A weak ego – spiritual advantages and disadvantages

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the question of having a weak ego. This is traditionally where the reality function isn’t always 100% and there is a tendency for all sorts of impulses to break through which can lead to feeling confusion and so on. The sense is of being unbalanced. In spiritual writing there is much made of laying aside the ego, or even breaking down the ego. Thomas Merton understood that this can be extremely problematic and he wrote about how for many of the novices that he taught there needed to be a building up of the ego before it was dismantled.

When R. D. Laing wrote about the spiritual breakthroughs that can happen for those who are mentally ill, especially those who are psychotic he rightly received much criticism with people saying that he was romanticising the reality of what mental ill health can be like and so on. I think what he was getting at is that some people are then able to see reality without the obfuscation of their status, role and so on. This is what Merton called the false self. I think false self is a much more helpful term to use as it is not possible to function without the ego. For example we have to organise ourselves, shop, cook, wash, respond to demands and so on. Perhaps in a community the ego can be released as the community or the organisation takes on the egoic function.

The way to build up the ego is through love. People with a weaker ego have usually had insufficient love, and by that I mean unconditional love in their earliest years. This is where you are loved for just being you!  I’ve realised very recently that impulses that break through such as fear, aggression, anxiety and so on can be met or tempered by love. Those of us who are religious can experience God’s love and this can help to build up the necessary foundations. Holding on to that sense, perhaps even when it is not always apparent is faith.  But it’s a slow business building up that faith experience in order to become resilient.