Three Signs of a Healthy Ego


13061936_1222930674413799_1029611237442425841_n“We are entangled in the roots, and we ourselves are the roots.

We make roots, we cause roots to be, we are rooted in the soil, and there is no getting away for us, because we must be there as long as we live.

That idea, that we can sublimate ourselves and become entirely spiritual and no hair left, is an inflation.

I am sorry, that is impossible; it makes no sense.” ~Carl Jung, Kundalini Seminar, Page 29

This quote reminds me of a true story. In 1848 England, art critic John Ruskin married 18 year old Effie Gray. Five years later their marriage was annulled because Ruskin had failed to consummate it. As Effie told her father:

“He alleged various reasons, hatred to children, religious motives, a desire to preserve my beauty, and, finally this last year he told me his true reason… that he had imagined women were quite different to what he saw I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person the first evening 10th April.”  Wikipedia  

On their wedding night John discovered that Effie had pubic hair. His malady, which by today’s standards may seem laughable, was psychological. But consider the context:  John grew up in Victorian England.  His father, John James Ruskin,

“helped to develop his son’s Romanticism. They shared a passion for the works of ByronShakespeare and especially Walter Scott…. Margaret Ruskin, an Evangelical Christian, more cautious and restrained than her husband, taught young John to read the King James Bible from beginning to end, and then to start all over again, committing large portions to memory. Its language, imagery and stories had a profound and lasting effect on his writing.” Wikipedia

A romantic, an idealist, and the only child of an evangelical Christian mother, John had so sublimated his instinctual, physical roots that it hadn’t occurred to him that his beautiful young wife’s body would be any different from the smooth, marbled statues of Greek goddesses he so admired.

By ‘sublimate’ Jung meant to unconsciously transform socially unacceptable impulses or idealizations into acceptable actions or behaviors. Freud believed this was a sign of maturity in individuals and civilization. By this means one could deflect the sexual instinct with its erotic energy into so-called “higher” and “socially useful” physical, scientific, artistic, or religious achievements.

Likewise, a person with aggressive tendencies can channel them into acceptable contact sports like football or boxing. A person with an urge to kill someone might join the military where he could justify his urge in the name of protecting his country. A literary example is provided in Agatha Christie’s novel And Then There Were None. In this story a judge with homicidal urges gives unusually harsh sentences to guilty criminals in the name of protecting the citizens and upholding the law.

“One is only confronted with the spiritual experience when one is absolutely human.” ~Carl Jung, Visions Seminar, Page 394

images-12But Jung had higher hopes for individuals and societies.  He believed we could be transformed into psychologically whole and spiritually enlightened beings without denying our instinctual roots. And he knew that when the defense mechanism of sublimation remains unconscious, it is an obstacle to an individual’s fullest and healthiest development. Individuation only becomes possible when our egos consciously acknowledge our instincts and choose to channel them in harmless and healing ways.  To remain unconscious of them leaves them free to attain toxic extremes.

An ego which denies its entanglement in the roots of the physical body and unconscious psyche can become  dangerously inflated, capable of doing unspeakable things while believing itself to be virtuous. One can’t help but wonder what hidden evils the Spanish Inquisition‘s zealous Tomás de Torquemada was striving to deny when he had around 3,000 people tortured and executed for heresy against the Catholic Church.

The same might be asked of more contemporary political leaders like Stalin, who it is widely agreed was responsible for millions of deaths;  Hitler, who was responsible for the genocide of at least 5.5 million Jews and millions of other victims whom he and his followers deemed socially undesirable Untermenschen (“sub-humans”);  Cambodia’s  Pol Pot whose policies were responsible for from 1.7 to 2.5 million out of a 1975 population of roughly 8 million; and Saddam Hussein whose security services killed an estimated 250,000.

If we don’t start taking the human psyche far more seriously, countries including our own will continue to enable toxic, minimally conscious egos to acquire positions of far-reaching power. We can change that by learning to recognize three signs of an ego that is growing into health and consciousness:

  1. It explores its unconscious roots with an ongoing self-reflective practice;

  2. It recognizes and reins in its defense mechanisms, including projection and sublimation; and

  3. It acknowledges its shadow without allowing it to control its thoughts, words and actions.

Meanwhile, we might ask ourselves, “Does anyone in the next election show signs of an unhealthy ego?”

