Just Another Teachin’ Tuesday: “So what is ego strength?”

Let’s swirl around a bit of psychobabble frequently tossed about in both professional and lay circles. And the reason I want us to discuss it is because it’s often misused and misunderstood. So let’s talk about ego strength.

Okay, let’s set the table by doing a quick review of Sigmund Freud’s structural theory. According to Uncle Siggy, the human psyche has three components…

  • Id: the home of our very deepest and most primitive needs and desires
  • Superego: our morality and social taboo alarm system
  • Ego: monitors and mediates the interplay of the “I want it nows” of the id and the “you really can’ts or shouldn’ts” of the superego

Now, according to Freud, the work of the ego is monumental, as it establishes and maintains a sense of balance – peace, if you will – between our primal drives and perceived social expectations. These are two states of mind that, as you can imagine, often have a tough time being in the same room.

Needless to say, the ego is saddled with one booger of a job. So it seems to make sense that if the ego is so richly involved in mental and emotional equilibrium – and major distress – consideration of its functioning, or functioning potential, would hold merit. And so the term, “ego-strength.”

Understanding this ego-strength business can be made extraordinarily complicated, yet at its base it really isn’t. As suggested in the last paragraph, it’s simply a measure of how well we cope, or our coping potential, with the conflict generated by clashes of the id and superego – our drives versus our perception of societal expect and responsibility. Indeed, it’s all about one’s ability to minimize the potential for some pretty intense psychological distress, as well as one’s ability to keep themselves glued together as such distress presents.

But it goes a bit farther than just that, as ego-strength helps us benefit and grow from our trials, thereby facilitating the generation of more sophisticated – and healthy – mechanisms of defense. For our immediate purposes there’s no need to complicate matters, so let’s just leave it at that.

Oh – by the way – ego-strength can be bolstered, just as physical strength. So this is not a matter of acquiescing to that with which we’re genetically and environmentally endowed.

Okay, we’ve determined that, under the direction of the ego, our mind does its very best to avoid burdening us with more than we can handle. Now, certainly there are times when psychic conflict has negative impact on our mental, emotional, and behavioral functioning; perhaps to the extreme of experiencing life-interrupting “breakdowns.”

Nonetheless, I firmly believe the ego presides over a very sophisticated system of checks-and-balances that will work very much to our mental and emotional advantage, if we’ll only latch-on to enough insight and will to effectively use it. Oh – and keep our thinking out of the equation. So as you may feel as though you’re overloaded, and desperately holding-on to a fraying safety-line, I submit you’re well short of being toast.

Indeed, continue to hold tight and don’t ever, ever give up. Tough times build ego-strength. Strong like bull!

So ego-strength – have you heard the term before? What are your thoughts. Please share!