Thursday 20 February 2014

Ego, self and regression .

The spiritual world usually has hardly a good word to say about the ego; it is the source of all selfishness and greed. By contrast, the therapy world constantly faces people who have a "weak ego" and tries to strengthen it.  Ken Wilber's map of pre-personal, personal and transpersonal neatly sorts this out as belonging to different aspects of the spectrum of consciousness and his book No Boundary is a simple exposition of the expanding definitions of the self. It is clear that the problem is with the identification with the ego not the ego itself.

The ego is the seat of identity; not necessarily in a very fundamental sense but rather like a passport; it gives some useful information but it isn't exactly the whole story. We all have an everyday identity and ordinary life would be intolerable without one. The ego is also the part of us which can deal with the world in a practical sense; mediating between the "reality principle" on the one hand and the internal world of desires and fears on the other. Our desires may say "chocolate cake now!"; our fears or superego may say "that's not a good diet" and our ego may say; "I'll make a salad for main course and I'll check the cupboard and, if I have the ingredients, bake a chocolate cake for tea later this afternoon.".

Where there isn't enough ego strength then we are prey to terror and regression. The world becomes a frightening place which can easily overwhelm us. It is amazing how strongly people can regress to a place where they cannot function at all. I have seen one person do this recently just from having less structure and finding themselves alone. Adverse, but not life-threatening, situations, can also provoke regression to a primitive child-like place or to desperation and black-and-white thinking.

In therapy which includes a transpersonal dimension, such as tantric psychotherapy; there is work to do in strengthening the ego by reducing past trauma (which weakens the ego) using methods from energy psychology as well as unconditional warmth, empathy and creating a coherent narrative of life. However, tantric psychotherapy using body and energy methods, breathing and touch, supports the move beyond the small self of the conscious mind to the spaciousness of the body and the energy system and towards dissolving into the universe. This is who we really are. It is a quick trip around the spectrum of consciousness.

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