Ego strength is a psychological term referring to the ability to withstand psychological and emotional tension without regressing to less mature behaviors or attitudes. Basically, it is a measure of psychological resilience and flexibility, the capacity to deal with stress and life challenges in a conscious, self-responsible and creative way.
Like a well-built house, a strong ego possesses structural integrity. A quality house can withstand gale-force winds or a moderate earthquake without falling apart or collapsing. The same is true, from a psychological perspective, for the individual who has good ego strength. She enjoys a structural integrity to her personality that allows her to encounter stress (both inner and outer) without buckling under or abandoning her deeper values.
This does not mean that someone with a strong ego does not experience or express difficult emotions, even sadness and tears. In fact, you need a strong ego to feel, accept and learn from your emotions. In addition, it often takes a strong ego to be assertive about what you think or feel, especially when what you have to say may cost you someone’s approval. Finally, addressing and processing your emotions helps to relieve some of the internal stress that would undermine your ego strength or cloud your vision.
It should also be noted that having a strong ego is not the same thing as having a “big ego”. To say that someone has a big ego generally means that they are arrogant or have an exaggerated sense of self-importance. Someone with a big ego may be very confident or cocky but, ironically, this is often just a cover, or compensation, for an underlying sense of inferiority.
Likewise, ego strength should not be confused with egocentricity. To be egocentric is to act as if the world revolves around you. You are egocentric when you are overly attached to your own goals, beliefs or worldview and unwilling to see things from any other perspective. The egocentric person is so entranced by their beliefs that they ignore, deny or stubbornly argue against other viewpoints, whether offered by another person or by their own unconscious.
If you have a weak or compromised ego you may have difficulty addressing the basic challenges of life in a constructive, flexible or creative way. For example, you may become very rigid or controlling in your decision-making when under stress. Another common characteristic of a weak ego is an extreme intolerance of psychological, physical or emotional pain. As a result, such individuals may turn to alcohol, drugs, or other addictive behaviors to numb themselves or manipulate their mood. You may try to run away from problems through denial, defensiveness, wishful thinking or black and white thinking. The individual with a weak ego often has difficulty tolerating ambiguity, delaying gratification or patiently seeking the right solution to a problem. Dissociation and psychosis are less common and more extreme psychological states in which the ego has basically abandoned ship (dissociation) or become so overwhelmed that it can no longer distinguish inner reality from outer reality (psychosis).
The importance of ego strength is that it allows you to remain conscious and creatively responsive to the challenges that come your way in life. It takes a strong ego to be a strong and reliable instrument of the soul. The path of individuation (becoming the unique individual you were created to be) and the path of greater consciousness require courage, forbearance, patience, resilience, flexibility, humility, humor and love. Ego strength facilitates these attributes and in so doing helps you to carry the weight of your destiny and whatever lessons you have been put here to learn.
Copyright © Andy Drymalski, Ed.D. Excerpts may be used provided full and clear credit is given author with link to original article.
Excellent post – and I am glad you wrote complicated Jungian ideas in an easy to digest form.
Thank you for your comment. I am glad you found this post helpful!
Thank you. What are the ways one strengthens the ego? Both for the young and for the not so young?
Resilience and mental strength are terms frequently associated with ego strength; they are not identical, but touch on some similar characteristics. There are a variety of books related to these two terms, so you may want to look at Amazon or another book seller and see if there are any titles that sound helpful.
As far as my own thoughts on the subject, I would advise you to really reflect on the values and morals you want to live your life by. For example, what do you think is important in life? How do you think people should treat each other? How would you want someone to treat you? What do you think is the purpose and value of life? When you have clarified these things for yourself (and this will likely be an ongoing process), then do your best to honor and live by them. To uphold your values in the face of pressure to do otherwise builds integrity and ego strength, assuming your values are worthy. In addition, do not turn to addictive behaviors or other unhealthy habits as a means of coping with emotional or psychological stress. They keep you from developing your inner strength because they act as a crutch. They just kick the can of your psychological growth down the road.
If you want to strengthen your ego in a positive way, do your best to live your life with integrity. Become self-disciplined. Learn to tolerate delayed gratification. Reflect on and process strong emotions before taking action upon them. Bear the necessary burdens in your life without show and without giving up. Perseverance, loyalty and the capacity to be patient can all build healthy ego strength.