The Ego

By James Harvey Stout (deceased). This material is now in the public domain. The complete collection of Mr. Stout's writing is now at >


Jump to the following topics:

  1. What is the ego?
  2. What are the benefits of a healthy ego?
  3. We can develop our ego.
  4. The ego is only one "self."
  5. The ego has a limited function.
  6. The ego and soul can have a "partnership."
  7. We can "transcend the ego."
  8. We might experience pseudo-transcendence.
  9. Religions generally do not value the ego.
  10. Perhaps the ego has been misunderstood by religion.
  11. We can be both immanent and transcendent.

What is the ego? It has been defined in many ways. In the following definitions, we are examining the ego as our identity in the human realm; later we will explore our other "identities" -- the Self, the soul, and our archetypal fields -- for which many of these definitions would also apply.

  1. The ego is our identity. It is who we believe ourselves to be. It is our reference point, and our "home" in the world.
  2. The ego is individuality. As our identity, it sets us apart from our people's identities. To provide our sense of being separate from other people and from the world in general, the ego creates "ego boundaries"; in that separateness, our ego distinguishes itself as being unique.
  3. The ego is a center of consciousness. It is an "eye" from which we look at the world.
  4. The ego is an executive. It makes decisions. It implements our will.
  5. The ego is an organizer. It makes a distinction between the inner world and the outer world, and it notes our perceptions from both. Then, by conceptualizing, labeling, and organizing those perceptions, it tries to make sense of them, and it files them in various contexts, where we can make considerations regarding their "value," potential threat or benefit, etc.
  6. The ego is an interface. Just as our physical body is an interface with the physical world, the ego is an interface primarily with the human world of society and individuals. The interface has both an inflow and an outflow:
    • Outflow. The ego is a transformer and interpreter, transmitting ideas from soul into the world of people, in a form which is understandable and appropriate to those people.
    • Inflow. The ego translates incoming information from the human world such that our daily experiences are comprehensible and meaningful and educational to the Self or soul.
  7. The ego is a mediator.
    • It mediates in our inner world. It strives to resolve conflicts among the other parts of the psyche, including the unconscious mind, subpersonalities, and so on. (In Freudian psychology, it is the arbitrator between the id and the superego.)
    • It mediates between this inner world and the outer world of people and circumstances.
  8. The ego is a symbol. It is a collection of images and thoughts and conceptual models that represents us to ourselves. As a symbol, the ego associates itself with other symbols, such as those of prestige, success, power, and pride; for example, if we value prosperity, we might acquire an expensive car not because we need it but because it represents prosperity. (However, in this example, the desire results from a damaged self-esteem which is trying to compensate for its lack of sense of internal richness by collecting costly possessions; the ego requires only a functional vehicle for utilitarian purposes.) The ego seeks fulfillment in the symbolic goods that it acquires, and it seeks immortality through the symbolic goods that it produces. The ego does not experience anything directly; it is in a sterile world of concepts and symbols, and it can only interpret the experiences and input from such sources as the body, the senses, the feelings, the Self or soul, and so on.
  9. The ego is a pattern. It is our continuity; the ego says, "I am this type of person." This continuity gives the ego a sense of security and stability, but it is an ungrounded sense, because there is actually constant change. The continuity is sustained through various means:
    • Our memories (which are somewhat constant, because they refer to events which are frozen in history, and because we are unconsciously selective in remembering occurrences which support our concepts about ourselves). However, "reality" actually exists in the constantly changing world of present events.
    • Our self-image (which is relatively stable, because it is based on static ideas rather than on our ever-changing feelings and thoughts). However, "reality" actually exists in our constantly changing world of thoughts and feelings and other personal events.
    • Our habits (which suggest, through their repetitiveness, that we are indeed a particular kind of person). However, "reality" actually exists in our constantly changing world of our current actions.
  10. The ego is a sentry. It analyzes situations as threatening or beneficial, largely on the basis of the possible impact to its images of us, but also to the resources which allow it to operate in the human world. Thus it reacts to insults, damage to its symbols, and challenges to its circumstances and habits (physical or mental). Contrarily, threats to the body are managed largely by instinct, such as the fight-or-flight impulse; for example, if we are being mugged by an armed robber who wants our money, the ego needs to be monitored because its archetypal field might contain elements which would cause us to be less concerned with the body's well-being than with the indignity which is being inflicted, and thus those elements could lead us to lash out with words or actions which would antagonize the robber and cause him or her to hurt us instead of simply taking our money.
  11. The ego is an archetypal constellation. I don't believe that it is an archetype; instead, I believe that it is a constellation which is composed of particular elements from within every archetype. For example, we might identify ourselves as a husband and a computer programmer; thus, the ego includes elements from what we might call our Spouse archetype and our Servant (i.e., employee) archetype.

