“Obviously we do not know how the ego arose in man. We have certain myths showing how ancient man thought about this problem, and we can observe the phenomenon in very young children today. Just as the individual child must undergo training and discipline, so too the primitive nature of man had to be housebroken and domesticated, restrained and adapted, if he was to advance in culture and in ability to control his environment.” M. Esther Harding, Psychic Energy, p. 197.
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 the first phase of our lives behind at this point, but we do begin to adjust our responses to our instinctual needs according to the demands of our environments and the development of our ego awareness. Recognizing our psychological separateness from Mother and our capacity for independent action doesn’t always result in mature behavior, but it does make it possible for us to evolve into the more mature form of self-awareness I call Epoch II.
Our egos have several spurts of increased self-awareness during Epoch II. Many of these awakening are associated with developmental stages such as adolescence, young adulthood, and mid-life. At these critical junctures we confront new life challenges which make us more aware of previously unknown needs and desires. The resulting inner conflicts help us see outdated reactions and assumptions, reflect on who we are and how we really want to live our lives, and make new choices. At such times, most people gain valuable self-knowledge that furthers their inner growth; but fear and habit can hold us back, and we can get stuck at any time along the way. If this happens, our consciousness and religious thinking stop expanding even though our bodies and social behaviors continue to age and change.
Hence, an Epoch II ego can be strong or weak, healthy or unhealthy, helpful or harmful, mature or immature, intelligent or ignorant, open or closed, caring or uncaring, static or growing. Some hunger for Spirit; some are not interested. Some fear the inner world, some can’t get enough to it. The possibilities are endless.
The Masculine orientation of the Epoch II Ego
A primary feature of Epoch II is the ego’s preference for masculine values. If Epoch I is Mother’s realm, Epoch II belongs to father. It begins as a time of conflict, when “The father emerges both as a model of the independence the child desires and as a rival for the intimacy the child desires.” (Michael Washburn, Transpersonal Psychology in Psychoanalytic Perspective, p. 69.) Whether or not a personal father or other adequate male is available, children will try to satisfy their growing need to adopt masculine values by transferring their allegiance to teachers, peer groups, teams, nations, religions or causes.
The new conflicts we experience in adolescence elicit an intense need to further develop our individuality. Although the genders can experience this growing-self-awareness differently, especially in patriarchal households, the gap is narrower than we might think. During this time every healthy ego flexes its wings, struts around the nest, and calls forth “masculine” values such as will power, independence, self-initiative, self-discipline, competition, achievement, and ambition to gain favor in Father’s world.
Dualism and the Epoch II Ego
With ego consciousness, everything becomes about us. Things no longer just exist; they exist for us! They are good or bad for me! All things which were once one, are now split in two. Dualism arises naturally as we separate from Mother’s realm and begin to differentiate ourselves. We sort things into pairs of clearly defined opposites of good or bad, and usually identify with the good and repress the bad.
The dark side of dualistic thinking is bias, prejudice, suspicion, hostility, fear, aggression and repression. Some people obsess over the “masculine” qualities so highly prized during this phase that they become inordinately repressive to “feminine” otherness. Unwilling to consider opposing points of view or budge from entrenched polarized positions, they can 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. 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.
The proof of the Epoch II ego’s extreme need to preserve, indeed, to glorify its self-image whatever the cost is willingness to kill and die for the God it creates in its own image. The Epoch II God is just like us. It is oriented toward masculinity, thinks dualistically, has the same beliefs about good and evil as we do, prefers our particular tribe, and represses otherness to the point that it is sometimes compelled to destroy whatever opposes our values and ideals. With an ego like this worshiping a God like that, is it any wonder most of us find it so incredibly difficult to open to the unknown otherness in our unconscious and the world?
What dualisms defined the God-image of your church and family? What did they teach you about the differences between the God-images of your religion and others? Has your God-image changed over time? If so, how? What made it change?
Read more about your spiritual journey in Healing the Sacred Divide. This copyrighted material is from pp. 39-45.
