In western culture, the ego is often associated with negative connotations. But what is the role of our ego and what are the layers of our beings? Maybe if we gain a better understanding of the answers, we will be able to work with our feelings, thoughts, and personalities better, which would unavoidably lead to a calmer and kinder society.
It was the year 1901 when an Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud introduced his psychoanalytical theory to the world. He was indeed very proud of his findings. Even though, he probably did not realize that he was shaping the way in which we would think about our souls. More than 100 years later we are still learning from his findings. What might come as a surprise to a modern reader is that Sigmund Freud’s theories were in some aspects parallel to Eastern philosophies. The question remains, is that a sole coincidence? That would mean that more people reached similar conclusions while engaging in different research centuries apart. Or did Freud base his theories on the Eastern teachings and built on those?
The id, ego and superego
According to the Austrian, who was born in the Czech Republic, there are three interdependent parts of ourselves, which need to be balanced. Those are the id, ego, and superego and they each operate on a different level of our un/sub/pre conscience. Together, they form who we are. If they are thrown out of balance, it can have a rather negative impact on ourselves and also on our surroundings. Perhaps that is why, in the western world, ego has a rather negative connotation. Maybe we have learned how to suppress our superegos as that is what we were shaped to do by society. We live in a success-driven world and sometimes people might find it best to resort to practices that are not as right in order to become successful.
There are indeed professions in which a dominant ego is an advantage. However, having an imbalance between the ego, superego and id can lead to the individual developing anxiety. Or they can start feeling detached from their mind and personality. Which can then, in fact, lead to a decrease in overall productivity.
Is ego important?
Leaving our thoughts and believes behind, we need to accept that our egos are inseparable parts of our personalities. We cannot achieve balance, we cannot even healthily survive in society if we try to suppress it. The ego is a natural part of our souls and it only depends on us how we manage and work with it. Maybe we should strive to develop better relationships with our egos. Perhaps, ego is seen as the ‘bad guy’ because the perception of what is good and what is bad has changed in society.
Furthermore, according to Freud, we have a system of psychic energy, which is residing within ourselves. This energy needs to be dynamically distributed across our bodies, minds, and souls for us to feel at peace (Freud, 2003, p.110). If it is not distributed equally, this can lead to one of the concepts having dominance over the remaining two. This is also where the likeness to the eastern philosophies comes in. Freud’s theory correlates with the one of Patanjali, who also highlighted the importance of freely flowing prana (Blashki, 2007).
Prana, according to yoga sutras, is a life force or energy that needs to be balanced and evenly distributed in our bodies for us to experience peace of mind and body-mind-soul connection. Perhaps some of us have become too detached from our souls and we oppress the free move of energy. Life is full of domino effects. What would be the consequences? To better understand that, we need to understand what is the role of our ego?
What is the role of our ego?
We have already established that the id, ego, and superego together form who we are. They determine why and how we do what we might feel driven towards. But how do these parts exist within ourselves? Let’s start with the id. The id is present from our birth and is rooted in our unconsciousness. That means we are not really aware of it until or unless we learn about it. It drives our survival instincts and explains why babies cry when hungry. Their id is simply making sure they don’t die of hunger by making them scream and communicate with adults.
Around the age of 3, EGO starts to emerge and form. It operates on a conscious level, even though part of it is rooted in the preconscious. Ego has the difficult task of distinguishing what is possible for us to do in the real world. It listens to id and its wants and then it discusses those with superego. The ego is rational and it helps us to please our needs. However, it has its moderator in the form of the superego.
The SUPEREGO starts to emerge around the age of 5 and its home is our preconsciousness. It does reach our consciousness though and mediates with ego. As mentioned above, superego is a mediator between what we want (id) and what we have means for achieving (ego). Superego has the ability to distinguish right from wrong, given that we have been presented with such principles. It strives for perfection and has the potential to lead our actions.
The law of balance
The id is driven by the pleasure principle, the superego by the morality principle and the ego by the reality principle. Therefore, let’s have a look at what might follow if one of these is under a dominance of another.
Imagine that your superego is suppressed by the relationship between your id and your ego. Your id is then wanting whatever it can unconsciously come up with. The ego listens to what the id wants but lacks the counsel of superego. Therefore, the ego cannot distinguish whether the needs it chooses to execute are right or bad. Nevertheless, ego acts on the urges of the id with the main objective of satisfying needs and achieving pleasure.
What is the role of our ego in relation to our consciousness?
Actions driven by the id might often be of criminal nature, or they might be actions that would be considered wrongful.
It only takes one person to give in to their id to throw the system and the good in the world out of balance. Especially if such a person is publicly known. Their actions, even though they are driven by their pleasure principle, might shape the new ‘right’.
But what happens if someone’s ego is oppressed by their id and superego? Imagine there is something you want and need to achieve. You are able to fully acknowledge that. Thanks to your superego you are able to figure out how to achieve your goal in a manner that would be considered right. However, you either lack the motivation to actually act upon your actions. Or you do not know how to go about executing them. This can result in frustration and unhappiness.
We have already established that suppression of the superego can result in criminal behavior and suppression of ego in frustration. If we look at the suppression of the id, we might be opening a totally different chapter.
Id controls your instincts and in a way makes sure that you survive. It gives you impulses to find a partner, helps you to keep your stomachs full, and seek safety. The oppression of id might lead you to becoming judgemental and unable to accept anything less than what is 100% moral behavior. As with a suppressed id, the superego is the only counsel to the ego. It is unlikely that the id would diminish as it is the only part of the personality that is present since birth. However, it can happen and might result in difficulties when forming friendships, relationships etc.
Gaining a better understanding of the id, ego and superego can give us an advantage as we might be able to recognise when they are not in balance.
How to balance our id, ego, and superego
Now, let’s revisit the question ‘What is the role of our ego?’ The role of our ego is to understand what it is that we want, negotiate between the id and superego, and find an acceptable way for us to achieve it. Coming from this, our ego is actually what we show to the world and what we are consciously aware of. Therefore, if we encounter someone who believes that ‘the means justify the ends’, we might resort to thinking that they are “egoistical” as unconsciously we understand that their superego is suppressed and their ego is dominant.
If Freud sourced his theory at the same place as Patanjali, and if dynamically distributed life force can help us to maintain balance (as both Freud and Patanjali claimed), we might conclude that practicing meditation and mindfulness can help us to become more self-aware and support that balance within ourselves. Meditation offers us deeper insights into our souls and minds. It also teaches us that we have the ability to control our own states of mind and become a person with better motives.
During meditation, when our unconscious and subconscious levels of our mind are allowed to freely create, solutions and answers might surface to our conscious level without us realising it.
When I have started to practice yoga and meditation, I freed myself from arachnophobia. Furthermore, I have been able to better understand what I want in life and that things don’t overnight. Understanding myself and finding a body-mind-soul connection has also been helping me to overcome a trauma I carry from an abusive relationship. Better understanding of my thoughts, emotions and needs has also been helpful in allowing me to speak for myself.
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