Ego: Good or Bad?

| June 2, 2013 | 0 Comments

by Mrs. Freud

This is the third part of Sigmund Freud´s structural model of the psyche – the ego. Most of the time this term has a negative connotation and gives the impression that it is standing in the way of being a nice person. Having a “big ego” speaks of someone being overly invested in a topic, and having a “big ego” all together does usually describe a person who we are not likely to want to befriend. But according to Freud, the ego is an important part of the psychic apparatus and a busy one at that.

One of its main tasks is to negotiate between the other two parts of the psyche, the id (the instinctive side) and the super-ego (the internalized moral side). On top of that it also takes in reality and adds that to the mix. It is mostly conscious, but also has subconscious and unconscious parts to it.

While it is “keeping it real,” it is not always easy to marry the primitive and the moral part in ourselves, no matter which reality we are in at any given moment. It has defensive, perceptual, intellectual-cognitive and executive functions, and is the organized part of our personality, having reason and common sense. This is when the ego employs defense mechanisms. These functions are often not conscious and are an effort to bridge conflicts between the id, reality, and the super-ego.

We all have a few standard defense mechanisms that we regularly use. They can be from barely noticeable to annoying to others or even get us in serious trouble with the law. Denial is a very popular defense mechanism. “I did not take it!” We already hear from a little kid that wanted the cookie, who knows it is not allowed to take it, but took it anyway and does not want to get in trouble after being confronted. Denial is supposed to wash over discrepancy.

Fantasy is a defense mechanism that I wish would replace defensiveness more often in this world. Wouldn´t it be better to deal with a person´s fantastic ideas as opposed to defensive anger and blame? Some of the defense mechanisms are usually only known to mental health professionals in detail, like dissociation, projection or splitting. Others have found their way into every day speech, like rationalization, intellectualization or identification.

Humor is an excellent defense mechanism. I agree that dark humor or hurtful sarcasm can get stale quickly, but bridging an inconsolable difference with some humor is much better than most of the alternatives mentioned above. Say the id wants to grab some merchandise without paying for it. Instead of this action, turns to a staff member and jokes, “I´m tempted to hide in the store beyond closing time, just so I could wear all those shoes at night without having to pay for them.”

Lame it might be, but much better than agonizing over the impulse or even acting on it. The super-ego constantly monitors the ego and punishes with guilt, anxiety and feelings of inferiority. The Ego itself is leaning a little more towards the id. I see the ego like a juggler, having id, super-ego and reality constantly in the air. It can be very exhausting.

In that light, maybe we can give ourselves a break at times and be less judgmental about the size of our own or somebody else´s ego.

Author Sabine Starr is a psychologist licensed in Vienna, Austria, currently living and working in Mission Hills. She has written numerous articles for professional psychology journals. For further information on Starr visit www.starrcoaching.com and follow her blog at www.HealthwithTaste.blogspot.com.

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