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Ego Identity

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

Excerpts about Ego Identity

A Metaphor for the Nature of the Ego Self

The usual way of living life, the undeveloped way, operates from the perspective of the personality, of the ego-self. If you envision it as a circle, it can be divided into two primary elements: the circumference or periphery of the circle, and the center of the circle. This is a good metaphor for the nature of the ego-self: the center is what we call the sense of self, the “I” that you take yourself to be. When you say, “I will do that,” or “I want this,” that is the center of the personality, not the whole of the personality, only its identity. The other element of the personality, the circumference, is the individuality, the sense of being an individual. So the center is the identity, and the circumference is the individuality. If you look at your experience of yourself and the way you live your life, you notice that usually it can be seen from these two perspectives. Either you are concerned about who you are, your sense of identity, the feeling of self, the center of operation, your center; or you are thinking of yourself in terms of boundaries, in terms of being in individual, separate from other individuals.

A State of Experiencing One’s Personal Identity (an ego state) Devoid of Any Defensiveness

At some juncture of this process one comes upon schizoid-like defenses, that seem to operate at the very core structures of the personality. These schizoid-like defenses, isolation and schizoid withdrawal, usually occur after one has seen through the major narcissistic and borderline like defenses. Finally, and usually after the entry into the realm of undifferentiated Being, one comes upon an ego state of “purified” personality. This is usually a very subtle perception, and to be aware of it one needs to be in a profound state of stillness and attentiveness. One becomes aware of identifying with a kind of personal feeling, which feels very familiar and quite intimate to oneself. This is a state of experiencing one’s personal identity (an ego state) devoid of any defensiveness, which happens after the process of secondary autonomy has gone through its full course with regard to this ego structure. One feels intimate with oneself, soft and cozy. But the most important distinguishing quality of this feeling of self is the recognition that this is what one usually feels is oneself. It is the emotional tone that characterizes one’s personality. One feels, “This is me.” However, one is at the same time aware it is only a feeling, an emotional tone that goes along with some image. This is because one is also aware of the presence of undifferentiated Being, which feels like an impersonal presence without any recognizable characteristics. One is in fact going back and forth, identifying with one and then the other. The personality aspect is an identification that is completely devoid of defense; it is just a familiar sense of oneself, completely undefended and unprotected. That is why the schizoid defense of isolation, which is the most basic defense, must have been dropped before this experience.

Cathecting the Body During Ego Development

It is possible to see that the process of cathecting the body in the initial stages of ego development is really a matter of focusing Cosmic Consciousness on the body to the extent of feeling and behaving as if one’s consciousness comes from the body. But consciousness is consciousness, and personal consciousness owes its conscious capacity to this aspect of Being. The end result of cathecting the psychophysical organism is, as we have seen, the development of ego identity based on the body. One forgets that he is a boundless conscious presence, and comes to believe that he is a body that has personal consciousness. This insight, that one is basically a conscious presence, but mistakenly takes oneself to be an individual based on the body, is part of some of the old teaching traditions.

Existence of the Ego Identity as a Contraction of Awareness

Awareness occupies a very special place among essential aspects. In a sense, inner development as a whole—the work on both personality and essence—can be seen as the freeing and the expansion of awareness. The reason behind this is that the most basic function of the personality is the reduction of awareness. In fact, the deepest aspect of the personality is a restriction of awareness. The ego identity, which normally is called the self, exists on the deepest level as a contraction of awareness, a restriction of consciousness. To say it more accurately, the ego identity (the I) as a structure is on the deepest level a hole of awareness, or a deficiency of awareness, because of the loss of intrinsic and basic awakeness. This is the deepest and most defended hole in the personality. This deepest hole in the personality, around which its identity is structured, is the avoidance (the loss) of the awareness of death. More accurately, the personality does not understand death, and it avoids the perception of its possibility and its existence. It is terrified of death because it means its own annihilation. We are not referring here to the death of the body, although the personality cannot conceive of any other kind of death because of its identification with the body. We mean the experience of nonexistence, which is the absence of experience. But this nonexistence is the deepest nature of the personality, its very center.

Faces of the Personality

At some point we can perceive that the inner child, the ego, the ego identity,the emotional self, the mind, the false personality, the observer, the doer, the actor, the one who resists, and the one who hates, are actually all one. They’re just different faces of the same thing that we call personality, appearing in different forms depending on the situation. We have seen that Essence is a substantial presence, but we are surprised when we realize that it is not only Essence that is substantial; the personality itself is a substantial existence. You can observe that even your personality itself is a material. It has an inner substance. It is true that there are thoughts and feelings and sensations connected to it, but at some point you feel your personality as a kind of presence. It doesn’t have the sense of immediate reality and freshness, the sense of truthfulness, brilliance, and luminosity of Essence; in fact, it is usually felt as a thickness, a dullness, a heaviness. But personality is not just a collection of thoughts; it exists as its own kind of material or medium.

Final Integration of the Ego Into a Self

Kernberg calls this final organization of internalized object relations the "ego-identity". It refers to the overall organization of identifications and introjections under the guiding principles of the synthetic function of the ego, which constitutes the final integration of the ego into a self that is continuous in space and time, plus the representational world of all object images.

Nonconceptual Presence Exposes the Composition of the Ego Identity

In the process of inquiry into our sense of self, we first see how our soul is patterned by past impressions. Such impressions perpetuate the past, with its conflicts and ignorance, as patterns of identity and character. Then we recognize that the past continues in representations, which first appear as images and object relations taken from past experiences. Going to the dimension of pure presence, we recognize that these images and representations are composed of reifications, of both basic and ordinary forms of knowledge. Pure presence penetrates these representations by showing that they are reifications, revealing the omnipresence that underlies and constitutes all forms. Yet the tendency toward reification does not disappear, though it may diminish a great deal. The separate self will continue to arise, less rigid and opaque. When true nature presents its nonconceptual dimension, we begin to detect a deeper source of this sense of self. We see that the soul cannot be completely free from the shell of reifications because as long as there are concepts available to it the mind will reify them to create such a shell. Nonconceptual presence exposes the ego identity, the shell of the separate self, as composed not only of reifications but of concepts. We realize that every time we recognize ourselves, even when the recognition is basic and immediate knowing, the mind takes the concepts of this recognition and builds reifications that then coalesce into the shell of ego.

Origin of Ego Identity

So ego identity is seen to originate in this time of undifferentiated dual unity. In fact, the deepest aspects of the personality are seen to go back to this undifferentiated state of the ego. The personality began to be absorbed particularly at that time, between two and ten months of age. In fact, undifferentiation, or merging, is necessary for this absorption of the qualities of the personality. Personality, then, begins with the child's identification with the qualities that the child experiences through merging with the environment. During the merged condition of the symbiotic stage, the child has no conception of what is his and what belongs to the environment represented by the mother. There is still no concept of self and other. This is the meaning of dual unity. So a feeling that might originate in the mother could end up as the child's. The child experiences the feeling because of the merged condition. If in time he identifies with it, it becomes his. In fact it becomes part of his developing personality.

Psychological Identity is Most Precious

So the self-representation (ego identity) depends on a particular structuring of all realms of experience into a cohesive whole. This implies the structuring of the contents of the mind, heart and body experience into a specific, very stable, rigid organization … The resultant sense of psychological identity is very much adhered to and defended by the individual as the most precious and absolutely necessary possession and attainment.

The Sense of Self or Separate Identity

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 the center of action.

The Void, pg. 9

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