Self-Awareness: How Does Your Ego Grow?



“The animals follow the natural law only….With man things are very different.  He is not at one with himself.  He is subject to two laws that do not by any means always coincide. Consequently he is inwardly divided.”  Esther Harding, Psychic Energy, p. 202.

By around the age of three, most children’s egos are strong and consolidated enough to think of themselves as separate individuals. This is when memory begins.  We do not leave Epoch I behind at this point but we do begin to adjust our responses to our instinctual needs according to the demands of our environments.

Thus we grow into a more mature form of self-awareness I call Epoch II Ego Consciousness. During this time we gradually lose our allegiance to the natural law as we obey the human law to prove ourselves and become responsible members of our families, groups, and society.

Most of us experience spurts of increased self-awareness during the normal developmental stages; for example, adolescence when we begin to assert our independence, young adulthood with its task of finding meaningful work, marrying and parenting.

During these critical junctures we acquire new needs and desires which challenge the status quo. Conflicts between what was and what is coming into being strengthen our egos to a certain extent, and many people lead happy, productive lives without looking very deeply into their unconscious selves. Or we may not be happy at all, yet do not seek help or change in any meaningful way because lethargy, habit, pride, and fear of the unknown prevent us from stepping too far out of our familiar comfort zones.

Moreover, we may grow in some areas of our lives, yet maintain one-sided, either/or attitudes in others.  We might continue to open to new insights and ways of thinking in our work and relationships, yet we might think, “I know my religion is correct. To question its beliefs is dangerous,” while ignoring secret doubts. Or we automatically agree with our political party and assume the other is wrong without weighing the issues. Or we avidly uphold unjust laws that violate human rights while fighting the enactment of new ones that would right these wrongs.

Certain qualities are common in Epoch II.  Among them are

  • dualistic thinking and with it, a sense of being separate from others;

  • a primary emphasis on self-preservation and need-satisfaction, that is, self-centeredness and selfishness; ‘the will to develop our individuality;’

  • an outer-referential focus on society and its rules and conventions;

  • resistance to and bias against otherness, including other people, other ways of thinking, other belief systems, and the unknown or disowned otherness of our own psyches, i.e. our unconscious selves;

  • anxiety about our self-worth;

  • conflict between our longing to lapse back into the unconscious maternal matrix and the pressing need to prove ourselves.

bbbMasculine Values. A primary feature of Epoch II is the ego’s preference for masculine values which gradually supplant our Epoch I condition of pure enjoyment in the Mother’s paradise of dependency and the innocent pleasures of simply being. During Epoch II the healthy ego of either gender flexes its wings, struts around the nest, and begins to assert its will power, independence, self-discipline, competition, achievement and ambition.

Repression. Developing these qualities has advanced civilization in many valuable ways. But because of our dualistic thinking it has also had some nasty repercussions. This is because of repression, a second major feature of Epoch II self-awareness. If “the way I (my ego) am” is the good, right way, then I will develop bias, prejudice, suspicion, hostility, fear, and aggression toward anything that conflicts with the ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’ of my self-image.

Shadow. The third major feature of Epoch II Ego Consciousness is the development of a shadow. This unconscious complement to the ego is composed of everything we don’t know or like about ourselves. As long as we refuse to acknowledge these disowned aspects of our psyches they influence our attitudes and behavior without our awareness. Becoming conscious of our personal and collective shadow is one of the most critical and potentially life-enhancing challenges we face today.

The majority of Epoch II egos restrain their shadows and repressive tendencies without causing undue damage or harm. But some obsess over the “masculine” qualities so highly prized during this phase that they become inordinately repressive to “feminine” otherness, both figuratively and literally. Unwilling to consider opposing points of view or budge from entrenched polarized positions these egos become so self-righteous and closed-minded that they gravitate, like the Sky God onto which they project these qualities, toward agitation, divisiveness, domination and war.

