The Two Sides of Ego
Updated: Mar 31, 2021
Today everyone lives with societal pressure to have healthy self-esteem, self-concept, self-confidence, and self-love along with enough aggression to fulfill one's material needs. These are great aspirations, however, they aren't enough to guarantee wellbeing. Psychological theory generally suggests the ego is a necessary aspect of personality. Freud and Buddha had the same perspective about the ego suggesting that it is necessary, and needs taming. This view is the same as suggesting the ego can become an obstruction to enlightenment, and a healthy personality, or is it more likely that the ego takes us captive, or liberates us depending on our knowledge of it. Why is this important? Time moves quickly, freeing ourselves from materiality, points towards the acknowledgement of spiritual experience. To do this we must learn how the ego impacts dimensional experience. Materiality, or egoic expression reigns in the third dimension, our way out of this material experience depends on our understanding of twelve more realms.
From a psychological perspective, ego is a part of personality developed through early social interactions that dictates how we relate, and interact socially later in adult life. Sigmund Freud, known for Psychoanalytic Theory, proposed that the ego is just one aspect of three functions of the structure of mind. The ego aspect of mind operates according to the reality principle by assessing the external world which forces one to consider the risks, requirements, and outcomes involving social interactions. This principle also suggests we make moral decisions based on social norms depending on social imprints created during early development, for example, a newborn hermaphrodite is surgically altered to be the gender of a female chosen by her parents. This individual then grows up in a strict christian home, who later began to question her sexual orientation, however, because she was programmed to believe heterosexual orientation is the only morally sound decision, she suppresses her feelings, and never comes out of the closet, which in turn impacts her mental health.
The first aspect of mind is what Freud called the "id." The second aspect, or ego makes sure the desires of the id are appropriate. The id controls actions, drives, impulses, desires, and wants, based on the ego. This unique combination dictates our potential as the id operates on the pleasure principle. If we survived childhood without having needs met, our future life may consist of subconscious drives to curb unmet needs that develop into addictions, and compulsions. If an individual operated from the id alone, one would find delays to gratification intolerable, as the id seeks immediate gratification.
The third aspect of mind is the superego. This aspect reflects our internalized beliefs of social norms adopted from our experiences of authority. It functions as a conscience, or as somewhat of a moral compass based on what we perceive to be right, wrong, good, or bad. The superego considers social pressure to quell impulses, the id produces the impulse based on personal need, and the ego assesses the risk in follow through based on our beliefs of social conduct, consequence, and self-esteem.
Understanding how one developed in early life sheds light as to why a person tends to shift from love to hate, serenity to jealousy on a dime. This for most is human nature, the key to controlling these emotional experiences is resistance. Ideally, resisting the desire to react to instinctive impulses helps one to achieve purpose in life, because resisting egocentric response aids one with meeting the "higher self." When one holds back from responding they become an individual creator, as they step out of reactive nature that causes effect. Although an external event motivates an internal reaction, resisting reactions immediately puts one in the driver seat of their own emotions making them creators of consciousness versus victims of events. This means one no longer has to play hide and seek with themselves, wondering when the hidden wounded self will jump out, and make a disaster in the world. When the higher self is operational, decisions that honour the self, and others can be followed through on.
From a spiritual perspective our psyche, or "breath, life, and soul," is crucially tied to the function of the ego as it forms our self-concept. If one challenges the relationship between the id and superego, cognitive dissonance results, this is described as a mental state that occurs when one's behaviour does not line up with their personal values. This state can be likened to a scenario of a person who decides to enter into an affair, a midst precarious circumstances, only to experience ignoring their moral compass signalling the situation as unsuitable, finds themselves emotionally, and mentally unstable six to nine months down the road.
The ego on the spiritual path can be an obstruction to enlightenment, as the ego bases its decisions on prior social experiences, and norms. Although a person's superego may not feel comfortable with certain events, the id may have unmet needs that the ego cannot negotiate. The unconscious aspect of the ego can become a monster if left untamed due to hidden unmet needs of the id subdued by the subconscious mind. It is in this buffer zone between the id and ego that bad things happen to good people. People can become seriously unhinged when things do not go their way, or the way their ego has perceived they should go. Some people go to great lengths to feed their id, to the point of deathly serious addictions. This can include addictions in the form of substance abuse, or for the kid that grew up in poverty, who did not get enough food, toys, etc., gambles himself homeless.
The spiritual quest is based on the existence of non-material dimension. When we focus on our non-material selves, our image, or concept of who we are expands as we admit, we are not body, but spirit. Our psyche does not govern the material realm about us, as much as it seeks to expand our awareness of the immaterial world. Finding ourselves spiritually, involves becoming aware of the ego that was formed though our beliefs, and experiences. Chipping away at the concept of who we think we are brings us closer to our spiritual self that does not identify with anything material. Integrating trauma assists with breaking free of the habitual pull from the subconscious mind. We are part of the cosmic ocean of consciousness, our ego prevents us from seeing our part in it by creating the illusion that our existence is solely material. We are not our bodies, nor our experience, when we rise above the construct of duality, good or bad, right or wrong, and acknowledge 3rd dimensional experience in a 5th dimensional reality we are more able to embrace our spirit hidden under the layers of the ego, id and superego.