Ego Needs in Psychoanalysis

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Whenever discussing ego, it is important to first give a guiding definition.  From a Jungian perspective, ego is the complex of the psyche that holds consciousness together, maintains continuity and identity, and manages the functioning of the person in the world. Ego also manages the relationship of consciousness to the unconscious. Oftentimes I’ll be asked about the Buddhist teaching of “no ego.”  To this I point out that we’d not be able to articulate the idea of “no ego” without the ego.  Therefore my sense is that egotism, that arrogance which can inflate the ego is the danger which this teaching addresses. But without the ego structure, consciousness, including consciousness of higher states of ecstasy, nirvana, and transcendent bliss would not be possible.

When we dream of driving in cars, it is not unusual for the unconscious to be commenting on the functioning of our ego complex.  The car is overheating, the windshield wipers are not working, the lights are burnt out, there is a flat tire…all these are images that have come into my practice and it is as if the dream is giving a diagnosis on where the ego needs attention.

Also common are dreams where the dreamer is not driving.  Sometimes they are a passenger, even seated in the back seat.  These dream portraits give us a glimpse into how different unconscious complexes have taken the wheel, a role appropriate to a proper ego functioning.

While much of a Jungian process attends to the unconscious material, just as much focus goes into attending to the ego, giving it proper maintenance and routine checkups. This attention guards against the development of rigid attitudes and gives the individual the capacity to live out the specific challenge of their life.

Author: Richard Reeve

I'm the Senior Director of Development at Panthera, a global conservation organization committed to stemming the population decline of cats in the wild. I enjoy rural living with my wife Judith and our two children in the Catskill Mountains of New York.