What are the benefits of a healthy ego? For many people who are receiving psychotherapy, the task is to strengthen the ego -- to develop a sense of individuality, independence, self-esteem, self-respect, personal boundaries, assertiveness, presence, values, separation from parents, conviction of opinions and perspectives, specific tastes and preferences -- and freedom from contrary inner psychological forces which would dominate the ego. When we have these qualities, we have an ego which can be termed well-developed, well-defined, or "strong." A well-developed ego is beneficial in many ways:

  1. We can approach people from a position of strength and abundance and vigor, rather than from neediness and emptiness. We can build relationships between two whole people, rather than trying to manipulate the other person into filling our voids; for example, if we have a weak ego, we need people to say that we are worthwhile or interesting (or possessing whatever other trait we cherish); to gain that assurance, we betray our own identity (trying to be the type of person who would receive approval) and we manipulate other people (because we are "fishing for a compliment" instead of engaging in honest conversation). We can be open and sensitive because our strong ego boundaries protect us against the everyday insults and injustices from other people (and from the self-condemnation which would be inflicted by ourselves if we had dysfunctional elements in the ego's archetypal field).
  2. We can be unpretentious. Half of humility is knowing what we are not; the other half is knowing what we are. Humility is based on an accurate perception of ourselves -- neither inflated nor degraded. A well-defined ego is fulfilling and comfortable; a weak ego uses conceit, arrogance, and pomposity to try to compensate for its lack of fulfillment and comfort.
  3. We can be relatively consistent, stable, and trustworthy in our behavior. Our ego is in charge, with its steady repertoire of particular traits. As long as we manage the ego's archetypal field properly, we do not develop constellations of conflicting elements which will need to be expressed. We are likewise protected from external influences; we know ourselves, so we are not easily swayed by people who try to persuade us with their opinions.
  4. We can endure input from the other parts of the psyche, and from other people. While we are not overcome by the internal and external influences which were mentioned in the previous section, we can accept the valid input from them. A weak ego necessarily closes itself off, to protect itself. But a fully formed ego stays intact when it considers the antithetical perspectives of the shadow, the soul, etc., and the opposing ideas which are presented other people. Because an undeveloped ego has "empty spaces" -- e.g., a poorly defined relationship with our parents -- the other parts of the psyche rush in to fill the spaces; for example, the shadow (or the inner child) might fill that void with some repressed anger from our childhood.
  5. We can create effective personas. Because we have a clear sense of who we are, our persona (which presents who we are to the world) can be crisp and definitive and genuine. A vague ego can create only a vague persona, which lacks energy, attractiveness, and distinct attributes with which people can interact.
  6. Even our appearance is improved, with a relaxed grace of movement, eyes which are bright and alert -- and, very likely, a smiling face.
  7. We can endure "transcendence" of the ego. This is the goal of many people who seek psychological or spiritual fulfillment. As Jack Engler, Harvard psychologist and Buddhist teacher said, "You have to be somebody before you can be nobody"; i.e., you need a strong ego before you can properly transcend the ego (as explained later). With transcendence comes peace of mind, broader perspectives on life, a type of spiritual consummation, and a calming of the ego's storms (which resulted from our misunderstanding and misapplication of the function and range of the ego).

