compulsive patterns of mental and emotional activity.
The concept of the ego conveys the mind’s capacity to integrate inner and outer reality,
to blend past and present, and to synthesize ideas with feelings. ... Nor is the
ego just for adaptation and mental synthesis. Its wisdom also encompasses defense
and adult development and creativity.
George E Vaillant – “The Wisdom of the Ego”
There are four influences on the ego, and these need to be balanced successfully
for the well being of the overall Self and to fulfil the needs of morality.
The ego is necessary, helpful and useful. It is there to make sense of experience
for you; to regulate you; to look after you; and to guide you successfully through
Like any conscientious employee, however, it can sometimes become over-zealous in
carrying out its duties, to the point where this can interfere with the happy functioning
of the overall person. The ego can let us down in a number of ways; for example:
“looking after you” can become excessive separateness through comparing the self
to others; competitive self-cherishing; or trying to exert excessive control over
Truth is stranger than fiction: the mind might like to invent a nice solution for
a problem, but when dealing with humans and the natural world, the reality can be
more complex than the mind realises, and so, the solution might fail. This “clever
plan” will likely be partly conscious and partly unconscious.
The emotions can sway the decision-making process so that we are tempted by short-term
pleasure over long-term benefits.
We may behave selfishly (unethically) and not take others’ needs into account, to
their needless detriment.
Maladaptive coping mechanisms.
Having expectations that things must be a certain way.
According to Freud, the overall aim of the ego is to follow the Reality Principle:
to balance the pure pleasure-seeking of the unconscious id against the moral conscience
of the super-ego in order to achieve the best results in long-term reality. This
could be called an essence of morality. A mature ego can follow the Reality Principle
and defer gratification until a more suitable time and place are obtained, that gives
the best long-term outcome.
In the theory of psychoanalysis, we have no hesitation in assuming that the course
taken by mental events is automatically regulated by the pleasure principle. We
believe, that is to say, that the course of those events is invariably set in motion
by an unpleasurable tension; and that it takes a direction such that its final outcome
coincides with a lowering of that tension – that is, with an avoidance of unpleasure
or a production of pleasure. ...
Under the influence of the ego’s instincts of self-preservation, the pleasure principle
is replaced by the reality principle. This latter principle does not abandon the
intention of ultimately obtaining pleasure, but it nevertheless demands and carries
into effect the postponement of satisfaction, the abandonment of a number of possibilities
of gaining satisfaction, and the temporary toleration of unpleasure, as a step on
the long indirect road to pleasure.
The pleasure principle long persists, however, as the method of working, employed
by the sexual instincts, which are so hard to educate, and, starting out from those
instincts, or in the ego itself, it often succeeds in overcoming the reality principle,
to the detriment of the organism as a whole.
Sigmund Freud – “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”
The unawakened Self tends to confuse the operations of the ego with reality. Knowledge
and thoughts are necessarily a constructed, distorted, second-hand version of reality.
The unchallenged ego maintains a sense of separateness from the world. So without
you realising, the ego can become your jailer and a prison.
The ego may defend your well being in a harmful (maladaptive) way by using a subconscious
“immature” ego defense. The ego needs to be educated by experience and trained and
brought under control so that it does its job in a way that is healthy for the Self
and others in the short and long term, using conscious, adaptive, “mature” ego defenses.
Mindfulness meditation, with its mental training and observation, can be an effective
way to turn from immature to mature ego defenses.
The ego tends to form attachments to people and to sources of status, power or safety
in your life, in order to bolster up your sense of self – your sense of who you are
to yourself and to the world, and to fill up the sense of lack and incompleteness
that the separate ego necessarily feels.
Untamed, the ego keeps up a constant internal monologue in response to internal experience
(feelings of desire/aversion, drives, and thoughts) and external experience (reality)
– thinking about the past, present and future. This chatter tends to be negative
in tone, because information about harmful influences is more relevant for survival
than pleasant information. This automatic thinking is known as the brain’s “default
We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us – and if we do not agree, seems
to put its hands in its breeches pocket. Poetry should be great & unobtrusive, a
thing which enters into one's soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself
but with its subject. – How beautiful are the retired flowers! how they would lose
their beauty were they to throng into the highway crying out ‘admire me I am a violet!
dote on me I am a primrose!’
