Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Look At Ego

Defining Ego

Have you ever wondered what Ego is? There are different ways of viewing it. Here are some of the most prominent ways of seeing Ego. But it should be noted that these are not the only definitions, only a select few.

The first definition is taken from the book Handbook of Contemporary Psychotherapy, by William T. O'Donohue and Steven R. Graybar, which talks about the Freudian view on Ego.

Sigmund Freud defined ego as the part of our personality that maintains contact with the external world through perception; integrates inner and outer worlds; remembers, plans, and evaluates; and responds to external experience, especially the experience of conflict. The ego mediates internal conflicts between the instinctive impulsive id that relishes and enjoys conflicts and the conscientious, controling superego that is frightened by it and continually strives for settlement, generally through avoidance, accommodation and compromise. Ego, then, is the central point from which we perceive, interpret, experience, defend against, and settle conflicts.
The next definition is Pre-Freudian but still based in Western Philosophy. This definition is sited here: Ego

Ego: In the history of philosophy and pre-Freudian psychology, the word ‘ego’ (Latin for ‘I’) has usually meant the ‘self’: the rational, autonomous subject of consciousness, which, at the same time, is the object of the individual's self-consciousness. At least since the end of the Renaissance, the notion of the self has been fundamental to human identity. Whereas Man had previously been represented as an entity connected with and dependent upon a divinely ordered cosmos, the meaning of humanity came, by the Enlightenment, to be located increasingly in the interior of individual human beings, characterized by reason and by autonomy from the outer cosmos.

Another definition, which is taken from Glossary of Zen Buddhism - An Introduction to Zen Thought by George R. Yool, sites ego, from the Buddhist perspective, as:

Ego: The individual or self; in Buddhism the ego is an illusion, which helps to perpetuate all illusion.

Another site offers a number of definitions on Ego. They are sited here: Ego


1. self; feeling of I, me, mine.

2. subjective made of consciousness that differentiates itself from the objective world.

3. identity maker, giver of names and forms.

4. architect who identifies, between the primitive impulses of the id and the demands of society. (Freud).

5. Higher self, individuality, soul; that which bends every effort to quicken vibration and to force the off rebelling lower vehicle of personality to respond and measure up to rapidly increasing force. (Bailey)

6. futile effort to secure happiness and maintain itself in relation to something else watcher of egolessness (Trungpa)

7. veil between the self and God in Hinduism’s.

8. succession of confusions producing an illusory sense of self in Buddhism.

9. the evaluating and judging principle. (Joseph Campbell) (NAD)

A Simplified View Of Ego

What is Ego, beyond all of the different definitions? It is the sense you have of yourself , as a person, in connection with the world around you.

To illuminate this, lets look at an example. Imagine a Geisha, if you will. A Geisha is someone who exemplifies Ego. She is the embodiment of what is considered elegant and beautiful, to the Japanese culture. And this is seen in the way she dresses, in the way she wears her makeup, in the way she dresses her hair, to the way she moves and behaves. She is, in essence, a living doll who is trained in the arts, literature, music, and other topics of conversation that might be of interest to the people around her.

But this is merely a mask she wears, no matter how much she or they might wish it to be otherwise. Because she is a living breathing person, beneath all of the artifice. She is aware of herself. And she has opinions, thoughts, and feelings, like everyone else. Which says that beneath the mask of the Geisha, stands a real woman.

It can best be said in a quote from the story Memoirs Of A Geisha that says: ~ It is not for Geisha to want. It is not for Geisha to feel. Geisha is an artist of the floating world. She dances. She sings. She entertains you, whatever you want. The rest is shadows. The rest is secret.~

Like the Geisha, we all wear masks to hide and/or protect the real 'us' which exists when no one else is looking. It is simply not as obvious in us, as it is in the Geisha. That mask we wear is reactionary to the world around it. It is a piece of us that is never truly defined, because it is mutable and changeable, depending on the people we surround ourselves with, our experiences, and the situation at hand, in any given moment.

