Ego: What Is It & Why Should I Care?

“Kill the ego! It’s a monster!”

I’ve heard this a lot over the years, but is the ego a monster that needs killed?

What exactly is the ego?

Why should we care?

Let’s dive into the world of ego a bit today, because when you come to understand the concept and structure of the ego, and the importance of its function, you’ll be able to confront what may need confronted, heal what is seeking to be healed, and love what’s asking for love.

Ego Definition

I’m coming from Freud and Carl Jung’s model of the ego.

Your ego is a construct of your sense of “self” or identity.  A sense of your esteem or importance.

  • It is a part of your personality that separates itself from the external world.
  • The part of “me” that is separate from “you”.
  • The self-conscious part that as a biological entity is consumed with our safety and survival as humans.
  • The “I” you think you are.
  • It’s the “executor” of your personality.

The ego operates from a conscious and deep subconscious level.

Think of it like an iceberg.  The tip of that iceberg is like the conscious part of the ego and the large part of the iceberg that is submerged under water is the subconscious part of the ego, or what Jung called “The Shadow”.

shadow work journal - moving beyond codependency

From the time you were born, your ego construct has been forming, and it largely consists of:

  • Memories
  • Stories
  • Emotions
  • Beliefs
  • Your name
  • Attitudes
  • More

For the sake of simplicity, let’s start from the beginning.

{Side note: Freud coined the term “ego”, referring to the “understanding of self”.}

Note that you came here on this planet as spirit (or consciousness).

Pure innocent spirit housed in a bodysuit.

As a baby with a brain that’s job is to sift, sort, and process information, your spirit simply lounged enjoying peace about while your brain  started forming…

You guessed it…

And EGO!

Some call this a “false persona” or personality. It’s you, but it’s not technically the “real” you. (which is spirit)

So, we come on this planet as a spirit, or consciousness, and we form an ego largely from things we learn from our parents, society, and experiences.

In other words, we start understanding that we are separate from Mom and Dad. And, we are separate from our “true essence” as spiritual being.

This is known as “duality”, or a “state of separation”.

We feel separate and form an ego.

Because we feel separate, we feel insecure.  On a biological level, we’re wired for survival. Our brain and nervous system are wired for survival and has various survival mechanisms to help us survive. (Like fight, flight, or freeze when we feel threatened)

If we are able to form a “secure” attachments are with our primary caregivers, we will form a more “balanced” ego state of mind. The less we will “split” off or fragment from our true selves as spirit.

If we are not able to form “secure” attachments to one or more of our primary caregivers, we will form a less “balanced” ego state of mind.

And that will come back to cause us some suffering as an adult.

{ For more information on Attachment Styles and why they are important, read

Attachment Styles: How Do You Attach To Others? }

And this is why shadow work is important.

shadow work journal

But before we talk shop on shadow work, let’s explore the ego further.

Let’s look at an example.

Billy is two year’s old. He trips and falls in the living room and hurts himself. He starts crying and looks around for his mom or dad. He’s hurt and looking for support. He cries for 30 seconds and no one comes. His nervous system is starting to get frazzled now. He’s scared. He wonders why no one is coming.

He gets up and wanders the house and can’t find anyone. He is now in panic mode. He starts running through the house, still screaming.

Finally, after about two minutes, he throws himself down on the floor and stops crying.

Exhausted, he sits there and whimpers.

It’s not that he’s better, because he is still terrified and feels helpless.

It’s just that his nervous system has shut down, immobilized as a trauma response. For his “survival”, it simply shuts down and he doesn’t necessarily “feel” the overwhelming emotions anymore. There has been a disconnect in his mind/body. (Think “going offline”)

His mom finally walks in the front door and immediately starts yelling at him.

“What were you crying about you big baby! I’m right here!”

He stiffens his upper lip. While he is relieved to see his mother, he already knows that she dislikes it when he cries. She and his father tend to fuss him when he whines or cries.

He turns away from her, gets up, and goes off to play.

Now, what happened when all this was going down?

Billy’s ego construct (and shadow part) was being formed.

Not able to “secure” soothing from his parents when he was hurt and feeling afraid, he disconnected from the painful emotions of feeling abandoned and helpless.

Well, his nervous system did this for him as a survival instinct.

His ego did this as a coping mechanism, repressing the negative emotions, tucking them into his “shadow side” so he can emotionally survive the terrifying moments.

Our bodies are so wise.

This type of response isn’t foreign to him, as his parents haven’t been that emotionally present for him since his birth. They’re drowning in their own inner pain.

Billy will continue to form an ego, and along with that ego, he will form a “shadow side”.

That Shadow Self will be full of all the emotions, experiences, pain, trauma, etc. that Billie repressed, rejected, split off, fragmented, etc.

