I recently wrote about the obsessive warriors in Avatar and Star Wars from a psychological perspective and suggested their behavior was rooted in the rigidity of a one-sided, self-serving ego. Lest anyone misunderstand, I hasten to add that the ego’s problem is not one of gender, but lack of self-awareness. Surely it goes without saying that girls behave badly too. Snow White’s Evil Stepmother, 101 Dalmations’ Cruella DeVille, and Fatal Attraction’s Alex Forrest are merely images of self-centered egos with wombs, dresses, and long hair!
Many of us think of the ego as being “bad” by definition, and I know people who have trouble with the very idea of warriors, but every psyche is furnished with an ego and Warrior (and several other archetypes as well) at birth, and we all need both to get through life with a measure of success. This is why Jungian psychology does not judge the ego as good or bad but simply sees it as the center of consciousness. A healthy ego with mature awareness nurtures a noble, heroic Warrior; an immature and minimally conscious ego can create a destructive one. The point is to become conscious of our ego’s destructive tendencies and learn how to control them. And what are these tendencies?
Consider Colonel Quaritch and Darth Vader: Self preservation is more important to them than species-preservation. They want to prove themselves by acquiring worldly power and authority. The more power and authority they have, the more resistant they are to giving it up. They are so full of themselves (pride and hubris are two words that immediately come to mind) that they believe they are entitled and infallible. They sincerely believe their way is RIGHT and are closed to alternative views. They insist on having their way regardless of who they hurt. They are totally unaware of the powerful tool – repression – they unconsciously use to ignore their true motives and justify their behavior and the damage they do.
These are the basic inclinations of every ego and it’s extraordinarily difficult to transcend them. Think about it. Don’t babies start out being utterly self-centered little tyrants? Doesn’t it require enormous effort to civilize them? Don’t we adults still struggle with these tendencies in ourselves? Isn’t this why we create laws and rules and schools and moral codes and social standards and religions? The human animal is trying to contain its instinctual willfulness, trying to respect the significance of others, trying to grow more conscious. But we are still incomplete.
Legal systems and religions can help an ego acquire good intentions and a veneer (persona) of balance and maturity, but by themselves they cannot soften a hard heart. To be able to love others we first have to love ourselves, and we can’t love ourselves until we can see and forgive our self-serving motivations and self-defeating tendencies.
This is why even the most well-intentioned religions and political regimes have difficulty containing the Colonel Quaritches and Darth Vaders of the world. There is only one force powerful enough to transform an immature ego and that is consciousness.
May the Force be with you.
Ego and God-Image: Part VI
[T]he most important relationship of childhood, the relation to the mother, will be compensated by the mother archetype as soon as detachment from the childhood
For me, the problem has been to recognize these forces and yet steer them in such a way as to aid humanity grow toward wholeness. If I can resolve my problems with opposites then perhaps I can help others do the same.
Hello James Que,
Yes. That’s a perfect description of the ego’s job: to recognize the tension between the opposites in myself (selfish me and generous-spirited me; patient me and impatient me; fearful me and compassionate me, etc.) then make benevolent choices that benefit all. These are the primary ingredients of conscious living, which always reverberates through the community.
Have you checked out the new blog from the Asheville Jung Center? http://ashevillejungcenter.org Murray Stein writes the same thing: If an individual integrates at a personal level, he or she facilitates order and harmony in the social and natural worlds. It’s the ethical way to live.
Good synchronicity, friend.
Jeanie, this is really a great article! i think it’s necessary to expand the conversation about the ego like this……for those going to live in a cave for the rest of their life, an ego is no doubt unneeded…..for the rest of us, this discussion is so important! how do i mediate between my inner nature and the circumstances around me? how do i become more sensitive to the ingoing creation of the world and yet build up the callouses needed to make my way without shrinking from tension and conflict? how do i fulfill the dreams of my conscious and unconscious selves both? how do i maintain a dynamic balance between my ego and Self?…..thank you for working through this loving logic……william
Thank you for your input. I do love these “psychological” discussions. To me they have everything to do with spirituality.
Yes, the internal dialogue between the ego and the outer world and the ego and the Self is crucial to conscious living, and conscious living is crucial to conflict resolution and peace. I think your word “mediate” is key to the ego’s function. When we’re children, our egos create our personae to mediate between ourselves and the outer world without having any idea of the reality of the Self.
But if we are to grow into our authentic selves, at some point our egos have to honor the inner life and connect with the Self at its core. As the ego-Self axis grows stronger, the ego loses its need to hide, impress, defend, or protect the processes of our souls from the outer world and the mask melts away because it is no longer needed.
For me, this is what is meant by the “death of the ego.” The ego dies to its dependence on the opinions of the world and is reborn into a spiritual mediator that simply observes inner and outer realities and finds ways to honor the demands of both. By changing its relationship to power and bowing to the authority of the Self, the ego allows the soul to become transparent so that our inner light is revealed for all to see. I think this is when we fulfill our spiritual potential, and, in James’s words, help “humanity grow toward wholeness.”