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In Defense of the Ego

It is a certainty that the human ego causes much suffering in individual lives and in the world as a whole. Still, that is not altogether the fault of the ego itself.

Eastern mysticism in general, and those Western systems which have been derived from or heavily influenced by the East, has given the ego a very bad name. Today it is not at all uncommon to hear phrases like “ego-consciousness” and “egoic mind” in purely pejorative (and generally judgmental) tones. New Age and New Thought teachers place a lot of emphasis on “transcending” or even “dissolving” the individual ego. The ego is thus treated like a parasite, an obsessing entity with nothing positive to contribute.

All of this is poor psychology, and even worse spirituality. Looking askance upon the ego is a flat denial of the potential held within an entire segment of one’s own psyche.

It is true that the ego is not the core of one’s being, that place being held by the pure spirit or awareness. The ego is also not a malicious leech upon the soul. It is instead the entire conscious content of the soul, a more or less organized conglomerate of thoughts and emotions steeped in personal significance. It is the light-of-day counterpart to the personal unconscious (in the sense of Dr. Jung) and, as such, is our only means of directly integrating the insights which arise from our individual unconsciouses (which, in thier turn, descend from the individual mind and spirit “above”).

The ego is only dangerous when we mistake it for our individuality which is the spirit, or else when we forget that the ego is not even close to the soul’s totality. These are admittedly common errors, ones to which we are all prone for so lon gas we are incarnate and possessed of souls at all. That is not the fault of the ego itself, however, but more of a reflection of our current degree of mindfulness and our collective lack of appropriate education. Ego is neither the disease nor the symptom, only the victim of slander at the hands of largely semi-conscious beings lacking in the tools of self-understanding.

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  1. May 8, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    *nods* That’s the problem with taking the ego out of its original context(s). You mentioned the Jungian conception of it; as for Freud, from whence Jung got the idea, for him the ego was the balance between the moral insistence of the superego, and the willful instinct of the id. The ego has to mediate between the two forces that are behind the scenes, and at the same time also negotiate with the outer world. It’s more than a mask, but as you mention it’s not the entirety of Self, either.

    • May 8, 2009 at 4:02 pm

      Exactly, although Jung’s conception of ego differed from Freud’s in that Jung acknowledged neither the id nor the superego as such; when you believe in the soul as a thing-of-itself and not merely a neurogenic construct, and when you acknowledge the unconscious as being something greater than mere “sub-consciousness”, the id and superego lose much of their usefulness as concepts. The ego is still a very useful concept even without the other two Freudian ideas.

  2. thereofone
    May 8, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    Walls that define boundaries
    vs
    Walls that define barriers

    (ps it is Ted)

  3. May 8, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    I think this article could be way longer and ended right where it got started. =)

    Gotta add, nothing worse to put up with in a social interaction than someone with a fairly highly sensitive and consumptive ego lecture on and on about the evils of the ego. 😉

    nice read

    • May 9, 2009 at 2:50 am

      Ha. I certainly could have gone on with this topic, yes, but then I’d have to write a book! Perhaps, “A Response to Eckhart Tolle”? Not a snappy book title, but…

  4. May 8, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    Well said. One of my first shamanism teachers said in one of her classes that the ego must be killed in order to really “transcend” into one’s greater awareness, etc. I respectfully disagreed, saying that the ego is one of our teachers and we need it as part of our navigation here. She sort of looked at me strangely and patted me on the head more or less and moved on. A subsequent teacher phrased it really well. She said that she looked at the ego as the guardian of the physical form. It’s job is to be a bit defensive and overbearing. That is our first point of the alarm system to check in with how we’re handling a situation, etc. That’s been a workable way for me to look at it.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • May 9, 2009 at 2:53 am

      I see, hear, and read a lot of that attitude all over the magic-mystical world. I tried to agree with it early on, but something about it always rankled. Only recently, as I’ve made a concerted effort to understand psychology in terms of spirituality (as opposed to the other way around, as is usually the case), have I come upon a workable solution for myself. Thanks for your thoughts!

  1. June 25, 2012 at 2:09 am

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