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Ego Functions

Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Ego Functions?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Ego Functions

Inborn Apparatuses of Autonomy

Ego functions, described by Hartmann as the inborn apparatuses of autonomy in the beginning of life, are those of synthesis, integration, regulation, organization, anticipation, tension, decision making, delay, drive taming, identification, intelligence, intention, judgment, language, memory, motility, neutralization, object comprehension, object relations, perception, productivity, reality testing, self-preservation, speech, symbolization, thinking and volition. The ego functions also include defense.

Innate Endowment of the Organism

The ego functions develop out of the innate endowment of the organism, the apparatuses of primary autonomy, which are necessary for adaptation, and hence for survival and growth. These functions, including that of defense, contribute to the maturation of the organism. These functions, in their turn, are developed and integrated as part of the development of object relations in the context of interacting with the primary caretakers, mostly the mother.

Integrated Ego Functions Unaccompanied by Emotional Integration

It is not uncommon that an individual is successful, accomplished, and even creative, but feels no pleasure or value related to these manifestations of his life. He still feels empty, insignificant and shallow, with low self-esteem. What has happened in this character is that some of his ego functions have been developed and integrated so that he can function well. However, this was not accompanied by sufficient emotional integration and development. So he is an adult on the functional level but an immature child on the emotional level. His functioning capacities have exceeded his emotional development. The final result is that he does not feel connected to his functioning, and hence, to his accomplishments. His functional self is disconnected from his sense of self or being, and his actions are mechanical, even though efficient. He does not derive pleasure or value from them because he is not connected to them. He feels as if somebody else has done all these things.

Integration of Ego Functions

Of course in object relations theory much more than establishing the self-image is involved in ego development; it involves an integration of the various developmental achievements and the various so-called ego functions such as perception, memory, thinking, synthesis, defense and so on.

Integration of Functioning: An Hypothesis

Of course, object relations theorists would not necessarily say that one needs to establish new mental representations to learn such skill. But they do apparently assume that the capacity for learning is the result of already existing individuation, and hence is dependent on already existing psychic structures. This is in fact what is meant by the ego functions being organized within the structure of ego. We need an understanding that includes a process of integration of functioning that is not contrary to the nature of experience of Being. This understanding is made possible by certain experiences and perceptions encountered in the process of the inner realization of Being, which can be stated in the form of an hypothesis that explains how it is possible to learn new skills and functions without needing ego structures. The hypothesis is that one can absorb a skill so well that all memory, conscious and unconscious, becomes unnecessary. It becomes, so to speak, part of one’s being. The body and mind can become so adapted to the skill, that it resembles instinctual capacity. Our suggestion is that this capacity of integration and learning must be included as one of the apparatuses of primary autonomy, that it is an inborn human capacity. The implication is that this capacity, although it needs ego development to begin functioning under normal circumstances, is already part of the potential of the human organism and is not the product of ego development.

Replacement of the Defensive Functions of Ego with the Support of Being

As the Citadel is realized, it provides the soul with all the essential aspects as specific supports for living a life of truth. We call it the Citadel because it can manifest as an enormous, solid presence—like a mighty fortress—that supports and protects the truth as it manifests in our life. The various defensive ego functions that have helped us operate without the ground of our true nature are replaced by this immense and powerful support of Being itself. The more we learn to bring our awareness of truth into the functioning of our life, the more we gain access to the essential grounding, guidance, and protection of the Citadel. To activate this new dimension, the process of exploration needs to extend into all areas of our life. We begin to explore our work, our relationships, and our behavior in terms of whether they reflect truth or not. This process brings in an integrity, a self-respect, and a valuing of the truth—all of which invite the arising of the Citadel dimension.

When the Functional Part of Oneself is Separate from Who One Is

However, looked at from the dimension of Being, regardless of how mature and integrated ego is, it is always a precocious development. We have seen that the ego becomes the system that structures, and includes in its structures the ego functions. It becomes, in other words, the functional part of oneself. We have also seen that ego development is an incomplete process, short of the realization of the Personal Essence. Ego structures are always alienated from the true Being, so the functional part of oneself is separate from who one is. Thus from the perspective of Being, ego development is a development of functioning that is separate from who one is. When there is appropriate emotional development, the individual is better off than the narcissistic character we have just described. However, it is intrinsically the same kind of situation, for in both cases—normal and pathological ego development—there is dissociation from one’s Being.

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