Excerpt About Ego

Confusion About the Term "Ego"

Here we digress to point out a source of confusion about the term “ego.” Readers who know both the spiritual and psychological literatures will find the term freely used in both, but with no general agreement on what the term refers to. This ambiguity often leads to confusion. The literature on spiritual development, on essential or inner development, on all matters of religious concern, generally uses the term “ego” to mean something which is seen as the barrier to spiritual realization. The literature on depth psychology, however, uses the term with a very different meaning. The ego referred to by Freud, and which ego psychology studies, is not the ego which is the barrier to spiritual development. They are two different concepts. The psychoanalytic term “ego” refers, rather, to the functional self, which is the site, organizer, and coordinator of the functions of perception, memory, mobility, and so on. There is, however, a concept in depth psychology and ego psychology that coincides with the ego of spiritual literature: it is called the “ego-identity,” and is sometimes referred to as the sense of self, or the sense of identity. This sense of self or separate identity is the main concern of ego developmental theory. This identity is, in fact, the acme, the most important outcome of ego development. It is ultimately the organizing center of the psychic apparatus. This psychic apparatus includes as one of its units the Freudian ego. In other words, the Freudian ego is part of the mind, is a structure or a structured process in it, while the self is a sense of identity and a center of action. The exact sense in which the ego identity is a barrier to spiritual development will become clear in later chapters.

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