Ego, in this line of reasoning, is the face we show to the world. It is the sense we have of ourselves in congruence with the outside world and all of its different influences upon us.

The Nature Of Ego

Now the questions arise, as to the nature of Ego. Can one have an over-inflated Ego? Can one have a low sense of themselves (low self esteem, low self confidence, low self worth), and it still be called Ego? Can one have a warped sense of Ego? Is Ego illusion and can one exist without Ego, as defined by the Buddhist beliefs? And what is a good balance, if one does not hold to the Buddhist precepts of the eradication of Ego?

The Over-Inflated Ego

One who has an over-inflated ego is considered to be egocentric, and is often times associated with Narcissism in extreme cases. Narcissism is defined as an exceptional interest in and admiration for yourself and is categorized as "self-love that shut out everyone else". In this view, the person shuts out the world around them, save for how others interact with them, because they are at the center of their own focus.

A good way to see it is that the world revolves around the person in question. And anyone outside of that sphere, that which revolves around and pertains to the person with the over-inflated ego, is unimportant.

The Little to No Worth Ego

The person who exhibits this type of Ego, tends to have low self esteem and no sense of their own value, as a person. They tend to be those who are easily used by others and tend to fall into cycles of abusive relationships. This is because there is a lack of self awareness, instead of an over inflation of it, and it is expressed outwardly toward the world as a person who is needy, easy to use/abuse, and who will take it, no matter what 'it' is.

The over-inflated ego tends to focus on self, whereas, the 'little to no worth' ego tends to focus on the outside world. This is because their value is grounded in the outside world and based off of the validation of others ~ be it gratitude or abuse. It is completely reactionary to the people around them and the esteem they are held in by those people.

This, like the over-inflated ego, is a type of ego.

The Warped Ego

Simply put, the two types listed above are warped egos, shaped by some deficiency in care or traumatic experience from the formative years to adolescence of a person's life. And these two types are expressions of what the child's mind wove around itself to survive those experiences of the past.

Illusionary Ego

Lets look at the meaning of illusionary. It is an erroneous concept, belief, or perception of reality. When you add this word onto the term Ego, it is an erroneous concept, belief, or perception of self.

While all of the types listed above exist conceptually, they are also illusionary, just as Ego in itself is an illusion. Like the Geisha, we spoke of before, it is a mask which hides and/or protects the true self that exists beneath it.

Thus, in the Buddhist idea of the eradication of Ego, it does not presuppose the actual obliteration of Ego, but more like the integration of Ego into the totality of the being.

Ego is to the true self what a flashlight is to a spotlight.
~~John Bradshaw

Ego, in this instance, is considered a separate entity from the whole of the person. It is the mask which covers that which we hide away in 'closets', call our 'demons', and are afraid to show the world due to possible censure and derision. So Ego, is the thing that keeps us from being whole and self aware. Thus obliteration, or integration, is key to finding 'enlightenment'.

And whether Ego exists or is merely illusion, is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. This is because the 'true self' exists whether there is a mask hiding it away or not. The point is to get beneath the mask of Ego to the heart of who you are.

The Balance

There is a balance, that can be sought and worked toward, without all of the philosophy, definitions, and what not, to cloud your path. That balance is a simple equation. It is an equal balance of self worth (ego) and the ability to exist and share with the outside world.

You don't have to put your mask away completely to live a healthy life. But you shouldn't live in fear and doubt of sharing who you truly are with the outside world, for whatever reason, either. There is no shame in being proud of your accomplishments. There is no shame in being proud of and liking yourself for who and what you are, despite what others say to the contrary. And there is no shame in admitting your flaws and if you so desire, working toward a better way of doing things.

It doesn't have to be all or nothing. It doesn't have to be so black and white. Its about you and what you want, after all. So keep that in mind as you travel upon your path. What do you want?

Think about it.

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