Home > Glossary > Ego

What is an Ego?

Egoism is a philosophy that focuses on the role of the self, or ego, as the driving force and purpose of one’s own actions. Egoism theories include a wide variety of concepts and may be divided into descriptive and normative categories. That is, they may be concerned in explaining or dictating whether or not individuals should behave in their own self-interest. Other definitions of egoism may place a greater focus on acting in accordance with one’s will rather than one’s self-interest, claiming that this is a more accurate definition of egoism. “It is natural for man to love himself; he should furthermore do so, for everyone is ultimately accountable for himself,” the New Catholic Encyclopedia says of egoism. “Pleasure, the development of one’s potentialities, and the gain of power are typically desired.” In egoist philosophy, the moral condemnation of self-interest is a popular topic of discussion, with such judgements considered as a tool of control and the outcome of power relationships. Egoism may also reject the idea that understanding one’s own drive may come from outside sources, such as psychology or sociology, but this is not evident in Friedrich Nietzsche’s theory.

In the comprehension of psychoanalysis and its theory, ego as a word denotes an aspect of human personality that can be described as the “self” or “I.” This self is experienced in close contact with the external world and its perception. An individual’s ego is known to be the part that remembers, introspects, evaluates, analyses, plans, and is responsive to the acts of their surroundings. This surrounding may consist of an individual’s social, physical, and political context.

In accordance with psychoanalytic theory, the ego is said to exist in relation to ID (known to be the control of primitive drives) and the Superego (the ethical component of personality). These three agencies were postulated together by Sigmund Freud in his description of the human mind and its dynamics.

Ego (Latin: “I”) is known to comprise the functionality of an individual’s personality. According to Freud, it acts as an amalgamation of the outer and inner worlds and the ID and Superego. The ego is supposed to give continuity and consistency to an individual’s behavior by the action facilitating a personal POV. This perspective is known to connote the events of the past, as they are retained in one’s memory, with the possibilities of the future, as are symbolized by anticipation and imagination.

The ego stems from the core experiences of one’s idea of self. This ego is primarily developed in the early stages of one’s life and is open to change throughout life. It is capable of drastic change in events like threats, illness, or other significant changes in life circumstances.

Ego development

A newborn infant can react to certain stimuli in its surroundings, but it cannot control, anticipate, or alter these sources of stimulation. These sources, which may be external or internal, transform perception for it to be primitive and diffuse at this stage. As an infant’s motor activity is gross and uncoordinated and their self-locomotion impossible, their learning becomes limited to the simplest forms of stimulus-response phenomenon.

The infantile ego thus is said to be developed in connection to the external world. It reflects, as per psychoanalysis, the dependent infant’s effort to relieve themselves of intense stimuli. As an individual develops, the ego is further distinguished into the Superego and its development. The Superego is known to suppress an individual’s instincts and control their impulses through societal, physical, and parental standards.

Thereby, moral standards and mannerisms as perceived by an individual’s ego become a part of their personality. Conflict is another crucial component needed for the growth and maturity of one’s personality. The ego is also helpful for negotiations between the Superego and the ID, which further helps in building a defense mechanism.

Ego strength

The strength of an individual’s ego is represented through the following characteristics –

  1. One’s objectivity in the apprehension of the external world and self-knowledge.
  2. Their capacity to organize activities over long periods of time, thus maintaining schedules and plans.
  3. Ability to follow resolutions while making essential decisions among burdensome alternatives.
  4. their potential to resist immediate environmental and social pressures.
  5. An individual’s preparedness to not get overwhelmed by their drives, but instead to direct them into proper channels.
  6. A sense of inferiority in an individual or an inferiority complex.
  7. Impulsive or immediate behavior, fragile sense of identity, emotional instability, and excessive vulnerability.
  8. Distorted sense of reality and self.

In all these cases of strengthened ego in a person, an individual is comparatively less capable of productive work and is consistently exhausted throughout the day. Their energy is drained at all times. In contrast, Ego denotes an inflated sense of self, which connotes grandiosity and a superiority complex.