Saturday, 13 March 2010

Who You're Not! The Ego Explained in Plain English

There are many different interpretations of the word "ego". The word was coined by Sigmund Freud who saw it as a kind of mediator between your desires and your personal morals. In common language, it means the arrogant part of you that thinks you are in some way superior. Neither of these definitions really get to grips with what the ego actually is, so here is a simple yet full explanation:


The ego is basically the mind's "autopilot", the things you do and think by default. The ego is not "you"! It is in fact a reflex response just like blinking, but very highly sophisticated, with a whole range of diferent responses that are triggered by different environments. Unlike blinking, which is genetically hardwired from birth, the ego is flexible and can both gain and lose responses. The ego is a set of learned reflexes. This gives human beings and other animals with similar mechanisms an immense advantage - it means we can adapt and learn new behaviours for new environments, enabling us to survive and thrive almost anywhere on the planet.


Unfortunately, amazing and useful though it is, it is not infallible. Because of evolutionary forces, it is biased toward childhood experience, particularly in the age range 4-10, as in this period language is used to label and associate experiences with responses and other experiences. A traumatic or antisocial experience in this period can leave a person's responses permanently warped and unadapted for adult life. Most problems I encounter as a therapist boil down to this mechanism.


The ego is so fully integrated into your mind that the majority of people understandably assume that their egos are what they are - they say things like "I" get angry when I see... No you don't! You experience the feeling of anger triggered by a certain situation, but it isn't intrinsic to who you are - you have acquired that response due to a prior experience, and theoretically at least you can also unacquire it.


The only part of you that is truly "you" is the part that actually experiences, ie your awareness, and your true intention. Your awareness never truly sleeps - even when you are deeply asleep you have awareness, although it is all inward. Only a general anaesthetic can properly turn it off.



Up to this point, you may have considered your thoughts were "you", but they're not - they're simply your ego in action - it is responding to data that is either fresh from the senses or equally as often from memory. You are aware of this because your own thoughts can upset you, are not what you want to think, are nonsense or completely contradict each other. They are not your intention, which is to do with self-worth, safety and creation.



Most people will spend their entire lives on autopilot, not being truly themselves but being controlled by their ego. This is fine if your default attitude is bright and sunny - why wake up from a good dream? Unfortunately most egos are not! They are fearful, sad, lonely or bitter, and for many life is spent trapped in a dream of disappointment, which by their behaviour they inflict on the next generation.



There are a few people who are so sick of being sick of it that they become determined to find a way out of their own negative thought, and it is these people who discover ways to override their egos and discover true happiness - not from the world around them but from within themselves. Such a discovery is called many names, such as awakening, enlightenment, epiphany or self-realisation.



It is beyond the scope of this introductory article to point you fully in the direction of being liberated from your ego and learning to control it rather than vice versa. However, most sources agree that the first step to liberation is learning to calm the mind. A calm mind turns off the ego and you can begin to see things clearer.



A final point - your ego is not your enemy. It is there for a good reason - to help you survive, and enable you to multitask. It is a wonderful servant, but not often a good master. Learn to tame it, and your life will be powerful indeed.

1 comment:

Fat Roche said...

This is really good. I must come back later and read more of your posts.

I am not sure people are brave enough to analyse their ego and see whats wrong with themselves. Its always easier to point the finger and to feel like your better than others.

Self improvement is a big job

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