Freud's id is the unconscious part of the psyche that is filled with primitive instincts
and seeks to ensure survival, as well as pleasure instead of pain. So the id would
be responsible for things such as our hunger and sex drives. Freud came up with a
phrase to explain the principle that guides the id: he called it the pleasure principle,
and it refers to the seeking of pleasure and the satisfaction of biological needs.
Freud did not believe that the id made any judgments about right and wrong. Decisions
about morality were the domain of the superego. The superego is roughly synonymous
with our conscience (not conscious). Freud believed that the superego would often
work to counteract the id. For example, if your id is telling you that you're hungry
in the middle of a meeting at work, your superego might tell you that it wouldn't
be okay to get up and leave the meeting before it was finished merely to satisfy
your hunger, even if your unconscious id is telling you to do precisely that.
So, what decides whether the id or the superego wins a conflict such as this? That's
the role of the ego. The ego is the mediator between the id and the superego, and
also the home of conscious awareness.
Similar to what he did with the id and the pleasure principle, Freud came up with
a term to describe the governing force of the ego, called the reality principle.
According to the reality principle, the ego seeks to fulfil the desires of the id,
except that, rather than giving in to immediate gratification, the ego, operating
under the reality principle, seeks to delay gratification in ways that will maximize
long-term pleasure. If you were to give in to your id and walk out of a meeting to
eat lunch, for example, that might cause long-term grief, because it might result
in you getting fired from your job.
So, you've learned that Freud divided the human psyche into three parts. The id is
unconscious and operates according to the pleasure principle, or to satisfy primitive
impulses immediately to bring pleasure and secure our survival. The superego counteracts
the id by housing our conscience, our sense of right and wrong. Finally, the ego
mediates these conflicting forces. The ego corresponds to the realm of conscious
awareness, and operates according to what Freud called a reality principle, by which
the ego seeks to fulfil the drives of the id only if and when doing so is realistic
according to social norms, and will promote long-term pleasure.
The ocean sighed with pleasure
as the wind caressed and stroked her
and soon the wave was born.
The wave came from the ocean
and could never exist apart from it.
And in the beginning, he sensed his oneness.
As he rose out of the ocean, he felt it as his source,
and knew that he contained its vastness in his own form.
But soon the wave began to watch himself.
He saw his own smooth and graceful motion,
the beautiful bubbling foam which sprayed around him
and he fell in love with himself.
He started to believe that he was his own master
that it was his own strength that was propelling him
that he was directing his own flow
and could change direction if he wanted.
The wave forgot the ocean, and saw himself as separate -
a self-sufficient, sealess wave
who felt proud of his power, exhilarated by his autonomy
as he rolled faster and rose higher.
But then he looked around, and saw the other waves
who had already peaked and crashed
and were beginning to dip and to disperse
and the others who were already dissolving, disappearing.
And he felt afraid, realising that his form was temporary
that his speed and power would ebb away
and soon he would dissolve and disappear as well.
And he felt alone, as he sensed the empty space around him,
the distance between him and the other waves.
And he felt threatened by the ocean’s vastness,
now that he seemed to be separate from it.
The wave resisted and rebelled -
he tried to build up more momentum, to collect more water,
to roll more smoothly, to foam more spectacularly
to make himself so powerful that he would never dissolve away
to make his form so perfect that he could escape decay.
But soon the wave realised he had no choice
that he had less control than he thought, less strength than he thought
and couldn’t hold back time and tide.
So he stopped grasping and pushing
and felt the relief of letting go
and the freedom of no longer trying.
And so after the majestic foaming rush, the glorious crescendo of his breaking
he gave himself up to his ebbing, fading flow
to the ease of his descent
and he was filled with the joy of acceptance.
He allowed his boundaries to soften
and felt his connection to every other wave
and his oneness with the whole of the ocean.
He felt the vast wholeness of the ocean
within his own being
then as his own being.
And then the wave dipped, slowed down and began to dissipate.
Quietly and serenely, without fear or resistance
he gave himself to the tide, and became the ocean again