Ego and identity

The word Ego comes to mind when you think of someone who is extremely vain, superficial, or focused on fears and hatred. This is a paradox that has been created hundreds of years ago in our minds that symbolize a simple truth: dissociation from the shadow aspects of ourselves.

In fact, the word “ego” comes from Latin and means “I”. The interpretations of that “I” later on in psychoanalysis by Freud and his feud with Carl Jung came to translate into a huge confusion about our own identities — obviously, for someone like me who has studied Jung and is not apologetic of some of Freud’s work, I’m also a believer that they were also results of their times, and no matter how valid certain aspects are of their work, it is outdated. Jung did explain well with archetypes what the ego is, but in essence, the idea that the self is separated from the ego is dissociation at its core — we have an identity, but also a super-identity which is more of our identity than our identity, have you followed? Anyway, not to say he is absolutely wrong. Or that Freud and its iceberg theory aren’t valid — but take it with a grain of salt is valid just for about everything in this world.

The idea of “Ego” nowadays comes then to embody the persona of King Solomon — “all is vanity”. And from there, we deconstruct ourselves in light of what feels right in our ideas about what could potentially be wrong with us. For most of us, we are wrong, almost always. We barely know enough about what makes us “us”, to be indifferent to the ideas of 19th-century psychoanalysis. Somebody thought things and wrote books, others thought “oh hey, here’s a good idea, let's run with it”. But in all honesty, it conveys a deeper message, that what we are are illusions until we find a deeper sense of self, individuation, authenticity, the magic inside, Hridaya or “the spiritual heart”. In essence, turn psychotherapy into spiritual coaching and people might get better faster, it’s an opinion I have.

Nowadays, Internal Family Systems seem to want to close that door and open up the idea that we can heal that dissociation. I find it an amazing technique and do practice it myself. It’s an idea that inside of us we act as a family between parts of us that represent certain aspects of ourselves, it’s very interesting and valid, but it does take a level of dissociation to understand it and to live it, and heal with it, until what’s left to heal it’s the dissociation itself. Ego as a word does not enter this equation, it’s Self that is spoken about, albeit interchangeably we can recognize how our identities are tied to all these parts, but essentially who we really are — with common features amongst the rest of humanity, such as calm, compassion, confidence, and more. Self-leadership is the goal of IFS and I find it an amazing resource to work with, particularly more in tune with reality than let's say, trying to understand and relate to the idea of the Ego — vastness and infinity are words that come to mind.

The idea of the Ego from Freud is a “representative” of ourselves that maintains the balance between the Id and the Superego… but it does come mostly from a sense of illusions that we portray to others and that brings us away from the core identity of love. In fact, Psyche used to mean soul, and nowadays is a synonym for the mind. Eros on the other hand, and its story with Psyche, leads us to Tantric views of the Self. But I don’t want to diverge from the topic here. Eros, Amor, and Cupid are ideas of how the Soul and Love self transform and live a love story.

Jung alternated this to Anima, its original name, and Animus, the male counterpart — if you’re aware, a lot of today’s spirituality is based on healing “the wounded masculine and feminine”. We’ve completely eradicated the Ego issue. Vanity bygones, we want real healing. Archetypal healing has become widespread, and in the past three years so does Shadow Work and dealing with shadow aspects of ourselves, the denied, the forgotten, the repressed. I do this work with myself and support others and it’s incredible what we can heal with Jung’s methodology, and yes, I keep reminding myself… “All is vanity”.

Ego death is by far one of the strangest experiences — the Phoenix rising to find its true nature and be reborn into a new, always present, always existing, Self. The Ego Death shows us our indestructibility. But it's also one of the strangest concepts of today’s spiritual practices. If someone went through such a deep transformation to understand why we die and how we are reborn, then congratulations, but most often the ideas of Ego death come close to “killing vanity”. Going back to King Solomon and “All is vanity”, what he meant to say is the divergence from Love, and so, “all is vanity” which considers itself greater than love. So the Ego idea is not more than an idea, which can bring us closer or further away from Love.

Jung’s Ego is another complex phenomenon. It comprises all that we live, experience, and feel through the senses. What this dissociation brought was the convenience of the lens of “there is something deeper”, which lives inside of us and deeper still, can transcend the understandings of the Ego.

So here, Internal Family Systems act as a bridge between Jung’s idea of Ego, and our idea of vanity. Because this family we have inside is not more than the experiential amalgams of our shared reality and its consequences. The Self, or Id, or Ancient Ego, is still Psyche, Eros, and Soul. Above all vanities, there is a transcendence that is possible through this practice. The something deeper is the infinity, the Hridaya, the ever-present immense love for all, the divine spark, the sacred essence.

