Ego Definition – We explain what the ego is, what its meanings are in different areas, and what its importance is in personality management.
What is the ego?
Ego is the first person pronoun in Latin, and means ‘I’. Used as a noun in Spanish, ego is the ability of a subject to recognize himself as an individual and be aware of his own identity.
In colloquial speech, the term ego is also used to designate excess self-esteem or the tendency of an individual to be too focused on himself. This meaning links ego with other words derived from it, such as egomaniac, egocentric, or selfish.
Outside of the everyday sphere, ego (or I) is a concept used in various senses in psychology, philosophy, and religion.
The ego in psychology
According to the school of psychoanalysis, inaugurated by Sigmund Freud, the ego is one of the three entities of the psychic apparatus, along with the id (or id) and the superego (or superego). It is a model that describes the mental activities and interactions of the individual. According to this model,
- The id is the instinctive component of the psyche, formed by primary desires.
- The superego is the ethical component, which plays a critical and moral role.
- The ego mediates between the instinctive desires of the id and the impositions of the superego.
For Freud, the ego encompasses the executive functions of the personality; It is the part in contact with the external world, which plans, evaluates, and remembers. While the id is guided by the pleasure principle, the ego (at the behest of the superego) is governed by the reality principle, with the ultimate goal of preserving the psychic unity of the individual.
After Freud, other currents of psychology delved into the notion of ego and its role in the development of personality.
For example, in Carl Jung’s analytical psychology, the ego represents the conscious part of the mind, which has four functions: sensation, thinking, feeling, and intuition. Each of these functions constitutes a particular way of interpreting reality. People start by developing one of them; then, throughout life, they can develop the others.
The ego in religion
The notion of ego or self is present in different ways in religions.
In Hinduism, the ego corresponds to the ahamkara, one of the four facets or functions of the mind, along with manas (the faculty that coordinates sensory perceptions), citta (memory), and buddhi (intelligence). Through them, the mind comes to discover its true nature, which is to be a reflection of the atman: the true self, the most intimate essence of the person, the soul of him.
The ahamkara or ego is the illusory idea of the existence of a personal self. It is a kind of character (the self that acts in daily life) that our spirit takes as something real, without being so. Despite this, ahamkara is necessary on the path of self-knowledge and allows us to finally achieve enlightenment (moksha).
Similar to Hinduism, Buddhism views the ego as an illusory perception. However, unlike him, he does not believe in the existence of the atman, of a true self. This doctrine is known as anatman (the no-self).
For Buddhism, the idea that there is a permanent self, which subsists beyond changes, is false: the ego is reborn and dies all the time. The person must leave behind the ego, which only causes suffering. Only in this way can liberation and supreme peace (nirvana) be reached.
In Christianity, the notion of ego or self is associated with selfishness and, more generally, with the idea of sin. The ego is the tendency to put one’s own interest before that of others, but, above all, to make one’s own self the center of existence. The ego would thus be human pride, which humility is opposed to. Only by laying down the ego is it possible to believe in Christ and participate in divine life.
The ego in self-help and the new spirituality
Various modern practices and theories that can be included under the label of self-help or new spirituality address the concept of ego. Among these currents are mindfulness, coaching, transpersonal psychology, and neurolinguistic programming (NLP).
The notion of ego that some of these disciplines use is largely based on Hindu and Buddhist doctrines, for which the ego is a mere illusion of the mind, a false personality.
For example, Eckhart Tolle often considered a reference for mindfulness, states that “the ego is the false self or current state of consciousness of humanity that does not allow presence (universal intelligence) to shine. It is a screen made of mental conditioning (thoughts and emotions) through which you see and act in the world.”
For his part, Ken Wilber, from transpersonal psychology, maintains that “the ego is nothing more than a handful of mental objects, a set of ideas, symbols, images and mental concepts with which we have identified ourselves. “We identify with those objects and then use them as something to look through, thereby distorting the world.”
For practical purposes, some of the currents of self-help and new spirituality analyze the effects of the ego on daily life and interpersonal relationships. From this perspective, it is considered that the existence of the ego, understood as self-esteem, is inevitable and even necessary, but one must learn to manage it. In this sense, two opposite situations can occur:
- An “excess” of ego constitutes an obstacle to overcome regarding relationships with others. A person who is too concerned with the satisfaction of his interests will have difficulty coming to terms with the desires and needs of others, thus becoming someone focused on himself and incapable of generosity.
- An ego “deficit” is usually interpreted as a character deficiency that limits the subject and prevents him from putting up the necessary fight to achieve his goals or satisfy his personal desires.