It is constantly being borne in upon me that we have made far too little use for our theory of the indubitable fact that the repressed remains unaltered -by the passage of time. This seems to offer us the possibility of an approach to some really profound truths. But I myself have made no further progress here. Sigmund Freud (excerpt from the Anatomy of a Mental personality)
The really more profound truths truths that Freud is alluding to may be truths that belong to the realm of philosophy more that to the realm of psychology proper. Also spiritual and creative factors may well not have been taken into consideration due to the scientific climate of the day that remains with us even in the beginning of the 21st century.
By the simple fact that we are a civilized society, we humans have to put a clamp on many of our animal-like instinctive behaviors. Otherwise we might be prone to act more like dogs in a dog park. The animal instincts are sexual and aggressive in as much as we are programmed to safe guard both the survival of our organism and the survival of the human specie. Consequences of putting our instincts aside in order to be civilized is that we repress to a portion of our mind that we call the stored consciousness or the unconscious. The material that is repressed has a tendency to return to consciousness either in its original form or as a form of acting-out. When our early egoic mind was being formed some wounding might have occurred. In those cases when we regress we regress to a pre-verbal, narcissistic stage where we had no command of language…
Repressing something to the unconscious requires the use of a lot of psychic energy. Psychic energy must be examined in terms of economy. We have only a certain quantity of energy and the more of it that we use to keep something repressed the less energy we have to run our lives in the manner that is creative or spiritual.
When we speak of the return of the repressed we are talking about a function of the ego. It is the ego that decides what material will be repressed and it is a function of the ego that allows repressed material to come back into consciousness. Even if the repressed re enters as a dream, the ego will have to have cooperated with opening the pathways to let the material re-enter.
This short chapter on the return of the repressed is inserted here as a reminder that there is an extremely important function that the ego serves in our development and in our maintaining of status-quo in our adult lives. The ego appears to be a word that has become highly dependent on its context. In the hands of new age psychology it is almost an enemy of the people, in ego psychology and object relations it is the seat of executive function in the psychic apparatus and to drive theorist the ego is a mediating force between conscious and unconscious as well as between the internal world and the external reality that most of us know as what life appears to be.
The tripartite brain–the triune brain is the structure that most of psychology uses to talk about internal happenings within the mind of a subject. The ego in this sense is loosely considered a cluster of mind/body functions having to do with perception, motility, language and the subjective organization of of who we consider ourselves to be. The Ego and the Id, written in 1919 by Sigmund Freud remains the most reliable description of the function of this concept that has no manner of being located in time or space, yet it remains the most significant way of talking about our sense of our own internal world. His work on the description of the psychic apparatus is know by many today to have been far in advance of the neuro-physics and the neurobiology of the 19th century.
When we consider the ego as a dynamic cluster of neuronal activity that assist we humans in the task of staying alive, it is no wonder that it has sparked so many varied ways of discussing it. In a way it can be compared to the autonomic nervous system of the body. Although we have no argument with gravity, the electro-magnetic field or the semi-autonomic nervous system, neither of these are visible — they are inferred by the consequences of their presence. The ego is such a phantom. It exist by virtue of how we see it exerting pressure on our lives–thoughts, feelings and actions.
On the other hand there exist a very different definition of ego that has a perhaps more colloquial definition. In this use it is almost pejorative and we can here the judgement when someone uses the phrase–“he has a massive ego,” or “don’t get in the way of her ego, she is so full of herself.” These ego-mainiac type of presentation remain in the more common usage. It is like the example of the word “paranoid,” when we say in an offhanded way–he is paranoid, we are not usually referring to a diagnostic term that speaks of a kind of schizophrenic psychosis. It has a colloquial definition that is more a kin to, he worries about everything.
In my discussion of the exit from narcissism, I will refer frequently to the term “ego,” as that aspect of the mind that grew along with us and began to have an awareness of itself at about three years old. Prior to this it was growing but the self-awareness was as limited as was language, for example.
Although, I was greatly impressed by Eckhart Tolle’s most recent publication, A New Earth. Tolle seems to be envisioning an earth where there is no influence from the ego. I find that concept unrealistic and perhaps even as an unwanted vision. Although we can almost see a utopian kind of existence if we were to eliminate from our consciousness all the aspects that defend the ego, I am not sure that existing without an ego would be a better state for we humans who have been evolving in a particular direction for thousands of years, if not millions. The very fact that language is an egoic function, ties us dramatically to our own egos.
I subscribe to a divided mind kind of way of looking subjectively at myself. We have an awesome capacity not only to behave in certain ways that are evolved, but we have the capacity to watch ourselves behaving in those ways. The divided mind allows us to watch the actions of the ego, view our defenses and even to comment on our behavior while we are behaving.
Early in our developing organism the persona of who we are began to develop along with the development of the skills that are fairly uniquely human. In the earliest years of our egoic development we did not have the capacity to watch ourselves, at least in a way that we could recognize that we were doing so. Even at that, I can see some rudimentary aspects of the divided mind beginning to happen. Shame is perhaps the first of the conflicting emotions to invade our internal world. When we become aware that we have displeased a parent or a parenting-Other, we experience a frowning, a mood shift, even tears and perhaps a running to our rooms for some safe place to be where momentarily we are not being seen.
In the earliest stage of egoic development we are not consciousness of the internalizing and the integrating of our experiences, but we indeed are setting down a foundation for who is to become “US.” In the pre-verbal years, the pre-linguistic mind we are invaded by sensations that eventually give way to symbols and circuitry that becomes wired into who we are in relation to the world.
The developing ego does that for us. As we grow it grows with us and eventually we are fooled into believing that what is the ego is actually what is us. In the process of developing itself it began over the years of evolution to set itself up as the executive function of the organism to the extent that we think we are the ego, or the ego is who we are. As a four year old, I had a four year old hand with all that that meant about a four year old hand. It had certain capacities that it did not have a four months old, but lacked many of the functions that it would have as a forty year old hand. The same can be said for my ego. I had a four year old ego at age four and a forty year old ego at age forty.
And to further the metaphor. I want my hand to grow more and more useful to me. I want it to grow skills that will serve me in life and I want the same from my ego. However because the ego has such a sense of authority we frequently end up working for the ego rather that the ego working for us.
In my consideration of exiting from the ego, I will be paying a great deal of attention to the manner in which the ego wants to have a “mind-of-its-own”.