Selfishness – it’s not what it’s made up to be. Part I – The Ego

Okay, folks – hang on to your hats!  At long last I offer you the first post about selfishness.  Please bear with me and, hopefully, join with me in conversing about it in the comments.

In order to consider selflessness and, in turn, selfishness, we must first evaluate and understand what the self is.  In psychology, both popular and otherwise, the defining term of the self has been the ego.  That the ego has now come to mean something quite different in our culture thanks to people like Eckhart Tolle compels me to frame the definition by using the one that everyone should consider, Freud’s.

According to Freud, the ego is part of personality that mediates the demands of the id, the superego and reality. The ego prevents us from acting on our basic urges (created by the id), but also works to achieve a balance with our moral and idealistic standards (created by the superego). While the ego operates in both the preconscious and conscious, it’s strong ties to the id means that it also operates in the unconscious.

The ego operates based on the reality principle, which works to satisfy the id’s desires in a manner that is realistic and socially appropriate. For example, if a person cuts you off in traffic, the ego prevents you from chasing down the car and physically attacking the offending driver. The ego allows us to see that this response would be socially unacceptable, but it also allows us to know that there are other more appropriate means of venting our frustration.

So, the ego is the balance point of our personalities.  It’s supposed to be that part of us that considers OUR wants and desires as well as what may/may not be appropriate within society.  There is morality and ideology that is encompassed within this little sub categorization of psyche which indicates rational thought and, at least in part, conscious acknowledgment and consideration of such things.  It stands to reason then, that in order to be healthy, the ego has to evolve from consciousness lest we be wholly subject to our id and its subconscious demands.

If all egos are treated as optional or, at the very least, without respect and understanding for what they’re supposed to be, then people are not encouraged to think for and of themselves.  Note I did not say ONLY themselves, but simply that each person’s life needs to be of value to them.  How can one ascertain the value of that life if it’s only based upon what they’re supposed to do for others?  Meaning:  What value does my life have to me if I’m taught to live in a way that honors other people and NOT myself?  The honor and respect being taught there isn’t for one’s self, but for those other people.  As a matter of fact what I literally would learn in such a situation is that what I do only matters so long as it’s good for someone else.  I am not to be considered – even though it’s my life.  That doesn’t sound quite appropriate though, does it?  After all, you only have one life so why would it be spent in unquestioning servitude to someone else when you have a choice about it?

The implications of servitude, of denial of the self I cover in my next post.  Don’t worry, it won’t be on Monday, but on Wednesday.  Who the heck can handle these convos on a Monday?  Not I.

Thoughts so far?  Go ahead- give ’em a whirl!


18 responses to “Selfishness – it’s not what it’s made up to be. Part I – The Ego

  • Glynis J. Jolly

    So the term egomaniac is wrong. Would it be id-maniac then?

  • laurelrainsnow

    Thanks…this all takes me WAY back to my psychology courses! lol

    It is important, of course, that we consider our own needs, too. I had to keep reminding myself of that while rearing my kids, who thought I should ONLY think of them! lol

  • Carol Kilgore

    I’m still half asleep. I think there’s a fine line and it’s difficult to see. It’s probably different for everyone.

  • reSource therapy

    I think of ego as the way I identify and perceive myself and my needs within the context of my life and all the rest of what is involved in that, including but not limited to other people. I like your definition. I think I could agree with you.

    What I do know is that those people who do not value their own life, generally do not value any one else’s life either. This is from observation over many years.

    In order to love anyone, you must first love yourself. In order to value another, the same is true.

    • kimberlyloomis

      Jan – I totally agree with you. Of course this is assuming a definition of “healthy” I think. Many can value others to the exclusion of themselves and thus perpetuate an abusive relationship. Usually such things are not consciously done, but inevitably this kind of behavior is not an example of a healthy self.

  • RD Carter

    Hey Loomis!

    You are truly a girl after my own heart. I see that you are a true blue Fountainhead fan. 🙂

    This is DEEP stuff, how fun.

    I like this discussion of the ego in relation to selfishness/selflessness. An uncompromised ego’s purpose is purely selfish-to get what it wants within the confines of societal norms. In a perfect world, these desires could be satisfied without pissing everyone else off, the ego would HAVE its cake and EAT it, too.

    What gets us into trouble is when the ego begins to ignore the id and the superego and begins to acquiesce to the demands of acceptable societal behavior. Instead of creating balance between what is desired and what is tolerated in the eyes of others, the ego simply does what is tolerated with little regard for its own cravings. This creates all sorts and types of personality disorders and also a sense of selflessness-the absence of identity, motiviation, and any real PERSONality.

    I don’t agree that a person has to be selfish to love. The ego doesn’t drive love-the id does and when it comes to love it never takes no for an answer. The heart wants what the heart wants and no logic ever discourages it.

    We mess up love when we involve the ego and the super-ego, but that’s a whole other discussion. 😀

    Damn Loomis…you made my brain hurt.
    But what a great post!

    • kimberlyloomis

      RD – Excellent response! I realize I should have specified “healthy ego” in this post. 😉
      When things are out of balance there are certainly all manner of manifestations that occur resulting in some form of arrested development or even pathos as you described. Truth is I don’t think a person has to be “selfish” to love, but they have to have a sense of self [although I acknowledge this leads to a very necessary discussion of what love is…]. Any action that is made on behalf of the self and all it encompasses, sometimes appearing in acts that would look like selflessness, are indeed selfish in the literal definition.

      So, a post about love will be coming in the future!!!

      Thanks a bunch!

  • Lua

    Oh I think I’m going to be a big fan of this Selfishness posts! This is an amazing idea Kimberly and I love the first part…
    “What value does my life have to me if I’m taught to live in a way that honors other people and NOT myself?”
    This was the question I asked myself over and over again when I graduated collage. People around me wanted me to be a lawyer, I did not but I started practicing anyway because “others” thought I should. I think a healthy dose of selfishness is vital in life to be happy…
    I can’t wait to read the second part 🙂

  • Hart

    Idmaniac?! That is CLASSIC! I love it!

    Excellent reminder what is really what! I think it is easy to assume when OTHERS act in their own self interest (even if they are within societal rules) as selfishness, where when it is US then it is just rational. People who squash their own self interest though, drive me nuts. I’m nearly always suspicious. Better have the self-interest up front.

  • e6n1

    If one keeps putting others’ needs before one’s needs, something is not right

  • Linton

    Almost everywhere I go on Facebook people are continuously degrading greed as evil. In my opinion, Kimberly, greed is good. We all want more for ourselves and our families. That is what makes the human race what it is. We are never satisfied with what we have. We want more. It is embedded in us. In greedily reaching for that more, homo sapiens thrive. Bill Gates is greedy and all of sudden we are all talking with one another around the globe.

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