Image Credits: The Angry God of the Old Testament. Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel
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Thanks Jeanie, so well encapsulated and affirming to me as I see similarly the narrowness of thinking and feeling among so many known personally and otherwise. But if this has been our orientation from the time of Descartes onwards and earlier, it is a hard habit to break. How will the pattern be broken I wonder … when will we take responsibility for our individual actions. We do each have an aggressive streak and aggression need not be a bad thing if it furthers our way in the world, but when its purpose is othering and repression of all that is good and true, then the future continues bleak –
My mother was very much a feeling person, my father a thinking person. I viewed both from my own lens favouring my father’s way of being until the day came when I realised how trapped I was and didn’t want to be like him anymore. Or rather, to be so cramped in my thinking at the expense of my feeling. Something like that 🙂
As our default move, dualistic thinking is most definitely a very hard habit to break, and individual change is very slow, let alone group or global change. The only way the pattern will ever be broken is one-by-one, as each individual awakens to their own dualistic thinking and chooses to find a third way: a form of mega-thinking that sees the big picture that’s not either/or, but both AND. A way that allows us to choose either side as appropriate according to each situation, as long as the motivation is to choose a third loving, healing solution to conflict without disowning or alienating either side.
This is the Third Force way of thinking I write about in The Soul’s Twins. It comes naturally with increased self-awareness and consciousness. It’s the kind of thinking of people like Nelson Mandela and Gandi, and lots of ordinary people whose morality has evolved beyond law and order and human rights to caring and love. When getting one’s way is the goal, one never attains that level of thinking and decision-making. Naturally, it’s difficult and rare. Most people resist it. It’s so much easier to have a clear, inviolable ethic like “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” “You hurt me, I hurt you.” But history proves over and over again that peace never comes that way.
The future does look bleak, but I’m not giving up on it. Gandhi and Mandela are examples of the kind of difference one individual can make, and each of us can make a difference in our own realms of influence. But ignorance, pride, and greed will always be with us.
Your example of realizing how trapped you were is perfect! It was increased consciousness and the need to open to otherness and be your own person that freed you from one-sided ego-dominated thinking.
Thank you for writing.
PS I’ve JUST found this quote by Jung on a FB notice “I wouldn’t call the ego a creation of mind or consciousness, since, as we know, little children talk of themselves first in the third person and begin to say ‘I’ only when they have found their ego.
The ego, therefore, is rather a find or an experience and not a creation”.
Very cool quote. I like to make the analogy of Epoch II ego-centered thinking as being firmly entrenched in our brain’s left-hemisphere of rational logos thinking. We live in a right-hemisphere mode of feeling and sensing and dreaming and imagination and being taken care of during the first couple of years of life, and gradually “find” the left-hemisphere ego.
Unfortunately, we are usually taught to develop this side of ourselves and to neglect or outright reject the other, as if the qualities of one half of our brain are unnecessary and undesirable!! It’s really absurd when you think about it. The pressures of society practically force us to conform to such a narrow view of ourselves and our lives when we have this natural endowment of extraordinary richness and wealth within our unconscious selves and don’t even know it. Nobody tells us that when we’re children. I guess because most people aren’t aware of it. No wonder we find it so difficult to become individuated and conscious. Everything in our social environment discourages it.
Thank goodness Carl Jung came along and started challenging our ignorance!!
As plentiful and wise as ever, dear Jeane. I always wondered why I could remember many scenes from my father with my mother. I might have mentioned before that I lost my father when I was seven years old. I see now that my ego was aware somehow. Thank you! Always yours.
Yes, the ego is already self-aware at 7, even though it doesn’t really understand the finality of death and all the trauma it brings to everyone involved. By the time my father died he had divorced my mother and remarried. I cried about that, but I didn’t cry when I heard the news of his death. I guess I was just copying my mother, who didn’t cry either. The social learning we acquire from our parents and the way they handle trauma influences the rest of our lives whether we realize it or not. Often we don’t. Thank you for writing, Aladin. Yours, Jeanie