The use of the term ‘ego’

In an earlier post I discussed the revelation about the use of the word ‘ego’ by the analyst working with Dennis McCort. In the post titled Reflections on ‘A Kafkaesque Memoir’ in early February I wrote:

An early comment that really helped me was the succinct way that Dr. P. delineated the difference uses of the term ‘ego’ following one discussion: ‘I take it you understand that you are using the term “ego” in the Buddhist sense of self-image, and not in the Freudian sense of a mediating function between inner and outer worlds’. At last clarity to help explain the rather cavalier way that we are urged to cast the ego aside in contemplation, especially if we have taken years building up the ego! 

Since then I’ve found some further thinking on this – again from a Jungian perspective and in the work of Joseph Campbell who writes how the idea of the highest goal of life is conceived differently in the West where he takes Carl Jung’s idea of individuation and quotes this as ‘becoming a whole self through the integration of conscious and unconscious, active and passive aspects of the self’. This then is an ideal of being a unique individual in wholeness: this means seeing that our socially defined and learned roles are only part of who we are and only part of our potential.

Campbell contrasts this with the Hindu perspective and ethic which he understands as that we fully identify with our social roles but finding this unfulfilling we then seek by discarding the ego to slip like raindrops into the sea of being – a state of oneness.

Campbell offers an alternative escape from self-image and the social role and that is ego-maturation. As Jung describes, in the first part of life we develop all these social and vocational skills that make up this aspect of our identity, but we can come to feel that this is instead a prison because we have over identified with only one part of our psyche. This leads us to feeling impoverished.

In the second half of life the process of individuation leads to the ego taking on some sort of dynamic relationship with the unconscious. And so we bring into conscious awareness previously hidden or denied parts of ourselves. This is a process of growth where we acknowledge wider and deeper experiences and so the restricted feeling of ‘the householder’ is overcome and in line with the Hindu stages of life we move into ‘the forest’. In other words the goal is not to set aside the ego or to escape from the concrete part of the self but to rather fully realize it by integrating as far as is possible aspects of the unconscious.