Freud’s definition of the Ego, the Id and the Superego has given rise to some confusion over the years. This topical article is a look at these 3 terms and how they relate to your hierarchy of values and a chance to see if it’s wise for you to maybe embrace your true ego, or “I” instead of living with the idea you’re supposed to be suppressing or getting rid of it.
Today’s topic is something that I think you will find more than fascinating.
Freud used the terms: Ego, Id and Superego, which are often referred to as the tripartite aspect of the psyche. Over the decades, these terms have given rise to some confusion and to numerous interpretations of their meaning.
I have seen many pieces of literature, particularly Eastern mysticism, that has said that we need to get rid of our ego and that having an ego is ‘bad’. Ego is also often used in a negative way to describe someone who is perceived to be arrogant and full of themselves. But in Freud’s original view, your ego is more expressive of your true or authentic self. The ego was considered the component of the individual that is responsible for dealing with reality. Originally, Freud used the word ego to mean a sense of self, but later revised it to mean a set of psychic functions such as reality testing, governing, planning, synthesis of information, intellectual functioning, and knowing. The ego separated out what was real.
Let’s take a step back and begin by looking at your value structure or hierarchy of values and how it relates to your True Ego, the Superego and the Id. If you prefer to watch the video, click below. ↓
Your hierarchy of values at any one moment is fingerprint specific to you
You live by a set of priorities or a set of values, a list of things that are most important to least important in your life.
Whatever is lower on your list of values, you will tend to procrastinate, hesitate and frustrate in the pursuit of them. You will often require extrinsic motivation to get you to do it – a punishment if you don’t do it and a reward if you do.
Whatever is highest on your list of values, you are spontaneously inspired from within to pursue and fulfil. This is where you tend to excel, expand and achieve.
The True Ego
If you superimpose Freud’s language on top of this hierarchy of values, the expression and fulfilment of your highest value is what he would call the True Ego – ego meaning “I”, “self” or “true self”.
Some Eastern mystics have advised getting rid of your ego in order to be truly spiritual, which I find to be somewhat misleading and confusing as how do you get rid of their true self? In essence, your ego is your essential self and not the existential volatile personas and masks that you wear during the day.
So, when you live in alignment and are congruent with what you value most, when you are willing to embrace both pain and pleasure, when it is so important to you that it doesn’t matter what the obstacles are because you will turn them into opportunities, when you are able to be more objective and embrace both sides of life and see both sides, this is what Freud called the True Ego.
In my case, I have a high value on teaching and learning. As a result, when I’m teaching, researching and sharing what I discover, I am being true to myself – my true self, my true I, my true ego. And I don’t think there’s anyone who can honestly say they don’t want to live that way.
In fact, because your values are unique and because you have a hierarchy values that is fingerprint specific, when you are living in alignment and congruent with what those highest values are, you are likely to make the biggest difference. When you are not subordinating or conforming to other people – you are being unique to you and pursuing what is most meaningful and inspiring to you. As a result, you are likely to be the most disciplined, reliable, and focused in these highest priority areas, and you will tend to achieve more and emerge as an authentic individual and leader.
This is the True Ego and, in my view, there is nothing unwise about that. Many people equate puffing themselves up and trying to make out that they are better or greater than everyone else as ego.
However, that is not your true ego. It is but your false ego or pride.
It therefore stands to reason that if you trying to get rid of your true ego, you are essentially trying to get rid of your authentic self, or what is sometimes called your soul, which is foolish. Even if you meditate and manage to go into a transcendent state that you perceive to be beyond any identification of ego, you will not be able to spend your whole life in that state. Nor are you likely to make a difference or feel fulfilled. Fulfilment also comes through contributing to other people and engaging, interacting, reflecting and learning.
So, I’m not in favour of escapism that is confused with some dissociative spiritual paths – I’m interested in helping you master your life and maximize your human potential. In all my programs, including the Breakthrough Experience, my primary objective is to give you a strategy to live your life as an authentic self. That’s the True Ego and it is not something you need to get rid of. You may want to transcend some of you current personas, masks and facades but you are not going to get rid of your essential self, and you have no reason to.
The Id is what Freud called an individual’s impulsive, instinctual, reactive, and animal-like reactions – the immediate, gratifying, hedonic, pursuing, addictive kind of personality.
