Welcome to the archived web site of
Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. Psychologist (1950-2013)
California License No. PSY 10092
Specializing in Presence-Centered Therapy
balancing mind and heart, body and spirit
Now in memoriam - This website is no longer being updated
Articles by Dr. Friedman (except where noted otherwise)
Four Cardinal Understandings and Services of the Ego
© 2011 by Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
you transcend the ego, you can do nothing but add to the insanity of the world.
Eastern religious, spiritual, and moral traditions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, emphasize the collective in embracing egolessness. Western religious, spiritual, moral and psychological traditions focus on the individual, the self. It is neither useful nor fitting to "integrate" traditions; both point to Truth. Careful discernment can yield clarity.
Egos offer four cardinal understandings and services, most of which are very helpful. Firstly, the ego serves as a reference point appearing to be outside the Oneness of Reality. Ego, time, space, form, and choice are all "useful fictions" that help us make sense of and function in the empirical world of duality or subjects and objects. Given genetic predispositions and past conditioning, "choice" is also limitedpartly free and partly determined. Like the fish unaware of the water it swims in, so the mind or ego cannot recognize the totality and wholeness of the universe within that mind. Most have experienced what Deepak Chopra calls "choiceless awareness"-in a flash of clarity you simply know what to do. Choiceless awareness is a shift from the left-brain's goal-driven analysis to the right-brain's intuitive, holistic awareness. True Nature makes no choices.
Secondly, the ego serves as a healthy developmental stage in which responsibility and accountability are built. Without a sense of "self" or ego, how would one, beginning at age two, learn to make effective, reasonable decisions? The ego's perceptual system of dualities, such as subject and object, allow critical skills to be refined, daily interactions to be shaped by responsible actions. Its prime directive is survival on all levels of living. Possibly the ego as a healthy developmental stage was just this-a stage-one we humans are meant to transmute, transform and transcend, and mainly shed and outgrow as we are present, witness the ego-mind's inherent insanity, surrender what cannot be real, and return to what remains-True Self, Original Self and the authentic liberated self.
How would one function without a "healthy ego"? Those who exist in a pre-ego developmental stage experience the ironically named "self disorders" of narcissism and borderline personality. These personality challenges, grandiosity or preoccupation with oneself through unregulated disinhibition along with behavioral "acting out", are highly destructive to oneself and others. Misguided impulses and misdirected behaviors aspire to unhealthy adoration. Hedonism is coupled with periodic reactivity and insecurity.
Alternatively, a second highly dysfunctional version of the pre-ego suggests the opposite polarity: a self-defeating restrictiveness through over-regulated inhibition that arises from diminishment or hatred of the veneer of a fabricated false self. A third possibility, the oscillation between disinhibition and inhibition, results in wild, erratic confusion. Better to have created a "self" or "ego", even if it is unworkable, misguided or wounded, than to not have engaged in this essential development.
Thirdly, the ego can also serve as a useful tool of the Selfnumerous skill sets, intelligences, creative abilities, and functionsacross a wide bandwidth of life. Concepts, constructs and false entities that aid in understanding the phenomenal world, are doubly useful for the dream ego to "dream well" and thrive. This self, with no claim to being the source, author or authority for Life, is a powerful tool for spotting survival threats, and for engaging in analytical thinking, deductive and inductive logic, problem solving, brainstorming, decision-making, memory retrieval, and goal setting. A "healthy ego" or "functional me" is a useful tool to help us adapt to changing life conditions. Outside this helpful toolbox, ego as a mistaken identity is unrelentingly dysfunctional and dissatisfied. Perhaps Jean-Jacques Rousseau was referring to this when he noted, "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains." The chains, of course, are ego and self-imposed.
Fourthly, the ego can become a personal, psychological self that we typically identify as "I" or "me" that is, in fact, who we think we are. The ego as a healthy stage of development when one is about two years old most commonly continues under the radar as an identity with our blithe, unconscious acquiescence. While the awareness of ego as a reference point in the dualistic world of subject and separate objectthe constructed "self"is a healthy stage of development to help us survive, gain some mastery over meeting the needs of our lives, and thrive, once it becomes one's identity or who one is, which is illusory, mistaken and imagined, it now operates in a highly dysfunctional way. Deconstructing the false self's persistent claim to authority, authorship and being the source of our life, and finding out that it is completely false, is the essential work in the trenches for revealing the True Self that is ever available. This false thinking mind, how to recognize and free it, is a major challenge in living well.
It can now become apparent that in the three functions of being a reference point in the universe for the duality of subject and object on the plane of the empirical world, a healthy developmental stage to survive and make your way in the world, and as a tool, skill set and intelligences to thrive in the world, the ego is a blessing. In the one function as an imaginary self-who we think we areit is defeating, unworkable and a source of unrelenting pain, misery and suffering. The opportunity is to recognize the four cardinal understandings and services of the ego, gratefully use the three that are remarkably helpful, and willingly surrender and outgrow what never existed in the first placethe imaginary identity or ego. All that remains is who we always truly werethe True Self.
© Copyright 2013 by Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D.
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