Ego, What Is It?

The Psychological Meaning

I took AP Psychology and have read countless self-improvement books that analyze human thinking, motives, and feelings. Ego is alluded to, but not quite defined.

Per Freud, ego is a third of the psyche (accompanied by id and super-ego). I’m not going to define all three but in his terms, the ego is “the organized, realistic part that mediates between the desires of the id and the super-ego.”

In plain English, the ego allows you to strike a balance between your desires and social norms. Ooh, how Freudian. It’s one of those things where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; meaning ego is a puzzle piece in his theory’s ecosystem. Taking it out and analyzing it on its own doesn’t really do it justice.

Now let’s take a look at Jung’s theory. He defines ego as “the center of consciousness.” Great, what does that mean? Again, it doesn’t help to look at this as a standalone concept. The other part of his theory is that “the Self is the center of the total personality, which includes consciousness, the unconscious, and the ego…the ego is a little center of the circle contained within the whole, the Self can be understood as the greater circle.”

In plain English, imagine a bulls-eye or the Target logo and you’ve got it. The circle is the “Self” and the dot in the middle is the ego. Again, interesting theory, but all this talk of context is exhausting. In other words, you’ve lost me.

Here’s my problem with these meanings: Too. Damn. Abstract. Let’s continue.

Spiritual Meaning

If you’re into religion, I applaud you. When life falls apart, people naturally go down a spiritual path. Which exact spiritual path you are on, doesn’t matter. I promise you believing in something bigger — God, Santa, the solar system — will serve you well.

There are many tough moments in life, and my father always says, “the more you know, the less you know,” meaning as we encounter more life, we find less answers. That’s why just simply accepting that an answer may not exist and leaving it up to something bigger helps you sleep at night.

Through religion or outside of religion, spiritual leaders often talk about getting rid of the ego — it’s a source of rebellion, bad energy, and power (negatively speaking). Spirituality helps people find a peaceful center, and somehow that includes getting rid of ego completely.

The problem? We’re human. Being alive and having an ego is like flowers and bees. One cannot exist without the other (symbiosis, or something like that). So, there’s that little predicament. So, I still needed more answers…

Cultural/Societal Meaning

The meaning of ego has gone through the cultural wringer. When we talk or write about it, it has a negative connotation: “his ego was boosted” or “she has an ego problem.” When you associate someone’s name with the word ego, it’s a knock on his/her character.

It’s not used politely or positively, ever. But cultural meaning is skewed over time and it isn’t a literal one, so I dug a little deeper.

Literal Meaning

Ego is a Latin word that means “self” or “I,” literally. When you say “self” or “I,” you are simply referring to yourself. I’m not a linguist, but it seems to me this was a simple and neutral meaning that mutated with negativity over time.

You see, I like literal answers; they’re exact. You can’t argue with them. Sure, you can mold all you want, but this was the answer I was looking for — the beginning of it all, a starting point.

Is Psychology a Science?

I don’t know the answer to that. But apparently, nobody does. If you put a scientist, a psychologist, and a linguist in a room, I promise you a heated discussion without a unanimous answer. It’ll start with the definition of “real science” and escalate quickly from there.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there are scientific and non-scientific ways to study psychology, but as a whole, is it an exact science? Are diet and exercise an exact science? If you eat x, lift y, sleep z hours, will you outlive everyone? I don’t know.

Sure, there’s a lot of scientific evidence out there, but as a whole, is it an exact science? I argue no. There are a lot of unexplained phenomena and outliers out there, and I don’t have the letters “Ph.D.” after my name, so I’m not going to pretend like I do.

I’m simply getting around to the fact that in my opinion, I think ego is misunderstood. I think psychoanalysis gives it one meaning — a psychological one ­– an inexact science and a rather abstract idea. I think the spiritual goal of ridding oneself of ego is humanly impossible. And I think the cultural negative connotation of ego is well, literally inaccurate.

But what does one do with a literal meaning of a small, yet powerful three letter word? Make sense of it, I guess. Why not? Freud, Jung, and countless others tried.

If you want to google ego, all I have to say is good luck. I tried googling every which way: “ego definition,” “origin of ego,” “true meaning of ego,” “ego and religion.” I mean the list goes on and on. The first few hits go to Freud and Jung. Then it gets muddied with life coaches defining it and throwing phrases around like “find success” and “inner peace.” I’m telling you, so many interpretations.

My point? No one seems to have a clue. But, I’m someone that likes to get a clue, or give one.

(Stay tuned…just getting started on this concept)

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