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The Ego: Can We Really Take It or Leave It?

What is the ego?

 

Dictionary.com defines “ego” as “the ‘I’ or self of any person; a person as thinking, feeling, and willing, and distinguishing itself from the selves of others and from objects of its thought.”

It goes on to say that the definition in psychoanalysis is “the part of the psychic apparatus that experiences and reacts to the outside world and thus mediates between the primitive drives of the id and the demands of the social and physical environments.”

 

New Age gurus everywhere have said that the ego is that part of the human experience that makes us separate from others, the part that individualizes itself, the mind chatter that plagues us, the child part of ourselves that needs constant attention, and the part of the self that makes decisions based upon the past, and coming from a place of fear. They also tell us that the more evolved we are, the less interference the ego presents in our lives, and that letting go of the ego is the ultimate goal. This attitude makes a lot of people involved in the New Age movement feel “less than” because they can’t seem to quiet or eradicate the ego. It’s a very counter-intuitive thing to put on people.

 

Whether you are religious or on some spiritual path, or a total atheist, learning to live with the ego is part of accepting yourself totally and embracing the human experience. Stressing over the ego’s chatter, being in a constant battle with it, and beating yourself up for mistakes it has made, are all a waste of energy. As long as we are in bodies, having a human experience, we are going to have to deal with the ego. Learning how to quiet it in order to de-stress is a wonderful practice to get into. Meditation is a good way, so is listening to your favorite music, getting out in Nature. Getting into the habit of giving yourself time to make decisions so that you know that your decisions are not coming from a place of fear – which is the ego – is also a practice that it is good to take on.

 

Not accepting the ego as a part of who you are is essentially denying a part of who you are. But the ego doesn’t have to be in control. You love your child, but you wouldn’t allow her to drive the car, would you? Learning how to manage it takes practice and self-awareness is the key. You really can’t eradicate the ego, but you can befriend it, embrace it, and acknowledge the role it plays in making you who you are. Self-esteem requires that you accept the totality of yourself, and the ego is just one aspect of that.

Mental Illness and Creativity: Is There a Connection?

artistic expressions

A great many creative people – artists, poets, musicians, even philosophers – have been thought to be mad since ancient times. Some cultures honored their eccentrics, the “different” ones, but others often had them put in asylums or even executed as witches. Obviously times have changed since then and society has become much more open minded about mental illnesses. Psychological studies have shown that there is, in fact, a connection between mental illness and creativity. While mental illness does not necessarily equal creativity, and vice versa, there have been found many cases of links between the two.

 

For many people who live with mental illnesses, it provides them with an opportunity for a unique perspective on life, coming at reality from an oblique angle. Couple that with creative talent and intelligence, and an artistic genius can be born. People with serious mental illnesses such as clinical depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders exist with their sensory volume turned way up. It is harder for them to filter out information for the purposes of focus, and so they take in much more than most people do. While this may cause a lot of inner turmoil and suffering, it also gives them the ability to form connections out of seemingly disconnected things, feelings, and ideas.

 

William Lee Adams, who writes for CNN, said in his article The dark side of creativity: Depression + anxiety x madness =genius?, “Celebrated Norwegian artist Edvard Munch’s life was fraught with anxiety and hallucinations” But, he goes on to write, “The painting (The Scream) is thought to represent the angst of modern man which Munch experienced deeply throughout his life, but saw as an indispensable driver of his art. He wrote in his diary, ‘My fear of life is necessary to me, as is my illness. They are indistinguishable from me, and their destruction would destroy my art’.”

 

Psychologists, having been almost enraptured with this question, conducted early studies of well-known artists who worked in a variety of media, and the conclusion was that many highly creative people suffer from mood disorders. Clinical depression plagued people like Charles Dickens, Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Jackson Pollack, and Anne Sexton.

 

Many of these studies rely on anecdotal evidence and have been harshly criticized. But neuroscientist Andreas Fink of the University of Graz in Austria published a study in which he compared brains of creative people to those with schizotypy, which is a milder form of schizophrenia.

 

Adams writes that the psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, who also writes for Scientific American “has summed up the results (of this study) this way. ‘It seems that the key to creative cognition is opening up the floodgates, and letting in as much information as possible. Because you never know: sometimes the most bizarre associations can turn into the most productively creative ideas’.”

 

While creativity remains somewhat elusive, the answer to the question posed in the title of this article is “Yes”. There is a connection between mental suffering and creative expression. The depth required to probe the human condition through art of any kind, sometimes takes a special vision and sensitivity that the “normal” person often escapes. Is creativity a curse? Modern pharmacology has made it less so. But people need to want to be helped and many artists hold the sentiments of Edvard Munch – that without their illness, their art wouldn’t exist.

Rethinking Mental Illness

Mental Health and mental illness | Hope Counseling

 

All throughout history, individuals with mental illnesses have been marginalized, if not brutalized and shunned. In ancient times, the mentally ill were often seen as possessed by demons, or in league with the devil, and as a result, were put to death. It is a sad commentary on world perception, that the mentally ill are still stigmatized, living as the outsiders among us, considered to be not “normal”, and sometimes dangerous.

 

People tend to fear what they don’t understand, and unfortunately, the mentally ill are still all too often misunderstood, and thought to be people to avoid. They are considered to be “strange”, “weird” and “crazy”. As a result, their lives are often lived in secret, and they seek no help or support. Even people who are well-educated have many misconceptions about mental illness, and frequently, it is up to the mentally ill to teach the rest of us what it’s really about.

 

That mental illness is physiological, that there is frequently medication involved in treatment, and there is a “diagnosis”, a label placed on the mentally ill person, that label oftentimes follows that person all her life. People say of the mentally ill, “She is a schizophrenic”, and instead of the schizophrenic saying “I have schizophrenia”, she will tell others, “I am schizophrenic”, thus identifying the totality of who she is with her illness. She takes societal stigma and judgment and places it on herself. Society’s stereotype becomes her own. She has become her illness. It is so counter-intuitive to her potential wellness.

 

The truth is that the those who live with mental illnesses are us. They often continue to live lives that are full and meaningful. They want to love and be loved and accepted, and to feel useful – that they matter. They want to be seen as more than just one part of who they are. They can be intelligent and creative and productive. And they walk this earth, not as outsiders or ghosts, but as human beings, the just the same as regular people. They only need the chance to become as fully realized as they can be. For that chance, it is up to us to educate ourselves and in doing so, to eradicate the terrible stigma that has followed people with mental illness for too long.

 

Mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression, and bi-polar disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, and several other mental illnesses are difficult to live with, but can also be overcome. For those that suffer these illnesses, it’s possible to live a completely normal life, without revealing that the illness is present. On one hand, this is great because it allows the person to live without prejudice. On the other hand, it forces them to be underground about their symptoms.

 

The solution is to allow change the way we think about mental illness. It can be scary and unpredictable. But at the root, it can be simply another hurdle for us to overcome. Diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders is paramount.