⌬ Lecture №7 | Ego Psychology

Social | Psychoanalytic | Work

Aug 21 2021 • 52 mins

No review today, for two reasons.

First reason - because everything that we’ve covered before now, at this point you know it. And if you don’t know by now, then you’re probably just not gonna know it.

The second reason - all of the podcast lectures before this one or one unit, the first unit, the foundational unit.

Today’s podcast lecture, which is going to be over **ego psychology**, is the first in a series of lectures that will be the second unit of the class.

Along with ego psychology, some of the other theories that we will cover in this unit are
- Self-psychology (Kohut)
- Attachment theory (Bowlby, Ainsworth, & Main)
- Object relations (Klein, Winnicott, Fairburn, Bion)
- Intersubjective / Relational

Historical Context
Before moving into the main part of this podcast lecture, I want to say something about the context, the cultural milieu, that surrounded the formation of ego psychology’s a theoretical offshoot of Freudian psychoanalysis.

Freud developed the theory of psychoanalysis in Europe, mainly during the Victorian era when there was a rigid system of rather oppressive social structures. There were three important norms of Freud’s day:

1. The exclusion of women from institutions, and from meaningful forms of economic and social power.
2. Very near-total repression of sexuality generally, and of non-heteronormative sexuality in particular.
3. Anti-Semitism and other forms of legally and socially sanctioned racism.

In addition to this Freud witnessed lots of big historical events, many of them tragic. I’m going to run through a few (though certainly not all) of them...

1. The industrial revolution,
2. The sinking of the Titanic,
3. WW I, (gas, machine guns, planes, subs)
4. The 1918 global flu pandemic,
5. The rise of the Nazis,
6.  WW II.

All of this gave Freud what you might call, a **rather negative attitude** when it came to how people treat themselves, other people —others who are different in particular, and the environment we all share.

In short, Freud’s experiences made him a bit of a **pessimist** when it came to humanity.

Having said all that let me bounce back to one of the historical items I mentioned: the rise of the Nazis and WW II.

1. Most of the people who were psychoanalysts were Jewish, smart women, and people who advocated for sexual tolerance (e.g., sex-positive), people the Nazis did not care for.
2. When the Nazis did come to power psychoanalysis was one of the first things they tried to get rid of. (They burned lots of Freud’s books.)
3. Many psychoanalysts were rounded up and killed in concentration camps.
4. But some escaped to Britain, Freud was k Enid those, and others made it to the United States.

I’ll talk about what happened to the analysts who took up residence in the UK when I do a podcast on **Object Relations**. Today I’m going to get I think the analyst’s who found themselves here in the **United States**.

##The American Context of Ego Psychology
Unlike Europe, which was getting old and curmudgeonly as its global influence faded, America was in its late adolescence or early adulthood. It was young, attractive, and just getting more powerful.

One of the things that characterized the American zeitgeist from the 1920s to the early 1960s was a strong belief and emotional investment in a very “positive attitude.” I’d go so far as to say that this is something that has continued into the present day.

So, let’s take a critical look at this positive attitude, and some of what it suggests.

1. If you work hard you’ll get somewhat.
2. If you are successful you must have worked hard, or been smart, or had some kind of valuable skill that you were able to sell to those who wanted or needed it.
3. If you’re having a hard time it’s because you’re lazy, not because you can’t make it!
4. There is no value in “feeling sorry for yourself” (call the way-balance, do you want some cheese with that wine, are you going to cry about it?)
5. If you think positive things if you have a positive attitude then good things will happen to you.
6. It is the individual’s personal responsibility to care for their body, their finances, their professional development, their attitude, etc.
7. If things are bad it’s because you have made errors in how you live.

Some people have called this the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality that made America great.

What this positive attitude overlooks is, something that MLK said...

It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.


Or to paraphrase MLK’s idea: Before we value people being able to lift themselves up by their bootstraps, **we should realize that there are people who don’t have not been allowed to own boots**.

I want this out because ego psychology is a theory that tries to increase a person's capacity to lift themselves up by their bootstraps, it values helping people get better at “fitting in” to their society by getting better at controlling themselves. And while there is value in that, it is important to remedy that society has not, and even now does not, allow everyone the same opportunities to “fit in.”

Ok, I’ll get off my soap box now, play some transition music, and then talk to you about ego Psychology’s center am tenants.

Functions
As the name would suggest, ego psychology puts _the ego_ in the foreground, and the rest of psychoanalytic theory in the blurry background.

The aim of ego psychology is to work with patients to **increase the overall functioning of the patient’s ego, to make the patient’s ego stronger, more flexible, and more powerful**.

Those who are drawn to ego psychology tend to believe that the ego has a job to do, which is **balance** everything in a way that allows for someone to “keep a grip” on themselves. To keep a good strong grip on the steering wheel of the personality.

(Example: In some old movies someone will start to freak out and another character will grab them and say, “Get a grip!” or “Get ahold of yourself!”)

When the ego “had a grip,” when it is doing it’s job in a good enough way people behave themselves, they are logical, consistent, and doing things that are more socially acceptable.

In short: when the ego is strong and flexible people are able to stay in control of the way they are expressing their thoughts and their emotions.

(Note: I did not say control of their thoughts and emotions! We don’t control those, we can control how we display them to the outside world.)

To help the ego get strong, to help it keep a firm grip on control.

Incidentally, when someone “has a grip” on themselves, they are

1. Behaving themselves (appreciate behavior)
2. Working, or going to school (being productive)

In effect, they are playing their part within a social system, within a society. Within a capitalist society, this means producing and consuming l.

Defenses
To help the ego keep a person functioning (to keep them “productive members of society”) the ego tries to keep some unsettling, destabilizing, or anxiety-producing experiences away from your consciousness.

Now, when I say experiences I mean literally your ego avoids stuff that freaks you out. For example, I don’t like roller coasters so when people ask if I’d like to go someplace with roller coasters I say no thanks. I do t think about it, I just say nope.

However, it is important to remember we also **experience things like memories and emotions (affects) **. We experience or cognition, our thinking about things. For example, you might think about a test you’re not prepared for, or the effects of climate change, or death. Generally speaking, thinking about this is not pleasant.

What the ego does to prevent us from experiencing thesestressful, painful, or destabilizing thoughts, memories, and emotions is **repress them** into the unconscious.

Ego psychologists noticed that repression can take different forms. Sometimes repression is simple or primitive and other times it is more sophisticated or advanced.

1. An example of a simple or primitive form of repression is denial or forgetting.
2. A more sophisticated form would be sublimation or using humor.

The ego (as stable identity) is THE defense
What our ego does is try to get us to behave in ways that are consistent, it ties to keep us consistent with our social identity.

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