When it comes to the human mind, there are a million and one different theories popping up about why we behave one way and not the other. However, few of these theories have stood the test of time as well as Sigmund Freud’s personality theory which has been in existence since 1923. This is important because only through understanding our own minds and how they function can we begin to understand which of our thoughts we can trust and which we should steer clear of. In this article we’re going to answer a question such as: what is ego and how does it impact your life?
What is it and What Does it Do?
We’re going to avoid delving too deep into psychological theory here and so we’ll instead explain these aspects of the mind in very straightforward ways. In order to understand the role that ego plays and what is an ego within the human mind, we have to explore two of its connecting components: the ID and the Super Ego.
If the term ego sound familiar but in a different context and you’re finding yourself asking the question: who is ego, then the answer is a Marvel villain and he is not in any way connected to what we’ll be discussing here.
So what is ego? Well, you probably hear it being mentioned all the time. When someone constantly talks about how successful they are or how strong they are, someone might describe them as having a big ego.
However, within the realm of spirituality, it can carry a slightly different meaning and will instead relate to our ability to abandon our own drives and selfish desires, thinking less about ourselves and more about the other people, the world and even the universe. This will make more sense as we explore the id and the superego.
The Devil and the Angel on your Shoulder
We’re all familiar with that famous idea of having a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other: the two varying sides of our conscious coin, each trying to convince us that one action is better than the other. Typically the angel will preach morality and remind us that we wouldn’t want such a negative behavior or action to happen to us.
Meanwhile, the Devil will try to talk us into mischievous and often immoral deeds in order to satisfy our more primitive desires. Typically, the devil will take a “survival of the fittest approach” while the angel is more of a “for the greater good” type of guide.
But what is the ego and how does it connect to this idea? Well, you can consider the id to be the devil and the superego to be the angel. This is essentially how these two aspects of the human mind work. The id is our primal and instinctual thoughts. It relates to the biology that we’ve inherited from our parents which have been passed down from generation to generation, going all the way back to the first humans.
The superego is the societal rules and norms that we follow in order to be considered civilized but it’s also the lessons we’ve been taught by parents and teachers that we are expected to follow.
To give you an example, if someone damaged your car then the id would be telling you to get angry, possibly even aggressive, but the superego would be reminding you that you can’t behave like that in a civilized society.
What about the Ego?
So what is ego? Well, you could say that it is the best representation of you. It’s the rational part of the mind that attempts to balance the desires of the id with the limitations set out by the superego. Freud famously used an analogy related to a horse.
He said that if the id is a horse then the ego would be a rider. The ego tries its best to control the id but ultimately it is the id that has all the power. If the ego pushes too hard then the id will simply buck. After all, what is ego if not the very thing that separates humans from other animals?
The problem we encounter when discussing the ego is that so many different definitions of it exist. One example of this would be people who encourage you to “kill” your ego. We’ll take a look at this idea in a moment.
One thing to consider is that ego is that part of you that considers the options. When you find yourself contemplating a choice between various options, it is your ego that considers the outcomes and the possibilities, with the help of the id and the superego.
This is something that you’ll often hear mentioned within spiritual circles. It’s the idea that when people become enlightened or take their initial steps towards enlightenment, they begin to release the ego from themselves, or at the very least they lessen the power that it has over their lives. Again, we encounter the problem of facing multiple definitions.
For example, ego death within psychology and Buddhism involves a drastic change in perception as a result of altering the processes of the mind. This is the point where a person stops caring so much about themselves and their desires and instead focuses on grander purposes.
However, ego death does have different meanings and as with almost everything in life, balance and moderation are essential. It may sound impressive and beneficial to abandon that part of you that strives for somewhat selfish desires, but without it, we would lose all individuality. We need the ego because, without it, there stops being the balance between the id and the superego.
Some people may very well lean more towards the superego and so the loss of the ego would simply mean they’d carry out moral actions that adhere to societies rules.
However, if someone leans more towards the id then they would become selfish and only chases their own desires, caring very little about who they hurt along the way.