We can develop our ego. In Western cultures, many psychological problems are related to the ego, specifically deficiencies in self-esteem and identity. To create a healthy ego, we enhance the following qualities:

  1. Independence. We establish our own income and housing and other foundations of adult life. Also, we are emotionally independent (feeling free to love and to seek sources of love in our own way) and intellectually independent (in developing our own viewpoints). However, we realize that we do need people in order to be a complete person, so we find a balance between independence and interdependence.
  2. Self-esteem. We believe that we have innate value and that we have a right to be alive.
  3. Personal boundaries. We are not codependent, so we can "draw the line" to distinguish our own interests, feelings, and responsibilities. We create a private, secure inner world in which we can be whatever we want to be -- free to think, to imagine, to love, and to feel. Well-defined boundaries not only help to define that which is ours to defend, but they also indicate to us what is not ours (so that we are not wasting time and energy in confrontations over issues which are "none of our business"). However, our boundaries can be adjusted to allow friends to be close to us. Ideally, we have had parents and friends who have respected our boundaries and helped us to define and defend them; contrarily, our boundaries might have been damaged if we have experienced shame, abuse (emotional, sexual, or physical) -- or a lack of discipline, privacy, or self-esteem.
  4. Assertiveness. We practice the means of expressing ourselves, and also the means of protecting ourselves against other people's assertiveness. We are in this world for a reason, and we know that our perspectives and actions are important in the overall pattern of life, so we we need to assert ourselves in order to share what is ours to be shared.
  5. Presence. When we are where we are supposed to be, we have a sense of belonging here, and of having a right to be here, instead of indulging excessive shyness and uncertainty. Even when we are not talking or doing anything, people notice us, because our sheer willingness to be a part of it all grants a degree of charisma.
  6. Values. We discover what is important to us, and we work to achieve goals that are aligned to those values.
  7. Conviction of opinions and perspectives. In the issues of our personal life and of society, we know what we believe, and why we believe it. However, we are not defensive or combative in defending our opinions, because we realize that other people are equally entitled to their positions, and we enjoy learning from our debates and our differences.
  8. Specific tastes and preferences. Using our feelings as a guide, we realize that we like French food, red roses, white wine, jazz music, Picasso's art, fast cars, professional baseball games, hiking in the woods, trout fishing, etc. In every new situation, we refer to our feelings to lead us toward one choice or another; from these choices, we create a rich assortment of likes and dislikes. We are fun to be around, because we have enthusiasm for a diverse variety of activities.
  9. Freedom from overwhelming complexes and subpersonalities. We learn to accept input from complexes and subpersonalities without being overpowered by them; they all have something to contribute. Because we honor them, and manage them well, we are not repressing their power and then being subjected to their eruptions.
  10. Individuality. We have relationships with people and with humanity in general, but we do not lose our sense of distinction in an oceanic blur. While we in a relationship, we have a sense of "we," but we also have a strong sense of "I." We do not abandon our own individuation process for the relationship. We create our individuality -- and the ego itself -- through processes by which we separate ourselves:
    • We separate ourselves from other people. Some psychologists believe that an infant lives in a world in which everything is experienced as a part of itself; the infant and its mother (and everything else) are in a state of "oneness." There is no substantial ego, so the infant's responses are instinctive, not ego-driven. Instead of having a strong ego, the infant is said to reside within its Self, which has only begun to divide itself into the components of the psyche (such as ego, shadow, etc.). The ego truly starts to develop when the infant recognizes its mother as something separate from itself; this separateness becomes apparent whenever the mother does not respond to the infant's will. (A few writers have equated this differentiation of wills to the clash between God and Adam and Eve; the result was the awakening of human consciousness.) We spend the rest of our lives refining our sense of self and other, learning that those other people are not extensions of ourselves and our will. We learn through our increasing understanding of individuation, boundaries, assertiveness, tolerance of other people's assertiveness, general socialization, and other areas in which our ego stands in contrast to another person's ego.
      • We separate ourselves from our parents. We claim our adulthood by assuming the responsibilities that once belonged to our parents -- the responsibilities for our protection, health, financial well-being, sense of worth, etc. Our parents' "will" can no longer trigger our fear or rebellion or submission. We can relate to our parents in an adult-to-adult relationship.
    • We separate the ego by from other parts of the psyche. As explained in the chapter on the shadow, our ego is developed as we discover or decide (consciously or unconsciously) what type of person we are -- our likes and dislikes, our habits, our outlooks, our personal tastes and style, and so on. The contrary traits are rejected into the shadow. In addition to separating itself from the shadow, the ego distinguishes itself also from the other elements of the psyche -- such as the subpersonalities -- and it claims a central position among them.