Image Credits:  My thanks to Lewis Lafontaine for sharing the Jungian quotes and images on his Facebook Jung site. 

Jean’s newest book, Healing the Sacred Divide, can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are also at Amazon as well as KoboBarnes And Noble, and Smashwords.

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0 Responses

  1. I don’t know how you manage to pack so much into such a brief article, Jean. There seems to be some connection with the pygmalion myth in the John Ruskin story too.
    I especially appreciated the very clear explanation of sublimation.

    1. Thank you, Gloria. I appreciate your affirming words. Oh, yes, Pygmalion. I hadn’t thought of that but it’s another great example of sublimation at its height….an archetypal theme if ever there was one. Thanks for reminding us of that! Blessings, Jeanie

    1. Hi Richard. I’m glad you liked this one. Actually, I haven’t read that book. So I just ordered it with the Amazon gift card my daughter gave me for my birthday! Thanks so much for the recommendation!

  2. Similarly to the previous commenter, I also immensely appreciated your writing today, Jeanie. Starting with a sublime and piercing quote from Jung and adding some delightful sarcasm into the mix! To be “absolutely human” with no reservations: I could not agree more!
    Lots of love

    1. Many thanks, Monika. I couldn’t resist sharing that story. It provided the perfect image to go along with that “sublime” quote! And, of course, I had to take that parting shot too. It was just too apropos to resist given the current political atmosphere in the U.S. Our collective thinking is in such desperate need of more psychological awareness…. Lots of love to you too. I so enjoy your brilliant blog! Jeanie

  3. Thanks Jeanie, these are such important considerations. We see very clearly how out of control egos cause such harm and how we get caught up in the mass hysteria of it all. As you say so succinctly: ‘To remain unconscious of them leaves them free to attain toxic extremes’. Consciousness allows choice to be made without hidden (to ourselves) agendas.
    And thank you to Richard for providing the Edinger film which I will watch as soon as I can. I also want to find your last Tuesday’s post for which I was away.

    1. Thank you, and welcome back to ‘civilization’ (such as it is), Susan! I trust your journey through the wilderness was fiercely fun and wildly fulfilling. To immerse oneself in Nature at her rawest and most primal certainly provides us with a fresh and humbling lens through which to view ourselves, doesn’t it? I can see many fascinating new blog posts coming out of this. Love, Jeanie

  4. I love this well-written post. I can relate in so many ways. My husband has an Extreme Type A personality and he has so many weird ideas about the world and how life should be. I’m assuming his mindset is ingrained from his family.

    1. Hi,Gwynn. I guess we all have many ideas about how life should be….probably based both on our early training and on our unique personality. Some of my husband’s seem weird to me too. But then, the reverse is also true! 🙂 I think the best we can do is try to “see” our own mindset from an objective perspective: i.e., try to see how and when we employ it in our relationships with others, evaluate the positive and/or negative aspects of its impact, then make choices about what changes we want to make. That’s a lot to ask of anyone…especially probably Type A’s. It’s far easier for people like me. Naturally, I think everyone should be like me!! (Just kidding. That would be terrible.) 🙂 Thanks for writing. Jeanie

  5. Thank you for this post, Jeanie, particularly the three statements about healthy ego. I had a few ego-challenging experiences with my brother’s death. I wanted the stream of friends and colleagues who came to his hospital room to recognize they were in sacred space. As my brother entered the last hours of dying, I wanted to ask them to quiet down and go outside to chat. It was not my place to do that, so I held back and focused on quieting my own noisy ego. I could help his family get through the day by being willing to stay in death’s pressure cooker when others took breaks. I touched his hand or foot and inwardly said the mantra the Dalai Lama suggested for the dying. Waiting was needed when my ego wanted to act and fix.

