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In Sigmund Freud‘s psychoanalysis, the ego is the conscious, structured and reasoned aspect of the id. The ego is not present at birth but emerges from the id, acting as mediator between the often conflicted demands of the id and the superego.

In Carl Jung‘s analytical psychology, the ego is a highly continuous “complex of ideas which constitutes the centre of [one’s] field of consciousness.” As the psyche’s “point of reference,” the ego’s partly biological component is offset by cultural influences. Its function is to balance the forces of the collective unconscious, the personal unconscious, external society as well as ethically good and destructive influences from both internal and external stimuli.

Jung borrows from Aristotle‘s idea of ‘effects from a First Cause’ by saying that the ego stands in relation to the self as “moved to the mover.” The ego is said to arise from and, in some cases, is at risk of being overtaken by the collective unconscious (as in inflation). Jung claims that many people mistakenly regard their egos as the total self. To compensate for this limited perspective, the collective unconscious tends to assert itself. Because of the almost limitless power of the collective unconscious, this can be a tricky time for the ego, which must represent the forces of the unconscious through language, symbols or art to maintain its autonomy.

In comparing industrialized mankind to so-called primitives, Jung sees the Western ego as a high achievement of humanity (recall that Jung is writing during the modern period). He says that the egos of modern individuals are better differentiated and less luminous than those of their, as he sometimes implies, cruder ancestors. Although no longer wholly identified with the numinous, modern egos are surrounded by a “multitude of little luminosities”-that is, the unconscious affords different ‘lights’ to ego consciousness without overtaking it entirely. And different individuals exhibit different lights from the unconscious.

Although offering an important alternative to the psychoanalytic wisdom of the day, Jung tends to make sweeping generalizations about the ‘normal’ Western ego, revealing that he too, at least in part, is a product of his times. And his archetypal theory tends to downplay the idea of wholly spiritual influences from above, or at least, constrain these influences into his somewhat limiting theory.

Related Posts » Archetypes, “Ego, Archetype and Self: C. G. Jung and Modernity


  1. If you want anyone to read this, you have to make it more than one paragraph. I count about 5 or 6 separate thoughts.

    In a world with so much being published everyday, long complicated sentences and paragraphs stretching multiple pages are things of the past.


  2. Thanks Steve, that’s an excellent suggestion. When I started writing this I was thinking in terms of printed dictionaries, which often have one long paragraph per entry (e.g. Blackwell, Oxford). But since it’s now taken web format, it probably should be reformatted. I’ve done this with a few of the very long entries but will consider breaking up some of the medium ones too (like this one).



  3. Glad you thought it was helpful. I’ve been a writer for 25 years and I’ve found that breaking the rules sometimes to make things more readible gets you ideas read.

    I see a lot of posts that have interesting content but I don’t think anyone has the patiences to read it several times.

    I’ve responded to others people’s posts after I’ve read a sentence or paragraphy two or three times and didn’t have a clue what they wrote.

    In general, I always suggest that people try to write the way they speak. Then read it back out loud and see if it still makes sense.


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