What springs to mind when I consider the word “ego”? It’s that sense of self, isn’t it? Freud classified it as the mediator in his structural model – it works to balance the hedonistic id and the law-abiding superego. I think this makes sense as it explains why I so often feel pulled in two opposing directions. Sometimes I see a biscuit and think “that looks nice, I want to eat that”, but then I remember my fitness goals, and I decide not to eat it. The instinctual thought occurring was pure id – I saw it and I wanted to eat it. Pure hedonism, consequences be damned. But before I ate it, the sensible superego piped up and reminded me of the long-term implications. Then it was up to my ego to balance the two.
Balance is key here.
The id is all about going and doing things that reward the organism (you or I) with a lovely dopamine hit. If indulged in too much, and without enough effort exerted in it’s acquisition, over time this dopamine hit becomes less effective and the organism requires more and more to feel satiated with pleasure. Listlessness now presents itself. It is incredibly easy to reach this point given the sheer amount of easy hits that are available in the modern world. In prehistoric times if you wanted to eat something then you’d have to go and find food, then prepare it. Now we have refrigerators and people that deliver cooked food to your cave. House, I mean. If you were single and wanted to have sex then you’d have to go and woo someone. Now we have online pornography. Need entertainment? Netflix. Need some low level validation? Put a picture up on Facebook and get some likes.
Considering that the superego is the voice of reason and wants ultimately to keep its organism safe, this is where a lot of negative self-talk and anxiety comes from. Why go out and do that job when you can stay here in the comfortable warm? Why answer that phone when it could be bad news? You see how far it could go. It is just your superego wanting to keep you safe. Because of our modern existence, and similarly to the id, the superego is misaligned with reality. The superego still exists as it did in prehistoric times. It has not evolved. Given the relatively short timescale of our modern way of living, it can’t have. And the problem is that our modern world cushions us from the harshness of the past. In prehistoric times if you wanted to eat, you’d have to go and find food, then prepare it. If you let your anxiety get the better of you and stayed in – you would eventually starve. Hunger is a magnificent motivator.
You see how these two aspects are so intrinsically similar?
Again, balance is key.
Ironically I’ve spent more time talking about the other two aspects of Freud’s model than the ego itself. So here’s another thing I think of in relation to the chosen word: Those people who have big ego’s. They tend to be brash and over confident. I would consider the opposite of a big ego to be humility. People with or without large egos can be confident, but in strikingly different ways. I put humility as the opposite because people with big ego’s do tend to get their feelings hurt more than the average person. This makes them hard to get on with.
I strive to be more humble.
As part of my ongoing quest for greater self-awareness and my continued personal and professional development, I picked a word and wrote about it for thirty minutes. Leave a comment on here with a new word for me to explore in the future or you could suggest one on Twitter (@Iain_D_Stewart).