What’s The Best Way To Define Ego?

Updated July 18, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Nowadays, the word ego comes up often. People use it freely, believing they know what it means. However, psychologists and online therapists 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. It’s a psychoanalytic term as well as a critical one. In this article, we will explore the different meanings of the word.

What Is an Ego?

The term ego is Latin and refers to one’s sense of identity. Also known as the self-concept, the ego is a collection of beliefs that come up when one asks the question “Who am I?” 

These beliefs are descriptive statements one believes about oneself – for example, the statement “I am a good baseball player” could be one example of ego in this context. 

Things that one believes constitutes one’s identity such as sex, nationality, religion, as well as height, weight, skin and eye color, and other descriptive characteristics could also be considered examples of the ego.

Self-concept should be distinguished here from self-esteem, or self-respect, because the beliefs are descriptive, rather than positive words or feelings – “I feel good about being a good baseball player” would be an example of self-esteem, for example.

Origin of The Word Ego

As said before, the word ego comes from the Latin word meaning “I.” When Sigmund Freud developed the theory of psychoanalysis, 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.

What Did Freud Say About the Ego?

Freud believed that the mind was comprised of three distinct but interrelated parts:

  • Superego – This reflects the collection of moral and cultural assumptions we internalize as children, such as ideas regarding right and wrong or gender roles. It also represents one’s conscience.
  • Ego – This is the part of the mind responsible for ensuring one’s desires and impulses conform to external reality (this is referred to by Freud as the “reality principle.”) This and the superego act together to constitute the conscious mind.
  • Id – The id represents the unconscious mind. This is where all one’s primitive drives come from, such as the desire for sex and food.

Freud believed another purpose of the ego was to focus unacceptable and repressed desires and feelings of the id (unconscious mind) into various protective mechanisms, such as displacement, fantasy, and projection, among others.

How People Commonly Define Ego

How Does Ego Impact Personality?

The popular perception of the term ego is tied up with the idea of excessive self-esteem or self-importance. 

Here are some examples of how the term is commonly used:

  • When someone thinks too highly of themselves, we say they have a big ego. 
  • To characterize a room full of people who may be regarded as self-important or arrogant, we might say that the room is “full of big egos.” 
  • Someone who thinks of themselves as better and more important than other people might be called an egomaniac.

It’s crucial to understand that ego is not in and of itself bad, despite how it's commonly used. 

Ego as used in everyday speech is more similar to self-esteem, but in psychological terms, self-esteem and ego (self-concept) are words for two completely different ideas.

Synonyms for Ego

There are several synonyms for the common definition of ego.

Conceit

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, as is common in the mindsets of teens with adolescent egocentrism. You’re vain and self-absorbed. In other words, your perception of yourself and your abilities does not fully line up with reality.

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

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.

Big Headedness

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

Self-Satisfaction

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

Superiority

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.

Pomposity

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

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 Definition Of 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. It basically refers to the conscious mind.

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 own ego is the center of your own thoughts, behaviors, and experiences, and interacts with the egos of others you meet in the outside world.

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 the mind that’s primal and instinctual. The superego refers to the part of the mind that 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 and ensures one’s desires conform to reality.

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. In other words, the ego is the decision-making component of the mind.

Perception of Reality

Your ego is the part of you that perceives reality. You may smell a flower, taste an apple, or hear a car honk. 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

The field of psychology has its own synonyms for ego too.

Self-Concept

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. 

Identity

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

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.

Self-Worth

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 of good things. You place value on being who you are and doing the things that make you happy.

Self-Esteem

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.

Individuality

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

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

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 worn out, ill, or depressed.

Egotism

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.

Egocentrism

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.”

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 process your 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

How Does Ego Impact Personality?

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.”

What is having an ego?

Having an ego in common parlance refers to having a healthy level of self-regard and self-respect. However, it’s crucial to remember that this is not the technical definition of ego as used by psychologists, which relates more to how the conscious mind forms its idea of your identity.

What is the ego of a person?

What is an example of ego?

Is it good to have an ego?

How do I know I have ego?

What is ego in a relationship?

How do you break your ego?

Is ego the same as pride?

What are the types of ego?

Can ego be controlled?

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