“Egos like this might be strong enough to keep growing, and often are well-intentioned.  But as long as they put their consciousness in service to repression, and as long as they cling to their position as the sole “deity” within the psyche, they will not recognize their imbalances. The most powerful and repressive of these Epoch II egos are the major culprits in the dangerous dramas playing out on the world stage today.  In their psychological ignorance, many of them fervently believe they are God-centered; but in truth, they are firmly entrenched in Epoch II egocentricity.”  J.B. Raffa, Healing the Sacred Divide, p. 44.

In empowering our ego and masculine qualities we are obeying the evolutionary imperative to see and use all of our human potential. But if we stop there, vast amounts of our psychological inheritance, including our instincts and many aspects of our feminine sides, remain buried in a dark, pre-conscious reservoir.

This effects every aspect of our lives, especially our relationships and spirituality. In the West and Middle East our separation from the human mother is accompanied by a rejection of the archetypal Great Mother. Fortunately, this doesn’t destroy her.

Why?  Because the Sacred Feminine is an archetypal reality in the psyche and the ego has no control over it. If this were not true, humanity would never have projected her onto ancient Goddesses and she would not be re-entering our awareness today.

UnknownNext time I’ll have more to say about this repressed archetype and how our acceptance of her has the potential to heal the divisive schisms threatening our world today.

Image Credits:  Elephant Quote:  Depth Psychology Alliance.  Jung Quotes:  Courtesy of Lewis Lafontaine.  

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. Thank you Jeanie, so beautifully expressed, emphasising the necessity of going forward (even if it means going backwards), embracing all that one’s psyche has to offer and, especially, exploring the other lesser known side/s that have been repressed into the unconscious .. And also, I suppose, our ‘good’ parts of ourselves which are sometimes not acknowledged by our own selves – such a treasure house to be mined by us if/when we take the time care, and attention – and a dose of courage in hand –
    It is so imperative that we each as individuals do the work – you provide such a great service here Jeanie. I really hope zillions of people read this thread (obviously all the others too!) and are heartily encouraged to look a little deeper into their psyches – more than ever, we each individually need to bridge our own inner divides, for ourselves and for the world.
    I love all your quotes – they say it like it is. Your excerpt from your book is also excellent and tells it like it is.
    Thank you again 🙂

    1. Thank you, Susan. You’ve hit the mark with your emphasis on the critical factor of individuals doing the work. Whether or not we will continue to grow into consciousness all comes down to that.
      But we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves if we can’t bring ourselves to look too deeply within. No ego has ever gone willingly into the dark unconscious! Even if we want to we just can’t. It’s too intimidating. We have to be forced to by outer circumstances, some kind of crisis or wounding beyond our ego’s control that crumbles our defenses.
      Maybe from a cosmic point of view that’s the underlying answer to the question of why bad things happen to good people. A universal law. Grace in disguise. Maybe that’s why the world is in such crisis today. Because crisis is the only thing that will force humanity to change. Much to ponder….
      I appreciate your kind comments.

  2. I recognized so much of this in my life. Thank you. With Susan, I’ll agree that you help us, your readers, “do the work” and also share juicy important quotes. So, my examples: The near worship of masculine values which my mother passed along. The repression of my own needs learned in a household with one dying parent and the other one a nervous wreck. Development of a shadow that included buckets of negativity toward my feminine self.
    I’m grateful that the Divine Feminine waited for me even when I didn’t know Her name or that She was a needed presence in my life. And I’m thankful for the early Jungian women writers like Ester Harding, Marie Louise von Franz, and especially Irene Claremont de Castillejo whose book ‘Knowing Woman’ I still have on my shelf. Two copies. In the 1970s when the animus received such bad reviews from most Jungians, she showed me the power and necessity of a positive animus.

    1. Dear Elaine,
      Thank you for the rich associations you’ve added to this post with your personal examples. I know many women will relate to them.
      Like you, I’m thankful for the women who came before us and began filling in pieces of the puzzle about the issues women are still struggling with. They were, and still are, giants in my mind…..courageous pioneers who pushed out of the molds they were forced into and showed the rest of us how to do it. Their mentorship has made a huge difference in my life, as I know it has in yours.

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