The ego and its projections


Diagrammatic representation of the human head. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images, Satcakranirupanactiram Svami Hamsasvarupa Creative Commons

Self-realization is an ever evolving process of coming into greater awareness of the Self.  This is a movement toward wholeness, integration, and Oneness.

The process of becoming whole, of cultivating Self-knowledge, involves coming to terms with shadow elements of one’s personality.  This is not always an easy task. Carl Jung tells us:

“To become conscious of it [the shadow] involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it therefore, as a rule, meets with considerable resistance.” (CW 9ii, para. 14-15).

The shadow refers to the dark aspects of the personality. The ego finds these dark aspects of the personality undesirable, and thus banishes them to the unconscious. However, they return with a vengeance, with a sort of demonic quality.  In psychological terms, they may return with an obsessive or possessive quality. Jung says:

“Closer examination of the dark characteristics– that is, the inferiorities constituting the shadow– reveals that they have an emotional nature, a kind of autonomy, and accordingly an obsessive or, better, possessive quality.”

The banishment of shadowy emotions also isolates us from aspects of our self, diminishing the wholeness of the self. Through awareness may we come to reclaim these shadowy aspects. Reclamation does not mean acting out or living out the shadowy side of the personality. Instead, reclamation brings the ferocity of mindful awareness to confront and tolerate our dark aspects. From the perspective of awareness, we want to be with and be aware of the ‘little demons’ and ‘shadowy figures’. In bringing our mindfulness to them, their potency will dissolve, enlarging the circumference of our self-knowledge.

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Beyond ego adaptation

“The ego is the subject of all successful attempts at adaptation so far as these are achieved by the will.”  –Carl Jung, CW 9ii, para 11

For Carl Jung, the Ego plays an important, but limited part, in the psychic economy. The Ego serves an adaptive function, providing a reference point within the field of consciousness. If adaptation to one’s environment is successful then the Ego will serve the will, acting as a reference point between the inner and outer worlds.

The Freudians have come up with some rather interesting ways to talk about the nature of the ego based on Freud’s structural model of the psyche. Eric Santner speaks of the “Ego and the Ibid” as a way to point out the role of identification in Ego consciousness. He says:

“What I mean by this bit of punning [on the ‘Ego and the Ibid] is that the libidinal component of one’s attachment to the predicates securing one’s symbolic identity must … be thought of as being ‘ibidinal’.” (2001 p.51)

Santner is punning on the term ‘libidinal’ by saying that we are not only libidinal but ‘ibidinal’. The term libidinal describes the psychic and emotional energy associated with instinctual drives. The term ‘ibidinal’ hints at the way in which the ego is invested in ‘the predicates securing one’s symbolic identity’.

According to this view, much of the ego’s libidinal investment is toward securing a symbolic identity. The ego identifies with the dominant ideologies and knows itself and others through its placement within the symbolic system– as through a citation, an ibid’. Santner says,

“a symbolic investiture not only endows the subject with new predicates; it also calls for the largely unconscious ‘citation’ of the authority guaranteeing, legitimating one’s rightful enjoyment of those predicates (that is at least in part what it means to ‘internalize’ a new symbolic identity).” (2001, p.51)

Our ego is an ‘ibidinal’ ego to the extent that our enjoyment is obtained through our symbolic investiture, and the authority guaranteed by such investiture. The use of citation acts as a  placeholder within a preconceived symbolic system, providing a sense of order, hierarchies, transcendent aims. Symbolic investiture in these hierarchies is believed to guarantee some sort of authority or legitimacy which is identified with the enjoyment of privilege insofar as one has realized these transcendence aims.

Edmund Husserl discusses the ego in a manner that gives breadth and depth to this understanding. He says “conscious life is the absolute flow which temporalizes itself in a constant striving”. We could say that the ego temporalizes itself in a striving toward identification within a symbolic system.

Our ‘ibidinal’ striving provides a sense of meaning and purpose against the back drop of the ‘absolute flow’ of sensations. We seek predicates that determine our identity and trust in ‘the authority guaranteeing, legitimating one’s rightful enjoyment of those predicates’. The problem is that the idea of enjoyment is never really fulfilled. There is always a lack between the identification and true subjective experience of the self.

Santner explains,

“because that authority is itself in some sense ‘magical’, that is, unsubstantiated, without ultimate foundation in a final ground qua substantive reason, this ‘ibidity’ is, in the final analysis, a citation of lack, and so never settled once and for all.” (2001, p.51)

Any enjoyment through participation in symbolic investitures of legitimacy is an enjoyment which lacks a true foundation. It is an enjoyment via an authority that is ‘in some sense magical’. Though this ‘magic’ attempts to quell the intensity of the ‘absolute flow’ by temporalizing experience and granting some sort of semi-permanent symbolic investiture it always fails because the “ibidity is, in the final analysis, a citation of lack”. Because the authority is a socially constructed authority it always lacks a foundation within the ‘absolute flow’ of experience.

