The Role of Ego in Our Lives
What is Ego?
The word “ego” is used so loosely that the original meaning has been lost. We say things like “that person has a big ego” or that someone is going on an “ego trip”. We’ve been misusing the word. When we say that someone has a big ego, we are perceiving them to be full of themselves, and they might be individuals that think they are better than everyone else. We’re implying that they’re self-absorbed. Simply described, ego is how we see ourselves. In psychology, it is defined as an unconscious part of our mind that identifies with traits, beliefs, and habits. There are three main parts to self: the ego, superego, and id.
Our ego develops when we are young. During this time, we are very ego-centric learners. As children, we are trying to learn about the world around us and how it relates to us directly. However, being ego-centric is not the same as being self-absorbed. The ego is all about the “I”, it is our constructed identity, our personality.
Since our ego is our constructed identity, our ego can become defensive when our identity comes into question. When we learn anything new that is different from our set of beliefs, patterns, and ideas, they are rejected. It’s great to stand firm in our beliefs, however, this poses a problem of stunting our growth and development when we learn something new. The reason for this is because the ego believes it is an attack on our self, the “I”.
This can lead to strong emotional reactivity. The individual might get extremely angry or upset, they may overcompensate and be extremely confident, they might judge others by mocking them, insulting them, or even threatening them. They might be in a state of very rigid thinking.
The good news is that there is something called ego work. Ego work is about accepting your ego as a part of yourself while still recognizing that it is separate from what makes you who you are. The ego can also be seen as a protector. As we were children growing up, our ego helped guide us and teach us as we developed our beliefs, habits, and traits. Now that we are older, we might need to step back to recognize that some of our beliefs and habits might not be as helpful as we once thought.
Ego work is a multistep process which can be made easier when done in partner with a therapist. The first step is to introduce your ego to yourself. It is about understanding what it is. Some suggest giving our egos a name because that can help us separate it from ourselves. Next is to observe things that trigger the ego. Finally, the last is to accept the ego.
It’s not an easy process, but with the right help and guidance, we can learn to accept our egos and understand that they are important to our understanding of self.