The ego is only one "self." Traditional psychotherapy views the ego as our identity; the goal is to adapt this ego to function well within ourselves and within society. In other schools of psychology, and in religion, the aim is to discover a self-identity beyond the ego; Jung called this larger identity the "Self"; religions have called it the "soul" (which differs from Jung's use of the word "soul" as a part of the psyche, although he allowed that there is also a separate, spiritual essence). The confusion regarding the words self and Self and soul can be more than semantic; in our experience of these "higher" selves, we can (as explained in the chapter on the Self) believe that we have simply discovered a larger ego, because the ego, the Self, and the soul all seem to be "me." For the remainder of this chapter (and throughout the book), I describe ego's relationship with soul, not with the Self; I avoid references to the Self because:

  1. I have not personally experienced the Self (and I have no intuitive perception of it), so I would not be comfortable in writing about it. (The Self is explored in a chapter of its own, based on the work of Jung and other people.)
  2. Although the soul and Self are not identical, I assume that most of the dynamics in the ego-Self relationship are the same as the dynamics in the ego-soul relationship; therefore, much of the following information would be applicable for people who want to know about the ego's interaction with the Self.

The ego has a limited function. When we believe that the ego is our only identity, we naturally assign all administrative functions to it, including our small choices (e.g., deciding how to react to an indignity) and our big choices (such as our direction in life, including career, relationships, etc.). Throughout our life, much of our frustration and failure occur because the ego has accepted duties for which it is unqualified (and for which it has no authority, hence the conflicts when the ego tries to impose its will); the ego lacks the information, perspective, and power that are available to the soul. There is no reason to criticize the ego for these limitations (as many religious teachers have done); on the contrary, the ego performs splendidly in its role as the center for our human identity. The problems occur when we expect the ego to be, or to do, something which it is not designed to be or do; when we believe that the ego is our ultimate self, we expect it to have the knowledge and power which only the soul possesses -- and then we unfairly condemn the ego for not being able to meet our impossible expectations. Our so-called "ego problems" -- lack of ego development, or an unbalanced ego, or an "inflated" ego, or the terrible qualities which are assigned to the ego in general -- are never the fault of the ego itself; they are due to our misunderstanding and misapplication of this instrument.

The ego and soul can have a "partnership." The ego that causes problems is the one which runs without direction; to blame the ego for our dilemmas is like blaming our car if we do not drive well -- as though the accidents' injuries and expenses prove that the car is bad rather than that we are bad drivers. When there is a proper relationship between ego and soul, our intuition directs us to turn our attention toward a particular facet of life (such as our finances or relationships), and then it tells us what to do, and how to do it, and when to do it, and how much to do it, and when to stop. Then the ego does not operate haphazardly, generating irrelevant goals, and pursuing them to a size that is grotesque and self-destructive. From the perspective of soul, the ego is a vital interface into the human world; it is used as a cherished, finely tuned instrument like a telescope, a translator, and a tool of expression toward aspects of our human life so that we can eventually realize that those aspects are facets of spirit. When we discover the soul (or when we learn to use our intuition, which is the means of communication from soul to ego), the ego can delegate some of these responsibilities to it; instead of trying to solve problems from the limited viewpoint and strength of the ego, we can "seek inner guidance" from "our higher self" -- the soul. Because this guidance comes from the soul (which has a larger overview), our efforts will tend to be successful and satisfying for all parties involved -- the other elements of the psyche, and the people around us. Although the delegating is often colored with religious terminology, such as "surrendering to God (or to our higher self)" or "humility," we can view it simply as a pragmatic strategy: the ego says to the soul, "You are better at these things than I am, so I want you to do them from now on" even if it means that the ego must assume a subservient role. The ego can accept this lesser role if it knows that its needs will be fulfilled more effectively when this greater entity is at the helm; the willingness to submit to greater principles is exemplified daily by all of us in phenomena such as delayed gratification, and the suppression of immediate impulses for the sake of social protocol.

