Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Ego and the Id

I am reading Ken Wilber's Integral Spirituality and he makes an interesting claim about Freud's famous insights regarding the workings of the ego and the id: Freud never used the terms ego and id:
Not many people know that Freud never--not once--used the terms "ego" or "id." When Freud wrote, he used the actual pronouns "the I" and "the it" (das Ich, "the I," and das Es, "the it.") Strachey (James Strachey who gave us the definitive English translations of Freud) decided to use the Latin words "ego" and "id" to make Freud sound more scientific...

Perhaps Freud's best-known summary of the goal of psychotherapy is "Where id was, there ego shall be." What Freud actually said was: "Where it was, there I shall become." (p. 123)
Which, as Wilber says, is a beautiful summary of what happens when we do shadow work. We find the alienated part of ourselves, the parts we have turned into "its" and we re-own them and make them part of our I.

I have really appreciated Wilber's larger point in this chapter that the phenomenological insights of Freud (if not necessarily his explanation of why it happens) and Jung about our shadow and how much of it develops in early childhood is one of the great modern and Western contributions to knowledge of self. We can't grow-up spiritually without learning about our own shadow and where it came from. Wilber repeatedly says that the great meditative traditions, East and West, don't have any way of helping us do this work. They can help make us aware of the presence of our emotions, like our anger, but if we don't do the therapeutic work (learning and working through our history) we are likely to just become more serenely angry.

His summary description of the way shadow works was also very good:
We began with anger as a sample shadow-impulse. The anger starts out as a 1st-person reality (my anger; I am angry, I have anger). For various reasons--fear, self-restriction, super-ego judgments, past trauma, etc.--I contract away from my anger and push it on the other side of the I-boundary, hoping thereby not to get punished for having this horrible emotion. "My anger" has now become "anger that I am looking at, or talking to, or experiencing, but it is not my anger!"(Jay: it becomes 2nd person anger) ...If I push further, that anger becomes 3rd-person: I am no longer even on speaking terms with my own anger. I might still feel this anger somehow--I know somebody is angry as hell, but since it simply cannot be me, it must be you, or him, or her, or it. Come to think of it John is always mad at me! Which is such a shame, since I myself never get angry at him, or at anybody, really." (p. 135)
Funny and too true.

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