Much has been said about it. But how does one handle the male ego? SUDHA UMASHANKER looks for the answers.

Difficult to decipher and frequently the cause for friction and misunderstanding —what’s with the male ego? Says Shantha Manikantan, counselling psychologist: “We see men with exaggerated judgment of their capabilities and importance, everywhere — at home, work, or in a social situation. Most people assume the male ego is an issue of superiority. But, it can also stem from a complex that alternates between superiority and inferiority, resulting in the desire to impress others.”

Over-hyped?

According to Vijay Nagaswami, author, psychiatrist and relationship consultant: “The male ego has probably been over-hyped just a bit. In our patriarchal society, unwarranted attention given to the male child has made it an issue in relationships even in the 21st Century.”

Shekar Seshadri, professor, Unit of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, NIMHANS, Bangalore, says: “Boys are conditioned to believe that power resides in them. Also, they are expected to protect family honour and control girls and women. Which is what gives them an ego boost.”

So is having an ego bad? Meena Jain, psychologist and psychotherapist, observes: “Healthy ego is very important to one’s self-esteem, as opposed to an inflated ego that can destroy relationships.”

Adds Shantha: “What matters is how one manages the ego. Over manifestation suggests that you consider yourself a cut above the rest. This becomes a tool to belittle others, and the outcome is not always pleasant.”

For all their strength (real and supposed!), why are male egos fragile? Says Dr. Nagaswami: “Any ego that derives itself from the perceived superiority of one gender over the other is bound to be incomplete and fragile. The mere fact of being born a male cannot be the primary parameter to derive one’s sense of self worth. Also, the object of the male ego is to establish dominance over the female ego. When masculinity alone is used to establish dominance and control, it’s bound to be fragile, since it’s incomplete.

Dr. Jain says: “Men are, by nature, emotionally dependent, look forward to boosting their self-esteem, and have limited coping skills. We must remember that a man’s sense of self is defined by his abilities and accomplishments. He is more interested in things than emotions or people. Men break very quickly when they fail — the feel-good factor of achievement is very important to them.”

Identifying a few sore spots that ruffle the male ego, Dr. Nagaswami says: “Any challenge to the dominant role that goes with their perception of masculinity will be sore spots. However, sensitive new-age men don’t seem to have this ego problem.”

Shantha says the touchy areas include “finance, women, and the questioning of their authority. Men are touchy about anything that involves decisions. They love to be the decision makers. And, when they make a decision, they need to hear they are right —even if they are wrong”.

Dr. Jain adds looks, sexuality, competency, career, money, gadgets, and health to the list.

So, how does one handle the male ego? Acknowledge or ignore it?

Dr. Nagaswami says: “The best way to deal with a bloated ego is to prick it, and get the individual to value himself based on substantial parameters.”

Says Shantha: “While massaging an ego can drain you emotionally, not acknowledging it can be detrimental in the long run. The best approach will be a middle path, addressing issues head-on.”

Dr. Jain suggests: “Help them develop good communication skills and a healthy ego, very important to building their life and relationships.”