The problem is that we have become so reliant upon our identifications that we have little idea of who we are without citing a reference. You see this everywhere in social media, everyone is referring to some citation as their basis for existence. Life is defined through a series of citation, in which we are all citing someone else who is citing someone else. The question becomes who is really capable of feeling and experiencing life for themselves, beyond and before citation.

Most of us flee from the intensity and numinosity of our human experience. We take cover in the safe structures of legitimacy. We find protection from the flow of life behind investiture and replace our capacity for imagination with that of citation.

Carl Jung takes us Beyond Adaption

To read Carl Jung is to open to the horizon of life which extends beyond adaption. An underlying theme within Jung’s writing is that, to know our true Self, we not only have to develop an Ego, ‘successful adaptation’, we also have to move beyond the Ego’s reliance upon fixated images of adaption. This is where Carl Jung’s theories really shine– when an individual has made a secure ‘attachment to the predicates securing one’s symbolic identity’ and is desiring to move beyond ‘symbolic identity’. Carl Jung is there to meet such an individual.

A deeper reading of Carl Jung work offers an unexpected hero’s journey: a journey not toward the triumph of the ego, but toward the truth of the Self. This journey is not an ‘ibidianal’ investment in the idea of the hero as ‘symbolic investiture’ via the ‘citation of the authority’. Instead it is a path that takes us beyond identification and legitimization.

Carl Jung provides a path and process for moving into the depths and breadths of the Self. This process shifts the libidinal investiture away from the ‘ibidinal’ towards the true Self which lies beyond symbolic investitures.

Because the Self exists beyond ‘symbolic investiture’, it can never quite be defined. Instead we can explore the Self through imaginative exploration of the ur-symbols and archetypes as they form the breadth and depth of being. In doing so we become more capable of an intrinsic enjoyment arising from the process of exploration and discovery. This process seeks to known the nature of the Self, as true hero. With this enjoyment we may become less in need of identification and legitimation, releasing our reliance upon the ‘authority guaranteeing, legitimating one’s rightful enjoyment.’

Exploring the nature of the Self, we find ourselves endeavoring into the transpersonal boundaries of the psyche. This is the spiritual dimension of the psyche. Within the spiritual dimensions we find that time is not so much clock time, but instead sacred time. We find that the world is mapped not so much the four directions of north, south, east, and west, but instead by upper worlds and lower worlds, heavens and hells. We discover shadow realms filled with archetypal spectral images, which call out to be transformed through our acknowledgement. Most of all it is here, in these spiritual realms, that we have the potential to discover the true nature of the Self.


  1. Santner, Eric L. (2001) On the Psychotheology of Everyday Life: Reflections on Freud and Rosenzweig. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Primal Madness of the Ego

Creator of the Creator by Luis Ricardo- 2008 creative commons
Creator of the Creator by Luis Ricardo- 2008, Mexico, gifted to the creative commons.

Last night I dreamed of a primal madness in humanity.

When I awoke, I understood that this primal madness is caused by a fundamental split within the human psyche. We are split; we are broken in two. It is a deep chasm within, a fallen state.

Human psychic life is shaped by splitting, and hence, a longing for integration drives us. We are driven toward union, and the vicissitudes of this drive can drive us mad.

It is a madness because, from the standpoint of the ego, it is a desire that can never be fulfilled. For as long as the ego experiences itself as a particular individual it will never find the ultimate union it seeks.

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The Ego as an Imaginary Function

“If the ego is an imaginary function, it is not to be confused with the subject.” – Jacques Lacan (Seminar 1)

Is the ego an imaginary function? If so, it is no more real than a character in a story. If so, then the ego is an imaginary identity, lying outside of our true subjectivity, transcending our true subjectivity.

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The Ego in Jung, Freud, and Lacan

From the perspective of Carl Jung, the ego is the conscious agent and actor of the personality, as well as the center of reflective awareness. (Stein, 1982) The ego is in relationship with larger field of unconscious subjective awareness, personified by the anima image (soul).

Taking a slightly different perspective, Jacques Lacan tells us that the ego is an imaginary function. Our real subjectivity is something more, something greater than the illusions of the ego. The ego is an imaginary identity. It lies outside of self, transcending the self. The ego is trapped in the world of images, creating a struggle between the our true (but fragmented) subjectivity and the spectral image we have of ourselves.

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