Knowing One’s Ego Without Merging With Them

We present two theories in the field of psychology regarding the Self or the Ego that seek to explain how merging with an ego guide or role can lead us to more dysfunctional effective relationships.
Know your I's without merging with them

There are many theories of social psychology that have tried to define the ego and the ego, and why it is important to know one’s ego. From Williams James at the end of the nineteenth century (who distinguished between the me, as an object of experience, and the ego, as an observer) to the more orthodox psychoanalysis.

The ego is that self-referential part of our being. It defines the sense of our identity and depends on how we see ourselves as the protagonists of our life experiences.

Although the human being has a unique essence, he is not made up of a single ego. Within his person coexist a multitude of roles and facets, of present, past and future ego. A good way to keep our self-esteem high is to be aware of the fact that all these roles exist, they must be valued, accepted, without merging into them. Non-fusion with a role implies that the person is aware that no one initiates and completes the definition of himself in a single way.

This means that if in my life, due to various experiences, one of the roles I play is somehow undermined, I have no reason to feel completely miserable. The other I’s, those who have not been harmed, can make up for this pain amply.

However, if I identify too much with one of the I’s and find myself in a situation that is upsetting for that role, my entire Self will feel threatened, and therefore it will become more complex for me to live a normal daily life. Let us now look at some of the theories that have emerged in psychology that show an interest in the definition of the ego and its relationship to affection and self-esteem.

Higgins: the theory of the discrepancy of the self to know one’s ego

The discrepancy theory developed by Tory Higgins focuses on the theme of ego as guidelines of the self. This author states that the ego is not a unitary concept. Consequently, in order to define the different components, he alludes to two parameters: the ego domains and the ego points of view. In this last criterion we find the point of view of the person about himself, as well as what he believes important people have.

Know your I’s: the real I

The real ego for Higgins would be the basis of our concept of ourselves: what we know about ourselves, as well as what others know. The rest of the Egos will constitute the guidelines of the real ego or in which direction I am moving or where I want to arrive.

Self-esteem would remain high if there was not an excessive discrepancy between the various ego’s. Furthermore, if we listen more or if we merge to a greater extent with one ego rather than another, we may find ourselves experiencing certain emotions.

For example, if the “I should be” ego is too preponderant and I feel at one with it, when a given situation breaks it down, I will feel too guilty. If I become obsessed with my ideal self and it is hard for me to reach the goals that lead me to it, I can end up feeling frustrated. 

Linville and the theory of the complexity of the ego

Linville elaborated a model that relates the multiplicity of the I’s and their complexity with the actual variability, and is composed of four assumptions:

The first argues that the ego is represented at the cognitive level by multiple aspects. These aspects depend in part on the number of social roles that a person assumes in his life (for example, wife, mother, lawyer), but also on the type of interpersonal relationships he establishes (between colleagues, rivalry, support, maternal), from the activities she carries out (playing bridge, swimming, writing) or from neurotic personality traits (ambitious, creative).

Each of these ego aspects organizes a set of propositions and characteristics about itself (personality traits, physical characteristics, abilities, preferences, goals, autobiographical memories), so that the ego aspects differ from each other to the extent that they incorporate different groups of characteristics. 

In this sense, it is normal to feel good in some roles we fill and less well in others. For example, a person may feel proud of themselves as a mother, but feel embarrassed by how they have performed their duties as a worker.

If I maintain a high complexity of the Self, that is, many I’s very distinct from each other, my affective reactions will be less extreme when some of the I’s feel “punished”. What strikes me as a mother shouldn’t affect my role as a worker, daughter, sister or friend.

Numerous images of the same woman knowing their selves

Know your ego and conclusions

It is okay to follow certain ego guidelines throughout our existence, as proposed by Higgins; guides that allow us to set goals or goals of vital importance. Knowing your selves also helps us to stay consistent and to work for the person I want to become and for what I think I deserve. On the other hand, as stated by Linville, the ideal would be to have several I’s without merging with any of them; this means maintaining a high complexity of the Self. 

In doing so, the ups and downs of life will affect us much less. It is a question of not making a bundle of all the grass. Whatever happens, whatever could affect one of our roles, there will always be an ego that will remain intact and that can mitigate the consequences on the mood and self-esteem. Quoting Linville, “The high complexity of the Self protects us from bad times, but it also keeps us grounded when things go well.”

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