What is Ego and is it a “Good Thing” or a “Bad Thing”?
by Marian Volkman, Certified Facilitator and Senior Trainer
Ego is one of those confusing words, like “love”, that has enough meanings to muddy up the concept. Let us take synonyms (words that mean the same, or nearly the same), for example. One set of synonyms: bighead, pridefulness, self importance, smugness, and vanity, lead us to think that ego is a bad thing to have or to be.
If we look at the derivation of the word though, ego is the Latin word for “I”. We don’t want to think of our very selves as bad things, so how are we to sort this out?
Positive synonyms for ego include: sense of self, self esteem and self respect. Psychologists talk about ego strength as a good thing, the ability of a personality to maintain itself. Ideally, we are confident of who we are and who we intend to be. At the same time, if we are able to recognize the validity of the selfhood of others around us, we are capable of good relationships, integrity, and intimacy.
Inflated ego, the negative sense of the word, ironically does not come from too much ego strength, but too little.
A primary split in how this word is used comes in using it to mean the self, itself, and to mean the “sense of self”. We can understand how this comes about since we are conscious, living beings, each of us a “self”, who are conscious of ourselves as ourselves and in relation to the world outside our skin.
As children grow and mature, they develop the sense of their own self, separate from other people and the world around them. With this growing knowledge in a healthy developmental process comes a sense of cause, of agency, of responsibility for their actions.
Strength requires flexibility. People with good ego strength are able to maintain their own points of view and integrity, to respond to change in their environments, and to change their minds as they learn and gain experience in life. Good ego strength helps a person to move beyond just surviving as an individual personal self to a wider scope of attention and action in the world.
Certain belief systems and spiritual disciplines count freedom from the “ego” as a personal virtue and a necessity for making the world a livable place. “Without ego” in this sense means without attachment to ego and means that one has attained an enlightened spiritual state, not that one has no self.
Some characteristics of good ego strength are:
- Good self-knowledge, including awareness of one’s own strengths and weaknesses
- Tolerance of different points of view
- The ability to organize activities and to resist both external pressures and internal urges
- Choosing a course of action consistent with one’s goals and within the realm of what is real
Weak ego strength can manifest as:
- A fragile sense of self
- An inflated sense of one’s own importance and abilities
- Impulsiveness and unstable emotions
- Intolerance of different points of view
A sense of inferiority or superiority and excessive vulnerability render the low ego strength person less productive, less effective in personal relationships, and hence less fulfilled.
Fortunately, Applied Metapsychology techniques, including Traumatic Incident Reduction, can effectively address the causes of low ego strength. Trauma, confusion, uncertainty, and major upsets that may be holding someone back in their personal development can be resolved in most cases. This allows the person to regain their innate strength and ability. Resolving these difficulties has no danger of turning someone into an “ego-maniac”. On the contrary, they are more able to be perceptive, responsible, and able when released from the burdens they were carrying