What’s The Best Way To Define Ego?

Updated May 07, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Guilbeault

Nowadays, the word ego comes up often. People use it freely, believing they know what it means. However, psychologists use the term differently from how it is commonly used. Depending on how you define ego, it may seem like something desirable — or something to be avoided at any cost. In this article, we will explore the different meanings of the word.

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Origin of The Word Ego

The word ego comes from the Latin word meaning“I.” When Freud developed psychoanalytic theory, he used the German word es to describe the part of the self that is responsible for decision making. Freud's English translator chose the word ego.

How People Commonly Define Ego

A more common definition of ego is self-esteem or self-importance. When someone thinks too highly of themselves, we say they have a big ego. Someone who thinks of themselves as better and more important than other people might be called an egomaniac.

Synonyms for Ego

There are several synonyms for the common definition of ego.


As a synonym for ego, conceit means overly high self-esteem. You don't just think you're a good person when you're conceited; you think you're magnificent. You're vain and self-absorbed. Like Narcissus did in the Greek myth, you fall in love with your own reflection, and you may spend a lot of time looking in the mirror, entranced by the beauty of your own reflection.

Does this mean that a conceited person is a narcissist? Maybe, maybe not. If you also feel the need for constant admiration, have a sense of entitlement, lack empathy, behave in an arrogant way, are preoccupied with fantasies of success, and see nothing wrong with taking advantage of others, you may have a narcissistic personality.


Arrogance, another synonym for ego, means that you are overbearing, always demanding the utmost reverence from others. You take control of situations that aren't necessarily yours to control. You make power plays without thinking of how they might affect others. In fact, you hold others in contempt, viewing them as less worthy of respect than you are.


Bigheadedness is a casual synonym for ego. If you're bigheaded, you have an exaggerated sense of your own abilities, qualities, and importance. You put other people down. You demean others, staying intensely focused on your own over-the-top sense of self-worth.


Self-satisfaction means that you're smug. You're so pleased with yourself that you irritate and annoy other people.

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Superiority seems at first glance to be a positive term. After all, isn’t it good to be superior to others? The problem is, people with a sense of superiority often see themselves as better than others even when there's no objective evidence that they are.


The meaning of pomposity is similar to that of ego. When you're pompous, you behave in an inflated,grand way. You may exaggerate your social status or job position, and you are likely to be overly serious and self-promoting.


Vanity is closely associated with appearance. When you're vain, you're enamored with the way you look. You may also have excessive pride in your own achievements and abilities.

Psychological Definitionsof Ego

The definition of ego in psychology is quite different from the common usage of the word. In psychology, ego is a neutral concept that simply describes an aspect of yourself.

The Self In Contrast To Others And The World

One way psychologists use the word ego is to differentiate the self from others. Your ego must be intact for you to differentiate between what you think and what others think. Your ego is the center of your own thoughts, behaviors, and experiences.

Ego In Psychoanalysis

As mentioned before, Freud used the word ego as part of his psychoanalytic theory. According to Freud, each person has a psyche that's made up of three parts: the id, the ego, and the superego. The id refers to the part of themind that's primal and instinctual. The superego refers to the part of the mindthat is critical or moralizes about what you think or do. The ego is the third part of the psyche: the “conscious mediator” that makes decisions.

Conscious Mediator

Freud saw the ego as a conscious mediator between the id and the superego. Imagine that you have an unconscious need, urge, or desire. This comes from the id. Your superego criticizes and judges your desire. However, it is your ego that decides whether to pursue that desire. In a sense, your ego "talks" to your id and superego, presents a solution, and manages the fallout for the id and/or superego. The ego is thusthe decision-making component of themind.

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Perception of Reality

Your ego is the part of you that perceives reality. You may smell a flower, taste an apple, or hear a carhonk. It's your ego that takes in that sensory information and makes sense of it. Your ego is the rational part of your mind. It identifies what's happening around you.

Synonyms for Ego In Psychology

Psychology has its own synonyms for ego too.


Self-concept refers to your view of yourself. Self-concept is the same as self-image. Your self-concept is a complex set of ideas about what kind of person you are. If you have a positive self-concept, you think of yourself as a good and worthwhile person. If you have a negative self-concept, you think of yourself as inferior or unworthy.