  • The pain of feeling abandoned.
  • The pain of not being seen or heard.
  • The anger that he felt being neglected by people that supposedly loved him.
  • Feeling trapped in an unsafe environment.
  • And more.

shadow work

The Ego Is Not Bad

Now, before you go on to think the ego is bad, let me assure you that it is NOT.

The ego is a construct; a survival mechanism that is designed to protect us as we navigate this life on planet Earth.

The ego is not real, so-to-speak.

This is why many people on the spiritual path call it an illusion.

However, illusion or not, if you don’t take the time to do some inquiring into what your ego and shadow side holds, you’re at risk of letting the subconscious shadows rule your life.

And I can attest to the fact that letting the unconscious ego or shadow side run your life can cause a lot of inner pain.

It can also cause quite a bit of collective pain.

I Am Not My Ego

While I may not literally be my ego or the shadow side of the ego, left unchecked, it can run the show.  This is one reason I’m an advocate of doing shadow work, emotional healing work, etc.

Those parts of you that you’ve split off and socked away into the “shadow bag” don’t just disappear. Those negative emotions that you stuffed, rejected, and repressed are energies that are now stored in your psyche and your body.

The more stored trauma or painful memories?

The more inner pain (and even physical pain) you will feel.

How To Love Your Ego & Heal The Shadow Side

I don’t want to get into much on the spiritual aspect of this here, but ultimately, dealing with the ego/shadow side is part of the spiritual journey.

Regardless of what religion or spiritual path you follow, it’s likely your goal is to struggle less with inner pain and experience more peace, joy, and love.

You want to be able to better answer the questions,

  • “Who am I?”
  • “Why am I here?”

Taking a season of your life to slow down and journey within is a wonderful way to start answering those questions.

You don’t have to understand all the ins and outs of “ego” or the “shadow side” to heal and evolve into a more spiritual being that experiences more peace and joy.

But it does take effort, dedication, and the willingness to open, or surrender to the “inner healing work” process.

Doing The Inner Healing Work

I spent many years struggling with anxiety, depression, grief, and fear.  But I also committed to “doing the inner healing work” consistently. (And still doing it)

Shadow work was very helpful for me in starting to go within and do some exploring into my childhood.  I began recognizing what some of my triggers were (unhealed wounds). I also realized how often I projected my own shadows onto others. (Which is not fair to anyone)

  • Do you want to discover better who you REALLY are?
  • Do you want to heal childhood or adulthood wounds?
  • Experience more peace, joy, and love?

Commit to the emotional and spiritual growth journey.

Learn more about the ego and shadow side of the ego. Be able to recognize your masks.

Your wounds when triggered.

I can’t help but think of monks when I think about the ego. They spend many years in mindfulness and meditation to “dissolve” the ego. To “transcend” the ego.

This helps them feel more of a sense of oneness with all – and with God (whatever term you use for God).

To feel more love for God, self, and humanity.

And, this can be our goal as well.

Find techniques and tools that work for you, and use them consistently. Each person’s path toward healing or “waking up” to who they truly are is unique. May we all stop pointing fingers when others are walking a path that is different from our own.  Let them navigate their path and you navigate yours – with love and acceptance.

Here are some things that have helped me and many others on the path:

  • Mindfulness
  • Meditation
  • Shadow Work
  • Inner Child Work
  • Trauma therapy
  • Counseling (there are many types of counselors)
  • Body-based modalities in general (Google if you’re not sure what this is)
  • Breathwork
  • Somatic Experiencing
  • Music Therapy

You may have already started doing your inner healing work. If so, that’s wonderful. It’s a lifelong journey, so my advice is to embrace it and do your best to enjoy the journey.

Lastly, I want to say that if you have experienced trauma (childhood or adult), I think there is a lot of value in adding professional help with your self-directed healing journey. Seek someone that specializes in trauma therapy (those with an emphasis on Somatic Experiencing or Body-Work I have found to be so helpful. They go beyond “talk therapy”)

May you continue to re-discover who you truly are along your life journey, healing what needs healed, releasing what needs released, and embracing what wants to be embraced.

Rediscover your Sacredness.

shadow work journal

 

 

 

 

 

Dominica Applegate
Written by: Dominica Applegate

Dominica Applegate is an author, writer, and transpersonal spiritual teacher. Her teachings have helped millions of people experience emotional healing, relationship repair, and spiritual awakening. Earning her BA in Psychology and MA in Counseling, she worked 12 years in the mental health field before diving full-time into writing.

She runs Rediscovering Sacredness, an online portal that offers inspiration, essays, resources, and tools to help heal inner pain and experience more peace and joy.

Her books include:

Into The Wild Shadow Work Journal
Healing After a Breakup: A 50 Day Devotional & Guided Inner Work Journal
Goodbye Codependency: A 40-Day Devotional to Boost Self-Care
The Pain, It Shapes Her World {Poetry}