When you live or attempt to live in other people’s values, often by envying others, putting them on a pedestal and trying to imitate them, you tend to inject their values into your own life and confuse yourself about what is really intrinsically highest in priority and important. As a result, you are likely to cloud the clarity of your own mission and purpose, which is your highest value and true identity, and minimize who you are.
What is interesting is that when you are attempting to not live by your highest values, you are likely to feel unfulfilled and to search for immediate gratification in an effort to compensate for that unfulfillment.
This addictive, impulsive, compulsive, immediate gratifying behavior, which often involves fantasy-seeking, overeating, purchasing and consumption, is often an attempt by people to feel better about themselves when they are not living according to their highest values and being true to themselves.
This immediate gratifying, impulsive, instinctual behaviour that seeks to avoid discomfort and pain, and strives to get pleasure quickly, is the Id.
In terms of values, the Id is activated when you transiently attempt to live by your lower values. As a result, you will tend to procrastinate, hesitate and frustrate, and are likely to doubt yourself and let other people make decisions for you.
You might also find that you are attempting to live according to the “shoulds” and “ought to’s”, and “supposed to’s” and “got to’s” and “have to’s”, and “musts” and “need to’s”, all of which are expressions of an imperative language and indicate that there might be people on the outside running you instead of you running you. It is also powerful feedback to make you aware of the fact that you might have allowed yourself to become disempowered and overpowered by some outer authority that you may be unconsciously envying.
It is unwise to compare yourself to others. It is wiser to instead compare your own daily actions to your own highest values so you can live authentically by your true essential self, your True Ego.
Freud described the superego as the moralizing force inside of us. His theory implies that the Superego is a symbolic internalisation of parental figures and cultural regulations over the years.
Think of a child growing up, as an example. In their first year of life, they tend to be able to do whatever they like and receive unconditional love and support from their caregivers. Once they begin crawling and walking, their parents are likely to say “yes” and “no” when they do something that the parent either approves or disapproves of. These values are projected from the parents onto the child and may go against the child’s desire based impulses and instincts (the Id). As the child grows older, it will often need to make a choice between the True Ego (the child’s highest values), the Id (immediate gratification) and the Superego (the injected authoritative voice on the inside saying you “should”, “must”, “ought to” and “have to”).
In other words, there is often a three-way dynamic going on: the Id wants immediate gratification, the Ego wants to fulfil something deeply meaningful, and the Superego is whispering, “Thou shalt do this” or “Thou shalt not do that”.
As the child tries to find its own identity – its true nature amongst its own impulses and its moralizing constructions – it may often experience conflict between the things that it is “supposed” to do according to the authorities and what it would love to do according to its own true ego.
The resulting unfulfillment and frustration often results in a child or developing adult engaging their lower value based Id and wanting immediate gratification to compensate for the internal conflict.
Whenever you feel that you are not able to fulfil our highest values, you are more likely to go into immediate gratification.
The Superego is the internalization of some outer authorities values that you have injected into your life, which creates entropic disorder and conflict inside you between what you truly would love to do or fulfil, which is your essential self and your True Ego, and this moralizing process or injected Superego.
As long as you subordinate to an outer authority, compare yourself to others, put them on a pedestal, minimize yourself and inject their values, you are highly likely to have an internal conflict between your True Ego and the injected values from outer authorities, and to seek immediate gratification to escape the conflict.
That is one of the reasons why very few people become a gold medallist or Nobel prize-winners or great business leader, because they haven’t awakened their dormant courage to be themselves and are worried about fitting in instead of standing out. They are frightened to stand out and not conform and fit in.
How are you going to make a difference fitting in? You are far more likely to make a different standing out.
It is wise not to compare yourself to others, for attempting to live in other people’s values will be futile. You will beat yourself up, and think you are not disciplined or that you don’t have what it takes.
In other words, it is wise to be your true self – the true ego or soul more than try to be someone else.
Your true you is yearning to emerge from within, it is intuitively wanting to express your true self and express your genius. It is wise to pay attention to its calling and let it emerge.
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Dr John Demartini is a human behaviour specialist, a polymath, philosopher, international speaker and published author. He has recently been awarded the IAOTP Top Human Behavior Specialist of the Year as well as the IAOTP Lifetime Achievement Award.
His work is a summation of over 299 different disciplines synthesized from the greatest minds in most fields of study today. His extensive curriculum focuses on helping purpose driven individuals master their lives so that they are able to more extensively serve humanity with their inspired vision and mission.
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