identity into an image he has in his head of "House Painter", or "Accountant", "Lawyer", or "Floutist". He does not take on the personality traits or beliefs of other people in those fields. He remains "Ben", regardless of the people he's around.

If Ben's ego was not healthy, his inner identity of "self" would seek outside help to create an image to present to the world. This image would be used to protect Joe from the hostility in the world, and also serve as a "brand" or a "sign" that Ben can stand behind.

(Big business uses this tactic every day, from band-aids to celebrity images).

So Ben with the unhealthy ego may create an image/identity for himself as "Housepainter", and "Man", or "Man" first and "Housepainter" second, or he may combine the two. When he does this, he has to take on the traits that other people identify as "Man" or "Housepainter". This means he can lose his own real identity in the chaos of trying to turn himself into something that's not naturally "Ben". He's no longer "Ben" who happens to be a man and paints houses, he is "Ben The Manly Housepainter", which may sound "cool", but being trapped inside a created identity is truly a trap. "Ben The Manly Housepainter" must remain inside that identity and never show anything else if he does not want to be rejected by those who have bought into the image. (If there was no one who callously and abusively rejected Ben in the first place through the years, he would not have felt the need to develop this external identity in order to protect himself.)

When Ben has taken on an external identity, he then becomes competitive with others whom he perceives as having a similar image-identity. So he feels threatened by Dave, who's "Man" image has more "Man" traits then Ben's. Ben does not like Dave for this reason alone, not because Dave has ever done anything wrong to him. Joe feels threatened by the fear that OTHER PEOPLE will see Dave as more of a "Man". It doesn't matter if Dave is creating this image purposely, like Ben is doing, or if he has a healthier ego and simply shows his real "self". Ben will feel threatened either way, and in fact will probably feel more threatened if he perceives that Dave is just being himself.

Ben with the unhealthy ego, with the external identities of "Man" and "Housepainter" is also threatened by Sally with the healthy ego, who also paints houses. Sally is a kind, warm, intelligent person, but Ben "can't stand her". He blames her for his feelings, he says she is a Know It All, that she's a bitch, that she complains all the time, and that she thinks she's better than everyone.
Reality is that Ben has identified "Housepainter" and "Man" together, and part of his identity as "Man" is also "NOT WOMAN". Sally being able to paint houses derails the identity he has created for himself.
Ben has bought into a pre-adolescent stage that supposes that "boys know more than girls about certain things automatically"; because of his ego being wounded around that stage of development in his life. He is stuck there, and he doesn't know it. So when he developed his external identity as "Man" for the world to see him as, he incorporated that child's belief as well. When he met Sally, he was immediately struck by a feeling of threat; if this woman could paint houses just like he can, then that ruins the whole "Man/Housepainter" identity, and it feels like his own identity is being attacked. Which of course, it isn't, his real "self", the original "Ben", is underneath and behind this constructed "Man/Housepainter" identity. But he doesn't realize this, and blames Sally for his feelings of being attacked.

Ben condescends and challenges Sally every chance he gets; he is trying to bully her enough to make her either go away, or give up painting houses. He talks at her, through her, and over her to other people on the project; he treats her like a child who is in the way, and sabotages her work, and tries to sabotage any friendships she seems to have as well as her reputation. He is trying to prove to himself, to Sally, and to everyone else (especially everyone else) that he is superior to her, that he is a REAL Housepainter and she's not, and trying desperately to reassert his identity as "Man-Housepainter" to everyone around them. (Sally, in the meantime, is just trying to do her job and make a living, while having to defend herself against Ben's drama at every turn.) If Ben with the HEALTHY ego, who paints houses, showed up, he would be pleased to meet a kindred spirit who was also good at housepainting, and would not even think to condescend at all, but would want to share experiences, stories, and tips and tricks of the trade with Sally. He would not feel anything at all about Sally being a woman and painting houses, except maybe a breath of fresh air, since he does not know very many female house painters. He would get to know Sally as a warm, friendly, intelligent person, and probably become friends with her.