February 10, 2007



A man and his female friend are eating at a restaurant when all of a sudden the friend says she needs to excuse herself to use the public restroom. The man's response is, "Mention my name and you'll get a good seat!" It may be a funny line, but what is the underlying meaning to that response? Is the man attempting to impress his lady friend? Is the remark a declaration of personal importance? There is a part of us that enjoys being recognized and validated. It is called our "ego."

Our ego is part of our identity, image, or conscious self. It develops through contact with the external world. This mental entity we call our ego has many roles. It helps us to cope and resolve conflicts. It helps us give meaning to the outside world. Some people say that our ego defines our personality. Our ego likes to feel powerful. It thinks, feels and acts for itself, based on what we have experienced and learned throughout our life. It distinguishes itself from others and has a unique way of perceiving the world.

It is our ego that either acknowledges the need for help when we are in trouble or rejects other people's invitations to help us. For example, when someone has a problem with alcohol consumption (poor health, numerous DUIL's, unmanageable conflicts at work or with relationships), it is our ego that may interfere with the need to ask for help. Sometimes our ego needs to be humbled and we need to admit that we are powerless over a set of circumstances. We then need to ask for help. Our ego may not accept this fact. Getting help means to believe in something greater than our own ego so we can regain a functional balance in our life. "Let go and let God!" Sometimes counseling can help as well if our ego is ready to accept the need for professional objectivity.

Sigmund Freud, the grandfather of psychoanalysis, rates the "ego" between the "id" and the "superego."

The "id" is the reservoir of our primitive impulses (fantasies/wishes of a sexual or aggressive nature). It is like the basement to our home. Some people like to spend too much time in their basement and consequently live most of life in a fantasy world. Inappropriately acting-out these primitive impulses could be dangerous. Our ego helps to mediate between our primitive self and the outside world by warding-off dangerous "id" wishes so we can be safe.

The "superego" is our conscience, what some say separates us from the animal kingdom. It is like the attic to our home. Yes, there are some people who never visit their attic. These people have personality disorders and are called "anti-social."

Our "ego" is like the main floor (living quarters) to our home. We spend most of our time here because it represents times when we are conscious and in contact with the outside world.

The "observing ego" is an interesting concept. One of my goals as a counselor, as I work with clients, is to help people become aware of their "observing ego", which helps us develop a sense of objectivity to our problems. The ability to view ourselves objectively helps us to solve our problems because our self-perception changes. The "observing ego" helps us to look at ourselves more rationally. One example: It is our "observing ego" that would allow us to step outside of ourselves while being teased and tormented by a bully. We are more rational as we emotionally distance ourselves from the source of the conflict. We can then raise a mental shield and say to the bully that their problems are not our problems. It is the mental shield that stops the bully's problems from interfering with our peace of mind.

"Ego" is Latin for "I." It controls our actions, seeks compromise between the "id" impulses, social and parental prohibitions and the pressures of reality. Our "ego" can be a healthy self-awareness that advances our own interests or it can be used to inflate a sense of our own importance.

There is a balance between using our ego to maintain control over our behavior, given societal norms, and being so preoccupied with ourselves that we lack concern for others. There lies the difference between ego strengths and ego frailties.

Written by,
Mark S. Rogers, LPC.
Licensed Professional Counselor.

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