Ego in psychology can also refer to your identity. In this sense, your ego encompasses everything that makes you who you are. It can include your physical characteristics, your social status and abilities, and your mental quirks. Your identity may also refer to who you are in society as compared to others.


Self-perspective is your own unique view of yourself as part of the larger world. No one sees you quite like you see yourself, and no one sees the world as you do either.


Your sense of self-worth depends on your ability to see the good in yourself and judge it as being enough. When you have positive self-worth, you think of yourself as deserving good things. You place value on being who you are and doing the things that make you happy.

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Self-esteem is confidence in yourself. You feel a positive sense of self-worth and self-respect. Having healthy self-esteem is crucial in many ways. When you think enough of yourself, you can go confidently into the world to meet your needs and fulfill your desires. With healthy self-esteem, you not only treat yourself better, but you tend to treat others well too.


Psychologists sometimes define ego as individuality. This is your self in contrast to the selves of others. You are you, and no one else is you. You have your own needs, thoughts, preferences, and abilities. You are in charge of what you think and how you behave. You're a distinct individual with a unique perspective and path in life.


Personality is that unique set of qualities that make you who you are. If you have a cheery personality, you greet the world with positivity. You smile often and think about the good things in life. If you have a bossy personality, you push others to do what you want, putting your own judgment about what's best ahead of anyone else's. Your personality is your way of being in the world, and as such, it's the ego component of your psyche.

Related Words

Finally, there are a few related words that people use to talk about ego.


Egoism is a philosophical concept. It's a belief that moral behavior is based on serving your own best interests. For those who feel that having a big ego is wrong, this may sound far-fetched, but it's easy to see how taking care of yourself first is the best thing you can do. Airlines warn passengers to put on their own oxygen masks before they try to help someone else. Also, if you put others first too long, you can become wornout, ill, or depressed.


Egotism means the same thing as having a big ego. If you're an egotist, you can't stop talking about yourself. You believe you're superior to and more important than others. In your mind, you are the best and you want everyone to know it.


Psychologist Jean Piaget used the word egocentrism to describe the inability of children to see the world from anyone's perspective other than their own. Psychologist David Elkind later talked about egocentrism in adolescents, which he described as teenagers' tendency to focus on themselves and what others think of them. In common use, egocentrism is aptly described by the phrase "thinking the world revolves around you."

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What Does It Mean to Have A Healthy Ego?

Ego psychology can identify both unhealthy and healthy egos. If you have an unhealthy ego, you have an unrealistic view of yourself. You may see yourself as better or worse than you really are. You may have a narcissistic personality or become extremely depressed.

What about a healthy ego? What does that look like? If you have a healthy ego, you generally think well of yourself without exaggerating your own achievements or abilities. You feel mentally strong enough to face life's challenges. You see yourself as basically good, acceptable, and at least as important as others. You can see others' perspectives but honor your own most of all.

Often, ego damage can happen in childhood or in traumatic situations. What happens to you or what someone else tells you about yourself can interfere with your ability to see yourself as worthwhile. If your ego seems weak, it may be because you need to deal with depression or past trauma. A therapist can help you processyour thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to help heal your ego.

You can talk to a licensed counselor at BetterHelp.com for assistance on this and on other mental health issues. When you have a healthy ego and positive self-esteem, you can feel greater happiness and fulfillment in being just who you are.

The Benefits of Online Therapy

As discussed above, psychodynamic therapy, which may include discussions of the ego, can help with symptoms of social anxiety disorder. But when you are feeling anxious, it can be difficult to attend in-person sessions. This is where online therapy comes in. You can access BetterHelp’s platform from the comfort and privacy of your own home. In addition, online therapy offers lower pricing than in-person therapy because online therapists don’t have to pay for costs like renting an office.BetterHelp’s licensed therapists have helped people understand and work with their ego. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp therapists from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

“Jody was an amazing support system during a very difficult time for me. She helped me to better understand myself and find some solutions to questions I had about myself. I am so grateful to her for her advice, guidance, and care throughout my time with her!”


“Brittany has been my counselor for just a few short weeks now. She has been excellent in getting to know me and finding out what I want from her so far. She has a way with words that seem to explain things very well to me which I’m turn has helped me have great strides in my life. I don’t think any of this would be possible without Brittany or BetterHelp. I’m now excited for my future in ways I didn’t know how to achieve, I still have allot to accomplish but I’m confident I’m going to keep getting the help I need.”

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