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The Role of the Ego in Addiction

What is the “ego”?

Sigmund Freud, the founding father of Psychoanalysis, proposed a structural model of the psyche which included the id, ego and super-ego.

The id is the unorganized part of the personality structure that contains a human’s basic, instinctual drives. Babies are often used as an example as to what the ‘Id’ represents. In infancy, people are driven by the need to satisfy their basic instincts of pain, hunger and comfort. There is no concept of hate, good, bad or morality in this stage of our lives. The Id is this set of basic instincts.

The ego comprises the organized part of the personality structure that includes defensive, perceptual, intellectual-cognitive, and executive functions. Conscious awareness resides in the ego, although not all of the operations of the ego are conscious. The ego is a set of psychic functions such as judgment, tolerance, reality testing, control, planning, and defense, synthesis of information, intellectual functioning, and memory.

The super-ego is the part of a person’s mind that acts as a self-critical conscience, reflecting social standards learned from parents, teachers and other mentor-like persons.

Ego and Narcissism in Addiction

Narcissism is the excessive pre-occupation of self-love. Many addicts exhibit this egotistical personality trait from a mixture of their drug/alcohol addiction, family and socio-economic upbringing, education, and/or mental health.

Personally, I believe the ego is one of the hardest things to overcome in recovery. Ego manifests itself in different ways.  Ego in addiction has to do more so with the idea that the world revolves around us. That everyone is a reflection of something better or worse than us, that everything bad that happens is happening personally to us and that everything good was meant for us. All of my thoughts in my addiction were about me. Even when I thought I was being helpful, I was doing it with a hidden agenda. The hidden agenda could’ve been to buy friendship, companionship, or to get something out of someone. It didn’t matter what I did, if it was out of ego, it was about me. Ego kept me trapped and alone in selfish desires where clothes, money, esteem, pity, fear, and conceit ruled my life. The ego told me the world was out to get me, as if the world found me so important that it made its main goal to make my life hell. In my addiction these thoughts and feelings were amplified and no one else mattered. My narcissism had to be removed in order for me to get sober.

The Role of Ego in Recovery

There’s this concept called ego fatigue, which explains how people can exhaust their egos when tempted with the want of immediate relief versus the need for long-term relief. This is prevalent in the recovery community. Addicts know that long-term sobriety will keep them happy and alive while the temptation of immediate relief (to get high) will not keep them happy and might even end in death.  But it’s hard to resist temptation, especially when put back into the same environment.

The Role of Humility in Recovery

The opposite of ego in addiction is humility in recovery. Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself because the ego wants naturally puts ‘you’ first, it just means thinking of yourself less. So in order to be rid of egotistical ways in sobriety I started to put my focus on other people and realized that this life was not mine to do what I want. I realized that I had a purpose to fulfill and it was the spirit’s purpose of sharing love in an altruistic way not the ego’s purpose.

Ego in addiction is tricky because it can creep in and run your life for a long time without you ever realizing it. That is why prayer and meditation are so fundamental in my recovery. Through prayer and meditation I am able to keep those negative thoughts at bay. Instead when I pray and meditate I tap into being spiritual. Through being spiritual I am able to help others and give away love freely. I put my love into someone else where it can remain long after I am gone. I focus on humility and less on my selfish wants. Once you take accountability for your selfish ways, and realize what you’re doing is to benefit yourself, you have to start taking action to counteract that and be more disciplined in your recovery.

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