In today’s society, what we call ego is a protective trait of ourselves that encompasses the traits we need to heal later to find our true selves. And for me, this comes from a series of misconceptions, like the “soul stealing” idea, which is impossible, and the “soul loss” idea, which is another impossibility. We can suffer a lot, and we can poetize even more, but hey, “all is vanity”.

All identity issues come down to one idea: we are not happy to be who we were born to be. And socially, we’ve been saying “that is okay, we can fix that”. But the issues are much deeper — maybe that purpose is to change the paradigm and ideas of what gender identity is. I’m just being derivative on purpose, my only opinion on this is: whatever makes people happy.

Going further away from that topic… One teacher of mine asked me if “there isn’t a bigger purpose for the Holocaust” and I asked for the money back from the course. But it’s been on my mind, that question — the Holocaust if anything proves the randomness of vanity. That synchronism and beauty exist where there is love. The Holocaust proves that evil loses, but that it exists.

Accepting who we are is very difficult in today’s world, but if deep down the identification we have is to another gender, then that’s who we are. Social dysfunctions aside, today’s society does give us that choice, and most think it's a good thing.

“All is vanity”, brings the idea that what is not true genuine care, affection, love, compassion, and joy, is useless, vain, superficial, and hence today’s idea of the Ego — and hence today’s idea of a superficial society, where Johnny Depp is as important as the War in Ukraine and people putting makeup on video is a trend with millions of views. I’m one of those views sometimes.

The expectations of the spiritual world are one of perfection — but in the essence of it, is one of dedication and a lot of hard work. I was in a retreat by Plumvillage and one of the monks asked us if we think we should see the mind as an enemy — it came to me the idea of the ego and soul and the sentence “no enemy inside, no enemy outside” — what I answered is considering the mind and heart as two pebbles in a river, they can be different, but they are still two pebbles from the same river and each deserving of respect. It’s a long way of compassion and mindfulness to reach the place of being okay with one’s mind, particularly for those of us with heavy traumatic stories, and other consequences of that. It’s implicit that our minds should be our friends, but to get there few actually know the way. Another monk in this retreat spoke about how we often feel of consciousness like a little person inside of us, directing our movements, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. A Ratatouille kind of thing. I found that amusing and we tend to see the soul that way, we don’t connect ourselves to our souls, because there is something that tells us we aren’t our souls, it is inside of us waiting to be discovered.

In “The Untethered Soul” Michael J. Singer describes this in the beginning as a longing quest to find our own true Selves. And isn’t that what Jung taught us, through the path of individuation?

Why does all this matter anyway? Because these terminologies and their meanings live within us, in our subconscious mind, directing how we “feel” about the words and how we use them in context. One of the reasons why “empathy” means differently to everyone — is because we all feel it in a different way. That is why defining the ego more than the vanity of not being aligned in love is easier. “All is vanity” — because, it is.

A lot of people want to live in alignment right now, and that’s wonderful. But the road there might not be what they thought it could be. It’s a constant reminder to align ourselves, it’s a constant inner compass and making the inner critic more of a companion than a hinder, most do not know how to get there alone. Little to no meditation, no knowledge of Mindfulness, no knowledge of the spiritual path of Yoga, or little to none. And that’s the fastest way to get lost. In fact, religions and spiritual paths exist for a reason — to be vain enough to say we carve our own, is to find ourselves in multiple paths at some point.

I saw this in myself — I wanted to carve my own way. I eventually realized and understood, that my cultural background was and is Buddhist, so it made sense that, spiritually, I think in Buddhist terms and ideas. So it made sense for me to be focused on a single path, instead of a myriad of paths. But recently I realized that I was on the Tantric path as well — not that Buddhism doesn’t align with Tantra, it does —, but it came to me as a surprise, it was there all along, I was following without knowing. And if you know anything about Tantra you know it needs to be a conscious path. It kind of makes sense, considering how I used to use my sexual energy and how unconditional love meant something else entirely in the past for me. But the path of Love? That is where I am at, and all of what I’ve read about Tantra (excluding the overly-sexualized Western version of it), makes sense to me. And the reminder that what is not love, is vanity, is well expressed both in Buddhism and in Tantric paths.

Ego is a form of identity, healing the Ego is healing the relationship with the mind — as a representative of yourself to the world, is an important aspect to consider making friends with. I recommend the book “Mindfulness as Medicine” by Sister Dang Nghiem — she is a Plumvillage nun and also a medical doctor — which speaks about how to heal in life by being on the Mindfulness path. And it makes so much sense, how everything heals with compassion and loving awareness. And so does our relationship with vanity, with the Ego, and with ourselves — which in fact, is essentially what matters here.

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Matilde Magro

Matilde Magro

Regenerative Designer, entrepreneur, artist, teacher.