Since I have started my self-development/self-actualisation journey, the theme of the Ego has come up regularly in various talks and books, going from neuroscience (does it actually exist?) to spiritual (you should kill it as it is not good for you!) to the more moderate: what is it, how does it affect you and is it useful?
Recently I read a book, The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution, which put the Ego into a different context, for me anyway.
It may not have been the intention of the book but as the author described Man being made of part Essence part Personality, I related this to the Soul and Ego concept, Essence being Soul and Personality being Ego; Essence: what you are born with, Personality: what you develop throughout your life via your experiences.
I then decided to look up where Ego came from historically, interested in when the concept first appeared and I fell on a good article talking about its origin.
In short egotistical straits can be traced back thousand of years ago when Man started to mix in “tribes” types of environment:
“The fossil evidence from 200,000 to 300,000 years ago indicates that our ancient ancestor Homo sapiens first appeared in evolutionary fashion from prior ape-like creatures in Africa. Homo sapiens is unique in having a large brain in proportion to body size which fostered the development of abstract thinking and complex social interaction.”
Before this, survival, mainly alone, was his main concern, then when he started to group with other individuals, self image came into the picture, as of course, he had others to “compete” with, I guess then still on a survival level.
I found this quite fascinating. As soon as you mix with others, you have this need to “prove” your worth, both to yourself and to them.
Obviously in this day in age, “survival” is not quite as dramatic as it was then – you aren’t very likely to die if you are not the fatest runner – yet the “Ego” is still in action, possibly constantly when around people, but also when on your own as many people spend a lot of their time thinking how they should be better or are not good enough, thoughts which come from comparing oneself with others and therefore “Ego” based.
When you see the Ego as Personality instead however, to me, it makes the whole concept more manageable as Personality can and does change and when you realise it is shaped by your experiences, or more to the point how you perceive those experiences, you realise you have some control over this – how did I perceive the experiences? Was this perception correct? How does this perception affect me? What bias has it left me with? How do I change this?
Suddenly this mystical concept they call the Ego becomes mundain, clear and easily rectified, should one want to do the work – which is merely question whether your perception is correct, which you will find is rarely the case.
Quoting from another book I read recently:
“The perceiving eye is weak; the observing eye is strong”
One could describe the purpose of a self-development/self-actualisation journey learning to shape your personality into something more useful than just responding to emotions based on perceptions.
So, in my world, the “Ego” is no more, it’s all about developing my personality now. And finding out my Essence, which unfortunately gets buried if one lets one’s personality take over!
Both are useful though, and that’s a relief. I never like the “Death of the Ego” idea. Seemed a bit drastic, and inachievable, to me. And I am happy being human, so I don’t mind having a personality 😉