We all have an ego, it is not a state of self love or adoration (that is egotism or narcissism) but a function of the human mind that provides orientation for our sense of self in relation to the environment. For the simplest definition of the what the ego is I developed this Acronym; EGO's are Everyone's General Operating System.
We need an ego. It helps us plan, execute appropriate actions, know who we are and maintain our self image. The ego is necessary to be in this world but we want to be aware and not driven by it. Ego is * Sense of self and identity based on past experience * The planning and action taking function of the human mind * Different roles or parts of self that emerge in different situations * Conditioned (programmed) over time and by each new experience * Defensive of its own structure and survival *The seat of our imagined fears and sense of separation
But we need an ego that is fully functional and not contracted with fear, overwhelmed by inner conflicts or fragmented as a result of trauma and stress.
Why work on your ego? Basically the ego limits our freedom. Ego is formed on rejection, separation and fear. We develop a sense of self from early relationships with parents as a baby and later by defining ourselves by rejecting what is not us, you may have heard the toddler constantly saying 'no'. Your sense of who you are is based on past experience so your resulting ego-identity is really a constellation of past experiences and what other people told you you were. If you grew up in a loving caring family with parents who met your needs and saw you as the divine little being you were, things are probably okay. But if you had to self-reject and mould yourself into someone in order to be accepted, if you were abused, bullied, felt unloved or had to adopt one of many strategies in order to survive in a crazy family, then your ego organisation would have been affected.
WE ARE NOT WHO WE THINK WE ARE - We are the product of our conditioning.
Conditioning is the shaping of our sense of self and our mind based on the interaction between our biological pre-dispositions and our life-long experiences.
We can never 'kill' or completely transcend our ego because it is embedded in our constant running thoughts, judgements and expectations. But we can gain greater awareness over how we are showing up in the world and the redundant strategies and defences we are using unconsciously.
Our ego also contains our self image and identity as separate individuals that need to compare, compete and struggle to survive. The ego drives us toward a belief in scarcity keeping us constantly desperate and easily distracted.
"We cannot solve problems with the same kind of thinking used to create them." Einstein.
Awareness of our ego's conditioning brings us to the reality that we are not who we were told we are. At some level we all believe we are lacking, not good enough. Yet, in you is a desire to grow and fully be who you truly are, and this is what keeps you going.
We are free to choose to live in a conscious, connected and compassionate way and truly, it is the only way forward. We all have fragmented egos where one part of us can do something in contradiction with another part of self. If you want a basic understanding of yourself, list all the things you count as your values then look at all the parts that contradict or cancel the other out.
Substructures in our ego fight to maintain the status quo, the ego resists change and any threat to its established sense of the world. The ego (unless counter-phobic) is your fear. Its not your fight or flight system but it informs why you should be afraid. Our ego functioning is driven by instincts and basic survival needs. The ego, especially a branch of the ego called the superego, will beat you up for not being good enough and it will warn you that change of any kind is a bad idea.
Idealised Self Image
We all have a degree of narcissism depending on the extent to which we have an inflated sense of self importance and get upset when we don't reach our self imposed perfectionism. This is known as the idealised self image. The idealised image develops as a solution to the basic anxiety we felt as children when faced with loss or the withdrawal of acceptance and love. Punishment, inconsistency and visible contradictions, being constantly criticised or berated, feeling rejected for much of who we were and told to be something very different, or given no boundaries and unrealistic praise can all to a degree leave us feeling conflicted and unsafe. Solution? Slowly construct an image of the ideal you, then believe you are that and get upset with any evidence that you are not. How does this differ from narcissism? True Narcissists, where narcissism is in the personality, lack empathy for others. It is like their is a deficit where empathy would be. They may care and be dutiful, but its more important how they feel. The idealised self image doesn't necessarily eclipse empathy.
The idealised image drives perfectionism and the voice of the inner critic. Berating one for not living up to the ideal. This part of the ego is roughly related to what Frued called the superego. We all have a superego and we all have a more instinctual part of ego (that Frued called the ID) that battles with the superego. Hence the internal conflicts that take up so much of your energy and time.
This is the part of ego that causes the most trouble, or constriction. The super ego was Frueds terms for the over-self, the inner critic some people call it. Its the constellation of all voices of authority and parents all moulded into a giant inner stick we use to beat ourselves with. The super ego is partly conscience, however, conscience is a healthy form of social guilt that motivates us to do the right thing by our fellow humans. Our superego is a psychic introject that will keep us awake at night replaying what we should have said and done during that event that happened days ago. The superego is our inner judge, jury and witness, like a police officer on duty all the time (except when our id breaks out and instinctual impulses burst out). In the most sensitive and conscientiously minded the superego can be a terrible inner tyrant. The superego also gets projected out onto others in the world, this is when you feel judged or reactive in the face of someone who may not be doing very much at all, as far as that someone else is concerned.
Naricissim is a neurotic ego organisation where ones sense of self importance overrides empathy for others, and personal sensitivity to insults and slights is heightened. This is not to be confused with a sensitive or overly empathic person who can have their feelings hurt easily and are usually overly-concerned with their effect on others. Narcissists believe they are entitled to special treatment that does not flow two ways. At the extreme Narcissism is a personality disorder, not just an ego trait. Malignants narcissists are frankly cold and cruel, whereas garden variety narcissists can come accross as charming and enigmatic.
Narcissitic traits can go in two directions of pride. People with grandiose narcissism believe they are special and therefore entitled to more than others. However, the ego can be inflated toward a self-depreciating narcissism where the individual believes they far more despicable than others and this how they are special. No one suffers or is as miserable as they are. Extreme narcissism bordering on psychopathy is pathological or malignant narcissism where an individual actively uses and abuses others as they are seen as mere objects to the narcissist, yet this person will still feel hurt or insulted by others. These people feel justified in hurting others, especially if they feel hurt, and are vindictive and persecutory of those not on thier good side. They essentially evil personalities who will leverage their emotional wounding to inflict revenge or simply be cruel and careless. In contrast a psychopath or sociopath is usually found to have a deficit in their brain where they lack the normal range of emotions and empathy. In this way the psychopath doesn't feel particularly bothered by others, they can still be narcissistically insulted, or pretend to be if its suits their needs for manipulation, but they really aren't concerned with their image because they simply don't feel bothered. There are many psychopaths living perfectly normal productive lives, not hurting anyone. At the extreme end of psychopathy are the cold blooded killers but most psychopaths don't physically maim others but they can certainly cause bruises and torment to another's ego.
Everyone has a shadow as part of the ego-self. The egoic personality is fragmented into various aspects that are either accepted as part of the conscious identity or rejected and disowned. The shadow is the place we put all the things we don't like or won't accept. If we value being social the shadow will contain our hostility and desire to isolate, if anger was punished in us and we were praised for being quiet we may have repressed our natural agreession and feel pride in our introversion. In general, we can look at what we value and see the opposite as sitting in the shadow. As the ego exists in a world of duality and polarities we identify with what we value or was acceptable in us. It forms our self image, who we think we are. In truth we are everything as each polarity must contain its opposite. Light can't exist without dark, we can't appreciate the warmth of the sun as much when we haven't felt cold. All aspects of the personality have an opposite in our shadow. The shadow can be light or dark, meaning, we may reject our vulnerability so it goes into a light shadow while we present a tough hard exterior. Conversely, all of our darkness, hatred and loathing is repressed in the shadow while we identify solely as a kind loving person. It is important to acknowledge that as a human we are all things. No one is perfect, no one gains anything from rejecting certain aspects of being human believing they only have one side of it and a huge amount of our resources and vital energy is lost in the act of disavowing our shadow .