But what does the term even mean? Is your ego good or bad? Should you kill it? And why the hell should you care about any of this?
Granted, the ego is a complex topic. Instead of getting lost in the weeds, please stick with me while I streamline the process.
What Causes Your Ego?
Writing for Psychology Today, Mark Leary, Ph.D., explains that ego literally means ‘I’ in Latin. Therefore, you’d write ‘I love you’ in Latin as ego amo te, he adds.
In more recent times, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud theorized that das Ich—German for ‘the I,’ which was translated in texts as ‘ego’—is the conscious, decision-making part of your personality that operates in reality.
To accomplish this, he thought your ego balances two other parts of your personality: your id and superego. Let’s break each of these down.
What is Your Id?
Freud viewed a person’s id as their biological, animalistic, illogical, irrational, and fantasy-oriented impulses.
The id operates in the unconscious parts of your mind and is only focused on immediately satisfying wishful desires (i.e., achieving pleasure), regardless of potential consequences. Examples include libido, sexual reproduction, and aggression.
How Does Your Superego Work?
Comparatively, your superego controls the id’s impulses, based on society’s moral and social standards, which are typically learned from your parents between three and five. Your superego operates via two systems:
The Conscience – Makes your ego feel guilty for giving in to your id’s impulses or proud for having behaved in a ‘proper’ manner.
The Ideal Self – How you imagine your life should be. Examples include career, relationship, and behavior aspirations.
Bringing Your Ego Together
Your ego sits between your id and superego and is the totality of your values, preferences, and assumptions—otherwise known as your psyche.
Through it, you form a sense of self, a unique identity that distinguishes ‘you’ from ‘everything else.’
Linda Cammarata, RN, RYT, and founder of Mindfulness Travels, explains that as a matter of sheer survival, we all enter life with the challenge of creating an identity outside our mother’s womb. And your ego is a critical component for accomplishing this.
Therefore, your ego isn’t bad; it’s a necessity. And a healthy ego is one that balances control over your id and superego.
“A healthy ego is an evolving, ever exploring, and growing aspect of self. It is in a relationship where we can clearly see how our ego plays out with others,” Linda says. It allows us to “see the shadows and highlights of our personality and motivations.”
What’s an Unhealthy Ego?
If your ego isn’t balanced, you can experience a ‘bad’ or unhealthy psyche.
For example, if your id is steering the ship, you’ll be an out-of-control, pleasure-seeking animal that doesn’t care about others.
On the other hand, if your superego is in charge, you’ll overly criticize all of your decisions and actions, which can lead to anxiety and neuroses.
Either way, having an out-of-balance psyche, sometimes colloquially referred to as a toxic ego, can make it difficult to successfully operate in reality, much less society.
You can’t. And given its importance for operating in reality, you don’t want to.
However, through regular meditation, you can learn to mindfully recede your ego into the background.
Then, when you’re not always concerned about what you want, who you are, or your personal interests, you can experience the ever-changing present moment in all its beauty.
“We can learn to understand the ego as a pearl of evolving wisdom,” Linda explains. “Holding space for our ego with kindness and compassion, we can liberate our limitations that life has molded us into, and we can be free to love.”
In his book Ego is the Enemy, Ryan Holiday writes, “when we remove ego, we’re left with what is real.”
“What replaces ego is … rock-hard humility and confidence,” he continues.
“Whereas ego is artificial, this type of confidence can hold weight. Ego is stolen. Confidence is earned. Ego is self-anointed, its swagger is artifice. One is girding yourself, the other gaslighting. It’s the difference between potent and poisonous.”
Is Your Ego Your Enemy?
The bottom line is that ego is a natural consequence of higher-level consciousness. It is not your enemy.
In fact, with the proper perspective, mindfully monitoring your ego can be an excellent tool for forming a healthier, more robust relationship with the world.