We can "transcend the ego." When we expand our sense of identity to the soul, while maintaining the integrity of the ego, we rightly "transcend" the ego. From this viewpoint, we re-unite with the elements which we split off during our ego-building stage -- but this reunion is with distinct, developed entities rather than a plunge back into the oceanic state. Transcendence is not only for people who have attained the heights of psychological or spiritual development; to a degree, we transcend the ego whenever we express love, or we act altruistically, or we extend our identity into an association with our family or nation or another group, or when we experience midlife. In transcendence, our ego is still there, with its boundaries, but now we are as though in an airplane, seeing the fences surrounding our home, but not being limited by them. The ego remains necessary to perform its psychological functions (as listed previously, e.g., the maintenance of boundaries, assertiveness, presence, and general personhood); we are still individuals in a world of people and confrontations. We know that the ego is one type of self -- legitimate and important within its own realm -- but we can also identify ourselves with other types of self, to benefit from their perspectives; i.e., "Yes, I am a person (an ego); I am also a soul" -- each identity being appropriate and functionally "real" in its own world. In addition to simultaneously identifying and disidentifying with this personal ego, we can also identify and disidentify with our personal thoughts and emotions and actions; we are doing them but they also seem to be doing themselves while we are mere observers.

We might experience pseudo-transcendence. This can occur in two ways -- through inflation or through regression. Whether the ego expands or regresses, we foul the relationships between the ego and the elements of our inner and outer world -- and we disrupt the individuation process, which is a defining of our inner elements (as a precursor to the establishment of productive relationships among them), not a blending of them back into their undifferentiated condition. In the blended, oceanic state, we do not confront the important problems of psychological growth, because we no longer recognize the distinct elements which are the players in that growth (and, externally, we no longer discern other people as separate individuals with whom to interact, because we have broken down our boundaries to attain a sense of "oneness" with those people). The incompleteness of the ego -- and thus our unreadiness for its transcendence -- is indicated by the ego's "empty spaces" and its lack of definition; instead of solid ground, we have a swamp of unresolved fundamental psychological issues, and vague ideas about our identity and our relationships to the people and circumstances in our life. If we transcend from this unfinished condition, we will discover that we are no longer in the arena where these issues are confronted; metaphorically, we are gliding above that ground or that swamp, so therefore the issues will remain and fester -- and they will continually call us back down to earth. We can define inflation and regression in the following ways:

  1. Inflation. This can happen when we encounter the soul or something else which seems to be "spiritual" within us but we do not understand that this other identity is an additional center of selfhood and not a mere expansion of the ego self. If we erroneously associate the ego with the splendor of the soul, the ego inflates its concept of itself into that of being god-like; this can cause psychological and social problems as we try to act out our delusion of divinity in our relations with people, and as we deny the seemingly ungodly parts of ourselves such as the shadow.
  2. Regression. In this situation -- the "pre-trans fallacy" -- we have not contacted an expanded self at all, although we do discern some type of expansion. Instead, we have reverted to the infant's preegoic, oceanic state of oneness, in which our boundaries disintegrate, and we no longer have a sense of separate identity.

Religions generally do not value the ego. Usually the ego is viewed as a block to enlightenment, or even as a conscious, conniving entity which is attempting to ensnare us with its relentless desires. Rarely, if ever, is the ego depicted as a positive element. Religions view it as an enemy to be destroyed, or as an illusion which does not exist at all.