    1. Well done, Elaine. I know. Sometimes it’s a constant struggle to tame our egos when they put up such a fuss, especially in such stressful situations. I suspect that simply staying present in times like this is the best thing we can do: just tolerating the tension. Exhausting, but worth it. Sending love and blessings, Jeanie

  6. Dear Jeanie, Thank you so much for sharing more of your deep wisdom and amazing insights in this wonderful article. I’m with Gloria, wow! You sure know how to pack a lot in. I for one, find myself drawn to each of your three signs of a healthy ego and feel I could write a book (or a poem at the very least) on each one! Loved the Ruskin story, never heard that one before.
    With ‘ongoing self-reflective practice’ … hmm, now sometimes I worry about this one because I seem to spend every minute of my waking days thinking about it … even while I’m resting in nature, there I will go, deep into my unconscious, and roam around a little, searching in that pregnant darkness for more en(light)enment.
    Even as I wake up in the morning, my first thoughts go not to my external life at all, but straight to my internal dreams. I never seem to have a day off, most especially on days when I’m busy projecting my shadow. Ha-ha! I’m like ‘great, another day of shadow’ the same way others experience groundhog days. Still, wouldn’t miss it for the world, Love and blessings, Deborah.

    1. Hi Deborah, You’ve pretty much described the way my mind works too. I read your comment yesterday but was unable to get to it until now. Meanwhile, I came across this quote from Carl Jung this morning that pretty much describes this kind of on-going self-reflective practice from a religious perspective:
      “The inner man has access to the sense organs of God.God has a longing for man and it seems there is provision for God to be created in man’s consciousness. Consciousness is the cradle of the birth of God in man.
      A religious life presupposes a conscious connection of the inner and outer worlds and it requires a constant, meticulous attention to all circumstances to the best of our knowledge and our conscience.
      We must watch what the gods ordain for us in the outer world, but as well as waiting for developments in the outer world we must listen to the inner world; both worlds are expressions of God.” ~Carl Jung, Ostroski-Sachs, Pages 38-43.
      This “constant, meticulous attention to all circumstances to the best of our knowledge and our conscience,” is what I think we’re both talking about. While it is the path to consciousness, every individual always creates his/her own obstacles: for example, I have a tendency to become overly critical of myself and intolerant of external situations that miss the mark of my extreme perfectionism. Then I have to see, tame, and forgive my shadow so I can return to the present moment, which contains the serenity I seek.
      It’s a juggling act, for sure, but like you, I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Love and blessings to you too, my sister, Jeanie

  7. Unfortunately it occurs to me that many people are fascinated nowadays by precisely the lack of the healthy ego you describe. People prefer Don Quixote to Hamlet, or a professional wrestler to someone burdened by experience and self-awareness. Are there any aspects of a healthy ego that work precisely against one’s chances of being elected nowadays?

    1. Hi Salamander, Great question! I’m chuckling as I write this because the image of Jimmy Carter immediately came to mind.
      When he replied to a reporter’s question that he had felt lust in his heart, he became a laughingstock to many people. Simply for telling the truth. This was possibly the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back” and prevented him from being elected.
      Here was a compassionate man of deep character who worked for human rights and many other humanitarian issues, and the general public simply did not have enough appreciation for him. It’s sad to say, but at present, acknowledging one’s shadow is still probably the kiss of death for any politician.
      Thank you for writing, Jeanie

  8. You have a way with words you know! That’s such a great reply Jeanie, thank you so much for unravelling ‘self-reflective practice’ even further. Love Jung’s quote, that’s a new one on me. Great! 🙂

    1. Thanks Deborah. I do love words. Perhaps as much as you! I saw the quote just this morning on Lewis Lafontaine’s Facebook site, Carl Jung Depth Psychology. I have to give him credit; what he’s doing on Facebook is a gift to the world, an example of the highest and best use of social media.

  9. Great article Jeanie. And of course Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia led to the recruitment of thousands of soldiers to Pol Pot’s cause even further devolving the madness of the Vietnam War with its atrocities, and its attack on nature itself (Agent Orange). I wonder if these weapons are an attempt to obliterate our own physicality. Destroying the hair of the earth.

    1. “Destroying the hair of the earth. Yes. I suspect that at a deeply unconscious level, your suspicion has merit! Extreme left-brained reason and idealism lead to extreme counter measures. The obsessively religious see physical temptations as demonic and long for disembodied spirit. Martyrdom and slaughter of dissidents and ‘enemies’ of the church or state are the result. Some minimally self-aware, power hungry and irrational egos (including Nixon’s) will do anything to escape their fear of death, including getting “high” on killing every form of life.

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