The Purpose of The Ego
Question from a reader:
The pop culture definition of “ego” tends to have negative connotations and what we really mean when we talk about someone being egoic is that they have an inflated ego.
“I’ve been considering writing a blog for over five years. One of the largest questions I ask is: what makes what I have to say so special that warrants a blog? This concern feels like what you describe as the (spiritual) “ego” but I’m also curious about the role of the ego in terms of how society/pop culture use the term. So my question is: what is the role/relationship of (pop culture) ego with (spiritual) ego?”
You’ll hear people in the spiritual community talk about the ego with negative connotations as well, but I think a lot of that comes from the demonization of it from a pop culture standpoint and those individual’s lack of understanding about the purpose the ego serves. If we strip all of that away, the ego is simply a thing. It is neutral. Neither good nor bad.
From one of my previous blog posts:
I define the ego as a personality construct of sorts, a persona or an identity that we develop for ourselves. The ego is complex and it’s made up of a series of beliefs that we hold about ourselves and who we are, many of which are shaped by outside forces as we develop as children. The ego is the totality of our conscious self. It is how we see ourselves. This is the Jungian view of the Ego, wherein it is only a small part of the total self–in essence, the part of yourself that is fully known to you. The part that is NOT fully known to you, Jung calls the shadow self. – What’s in a Self? Soul, Personality & Ego
The ego serves an important purpose form a spiritual perspective: to be human is to have an ego. We wouldn’t truly be human without it. The ego is the mechanism through which we are able to see ourselves as an individual, unique person. It’s what helps create the illusion of separation from all that is, and gives us the opportunity for experience here in the physical plane. Through the ego we get to decide who we want to be.
From the psychological perspective, the ego’s purpose is to help regulate various aspects of the self that need to be kept in check, such as the id (our basic instincts and animalistic desires). In that regard, when someone has a weak ego, the id runs amuck. When they have a strong ego, they’re able to keep themselves in check.
But back to the concept of an inflated ego…
When someone in pop culture refers to another as egoic, they are really referring to an unhealthy ego construct a person has created to overcompensate for their perceived shortcomings. An unhealthy ego would actually be considered a weak ego in psychological terms. So the terminology here is a bit at odds with one another.
At the end of my blog post on addiction and shame I talk about how each of us has multiple personas: our true self, our inner false persona and our external false persona.
We often believe that our true self isn’t good enough. That belief, in and of itself, creates a false inner-persona–a skewed view of self. This is the deflated ego, which is also considered a weak ego in psychological terms, because it, too, is unhealthy. Some people are so resistant to that false view of self that they create yet another persona–a false outer persona–to try and compensate for their initial false perception. The false outer persona tries extra hard to be the opposite of the false inner persona. This is the inflated ego we discussed above.
But as I mentioned, the ego is not inherently good or bad in psychological or spiritual terms. It’s a necessary part of the self, so what we must do is work our way through the false inner and outer personas to reach the true self, and in that process we begin to reshape the ego into something that is more closely aligned to our true self. This is what we mean when we talk about alignment.
Now, to address your implied question: What makes what I have to say so special that it warrants a blog? Your experience is unique, and it’s through that experience that you discover your particular medicine for the world. That’s what makes what you have to say so special. Your doubt that who you are is special or unique is actually a result of a weak ego as well! It’s what we talked about earlier as being the deflated ego.
When an ego is healthy, it is strong in that it has the ability to regulate the other parts of the self, and it is neither inflated, nor deflated. It’s balanced, exhibiting healthy amounts of self-respect and self-worth, which are equal to the amounts of respect it gives out.
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