  1. The ego as "enemy." We find this idea in Eastern religions (with their asceticism and their phrases such as "the annihilation of the ego"), and in Western religions (with their hairshirts and their degrading beliefs regarding meekness and original sin). Throughout history, these concepts (or at least the common interpretation of them) have been devastating to human endeavor, psychological health, and spiritual advancement; to some extent, we have all been crippled by the notion that the ego is somehow evil or shameful or inferior -- and we either submit to these notions at the expense of our vitality and presence (and we make virtues of weakness and poverty), or we rebel angrily (in the manner of Friedrich Nietzsche, or the Church of Satan's Anton LaVey) and we spurn much of religion because we are rightly offended by the doctrines of self-hatred and self-denial. (Ironically, religion's determination to minimize the ego actually directs an inordinate amount of attention toward it.) When we experience the soul, and we then review the anti-self literature, we see that there is indeed a type of destruction -- but, rather than a destruction of the ego, it is a destruction of our illusion that the ego is our ultimate identity. In transcendental states, the ego does seem to disappear -- but it is still there, functioning far away, and waiting to welcome us home when we descend from the mountaintop (unless, to our detriment, we return with the erroneous idea that we have forever gone "beyond ego," and we thus engage in religious role-playing, and repression of the ego's expression, and discarding of our vital human growth-process). If we read between the lines of the literature regarding enlightenment, and we grant much latitude in consideration of the peoples' euphoria and lack of precise vocabulary for describing transcendental states, we can see their point -- but we can also conclude that the accounts of ego-destroying enlightenment were the consequence of wild "waxing poetic" and severely inaccurate journalism.
  2. The ego as "illusion." Buddhists believe that there is no self. There have been various interpretations of this Buddhist concept of anatta.
    • The ego is not real. This viewpoint allows the possibility that a permanent soul exists apart from the ego. (The Buddha might not have agreed with this statement, but it is presented by some contemporary Buddhist authors.) We need to clarify this issue by exploring the definition of "ego":
      • In Western psychology, the word "ego" refers to a part of the psyche. Although the word is just a label, there is something underlying the label which is "real," definable, continual, and dynamic.
      • In Eastern religions, "ego" refers to something entirely different: it is only the label which we put onto ourselves.
    • Individuality is not real; there is no individual self at all. We are nothing but a collection of components with nobody behind them; there are merely impersonal, temporal thoughts, feelings, emotions, etc. For example, we do not "hate"; it is hatred which hates. In the final state of enlightenment, individuality is totally extinguished, like a candle flame which has been snuffed, or like a raindrop which has fallen into the sea. However, for some of us, this nihilistic concept that the individual does not exist (like the idea that the world itself does not exist) strips us of our sense of personal meaning; instead, perhaps only for our sanity, we believe that the universe exists for some reason other than to be discarded as hallucination -- and we cannot motivate ourselves to pursue a path which ends not in eternal life but in what we can conceive only as absolute death.
    • "Personhood" is based upon the archetypes; the ego is a constellation within those archetypes. The label -- "person" -- is only for the purposes of general identification; the mind creates this generalization because it recognizes the isolated "package" (i.e., the physical body, and the mental and behavior habits ) as an individual unit. However, upon further examination, we can discern people as a collection of impersonal forces -- energies (including emotional energies), archetypal-field elements, the organized matter of the physical body, etc. In our interactions, we never interact with a "person"; instead, the interaction is on the archetypal level -- between one soul's archetypes and another soul's reciprocal archetypes, as those archetypal interplays trigger thoughts, actions, imagery, and the release of energies. (We can understand this idea that "we never interact with a person" by realizing that, in each interaction, we are focused on only one particular archetypal aspect of the individual; at any moment, the person is either a Man or Husband or Parent or Employee, for example -- although all other archetypes are simultaneously present and are participating in the background). The mind colors and fills in the details in these raw interactions such that we perceive a complete person and an entire world. Thus, personhood is both "unreal" (in the sense that it is only a "graphical user interface" for the underlying dynamics of spirit) and "real" (in the sense that it is something to taken seriously as a mode in which we learn about spirit in this "dimension," where the ego is "real" in relation to the rest of the world). While these particles of personhood obviously do constitute not a permanent self, Buddhism stops at that point, and says that there is no individuality at all; some of us go beyond that point, to discern a permanent soul which grants an eternal, transcendental individuality.

Perhaps the ego has been misunderstood by religion. In religion, the ego is criticized because it supposedly distracts us from "spiritual" pursuits by its constant cravings, its insatiable lust for worldly goods, and its attachments. But this perspective might be based on fallacies:

  1. Is the ego a "distraction" from spirituality? Surely there is a conflict if our notion of spirituality requires us to think and act in a manner which is, by definition, ego-less as exemplified by religious practices which are self-denying and self-punishing and self-destructive. But other people are able to have a spiritually meaningful life while maintaining a dynamic ego. The ego cannot conform to religious ideals; it can only be an ego, and to try to make it more or less than that is merely to darken the shadow and to create the tragic poles of religious fanaticism and atheism (both of which are the result of failure to forge a proper relationship between ego and soul). We can let the ego be what it is, and allow it to play out its innate nature (trusting that that nature is constructive or at least innocent, but not demonic), while we observe and facilitate its psychological activities from the transcendental overview of the soul.
  2. Is the ego insatiable? If the answer is affirmative, we are justified in regarding the ego as a truly unmanageable distraction, to be assaulted with austerities that would simply exterminate the ego along with its unquenchable desires. The ego does seem to generate one request after another, but perhaps the appearance of insatiability is due to our incompetence in giving the ego that which would satisfy those requests. For example, if a boy asks his mother for breakfast, but she gives him a book, he will still be hungry; and if she gives him a shoe, again his hunger remains, so the mother might conclude that the boy cannot be satisfied. But the ego is not insatiable any more than is our stomach which needs an occasional meal. We "feed" the ego within a general psychological framework of self-esteem and self-respect whereby we acknowledge our value, and the ego's value as our means of expression into the human world; we give nourishment specifically in the form of expansive thoughts of hope and confidence, and actions which assert the ego into its rightful place in the world, and some space in which the ego can display its peacock feathers occasionally (via harmless and even productive acts such as creative arts, extravagant fantasies, humor, a flamboyant personality, competition in sports and games, outrageous tastes in fashion and music and opinion, etc.). Allowing for the occasional rumbles of hunger, we have a content ego, which trusts us to respect its instincts (which lead us toward psychological health and human fulfillment), and also trusts us to willfully act in ways which will answer its requests (which are reasonable in a healthy ego).
  3. Is the ego selfish, greedy, "evil"? As the center of our human existence, the ego's task is to acquire necessary goods and services, and to protect its (our) interests. In performing this duty, we encounter conflicts when other people want those same goods and services, or if their interests conflict with ours in some other way. But a healthy ego requires only the basic resources for its survival and growth; generally, there is "enough to go around," and we can satisfy many of those psychological needs internally through our relationship with the ego (e.g., granting esteem to ourselves instead of seeking it from other people). It is the unhealthy ego which generates outrageous demands:
    • It lacks secure, well-defined personal boundaries, so it aggressively and inaccurately extends its boundaries into the lives of other people.
    • We have not given it self-respect, so it seeks an inordinate amount of "respect" externally through people's admiration or fear.
    • It does not feel comfortable in its beliefs (and perhaps in its basic right to possess those beliefs) -- religious, moral, political, etc. To bolster itself through external support, it demands that other people have the same beliefs.
    • It does not have natural "presence," so it tries to compensate through mere notoriety via social positioning, media attention, and bizarre, exhibitionistic, rebellious behavior.
    • It does not sense the meaningfulness which is imparted by a healthy ego's relationship to the soul, so it lacks an attitude of awe and reverence toward life (including its own).
    • It does not have a sense of self-worth, so it compensates through the acquisition of opulent symbols of worth instead of simply gathering the materials that it needs for its own projects. The ego can experience a degree of satisfaction with mere "adequacy"; for example, it requires an "adequate" home (i.e., one which provides safety from marauders, and shelter from weather), but this need is fulfilled equally by a low-rent apartment or a mansion, as if it requires only the archetypal embodiment of "home" rather than any particular quality of home. The call for a grander lifestyle is not from the ego; it might due to other factors:
      • Archetypal elements. We "desire" a home which matches the thoughts, images, and energy tone of our Home archetypal field.
      • Pragmatic requirements. For example, we might need a large home because we have a large family, many visitors, and space-consuming hobbies.
      • Image. Image might be based on vanity (as in "keeping up with the Joneses"), but sometimes it is a necessary consideration (as in ownership of the type of home which is expected of an executive, such that a low-class residence would harm our career).
      • Our personal energy. For example, some people are uncomfortable in a large home -- not because shoddy self-esteem won't allow it but because they don't have enough energy to fill it.
      • Other personal reasons. For example, we might want a large home because we enjoy doing remodeling as a hobby.

We can be both immanent and transcendent. Even when the ego seems to keep us involved with mundane matters when we might rather be flying in transcendence, let us consider that involvement and transcendence can be experienced simultaneously. If we do not seem to be in a transcendent state at any given moment, this is not because the ego is restricting us but rather it is probably because we are knee-deep in our meddling with the ego's battles (with our attempt to inflict religious, moral, or logical concepts upon the ego), instead of releasing the ego to solve problems with its own instincts and with the gladly-accepted intuitional input from the ever-present transcendent soul.