In a previous blog I suggested that Freud and Jung were the great myth makers of the twentieth century. Yet, their works have permeated our contemporary culture and infiltrated our vocabulary. Both Freud and Jung have left us with a legacy of words that are frequently used in every day speech. An inordinately neat person becomes an anal personality. Suspicious persons are labeled as paranoid. The frequently used term, “complex”, arose from the pen of Jung. Complexes range from inferiority to oedipal to little man complex to many more. Some people believe that the use of words borrowed from psychology lends an aura of sophistication and authority to their comments. This might be a basis for the popular use of psychological terms by people that have limited understanding of the concepts behind the word.
Some words often get bandied about without clear definition. The word, “ego”, might be one of these. What is an ego trip? What does it mean when we say that someone has a big ego? Both of these phrases seem to have a negative connotation portraying ego as something bad. How many people using the word “ego” realize that it is simply the latin word for “I”. Every person in the confessional hears the word used when a holy man arrogantly pronounces that he has absolved the sinner of his sins by saying, “ego te absolvo” (I absolve you of your sins in latin.)
How did the word, “ego” creep into the argot of psychology? Freud postulated that the mental structure of the mind was divided into three entities. One entity represented the primitive, pleasure seeking, instinctual, animal-like impulses. He called that entity the “id.” In opposition to that part of the psyche was an entity he called the superego. This entity judged and curbed the inappropriate impulses of the id. In everyday terms it acted as the force of conscience. At times it could be too harsh and too restrictive of the impulses. Acting as a moderator and referee between these opposing forces as well as promoting suitable interaction with the environment he called another entity “das ich.” In German the word, “ich” means the self or, “I”. Freud’s english speaking disciples translated the word for self as,“the ego.”.Rather than having a negative connotation, a well functioning ego was vital to the psyche. It resolves the conflicts between the demands of the inner emotional life and the realities of the outside world. Ego strength is important and healthy. When we use the word ego to describe someone on a power trip, the word narcissistic would seem more appropriate.