PASTOR ALLWIN JOHNSON - EGO: FREUD AND BIBLE
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EGO: FREUD AND BIBLE

 

PASTOR ALLWIN JOHNSON

 

 

INTRODUCTION

            The term Ego is as such is not present in the Bible. In fact it is a fairly recent invention in psychiatry, around 138 years old. This paper explains Ego with the help of Sigmund Freud's theory of Psychoanalysis. Although the researcher is not in full accord with Freud's theory of Psychoanalysis, following Larry Crabb's proposition of “Spoiling the Egyptians,”[1] the researcher has attempted to integrate some of the ideas of psychoanalytical theory and relate it with the biblical concepts to derive lessons for biblical counseling.

EGO: DEFINITION AND MEANING

            “The term 'Ego' is the Latin first person pronoun, 'I'. The concept of ego is not equivalent to what one calls oneself.”[2] For the first time, William Griesinger, who published a text in psychiatry called “Durand” in 1867, used the term Ego to describe the conscious areas of personality that have to do with self-control and self-observation.[3] Psychology claims scientific status precisely to the degree it distinguishes between the ego and the self.[4] According to Carl Jung who proposed Analytical Psychology, “The prime concept of ego is an executive entity at the center of consciousness whose main functions are those of establishing personal identity and a sense of continuity.”[5] On the other hand, Freud felt “ego is that part of the mind representing consciousness. It employs secondary process: that is, reason, commonsense, and the power to delay immediate responses to external stimuli or to internal instinctive promptings.”[6] The precise psychological definition of ego is the self-consciousness which controls the aspect of personality.

FREUDIAN PSYCHOANALYTICAL THEORY

            Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) physiologist, medical doctor, psychologist and father of psychoanalysis, is generally recognized as one of the most influential and authoritative thinkers of the twentieth century.[7] In his psychoanalytical theory, Freud distinguished three structural elements within the mind, which he called id, ego and super-ego.

            According to Freud, we are born with only id, which comprises the biological drives which are grouped into life instincts, which include sexual drives and tendencies towards self-preservation, and death instincts, which are primarily aggressive.[8] The id is an important part of our personality because as newborns, it allows us to get our basic needs met. “The id functions entirely on the unconscious level of mind.”[9] Freud believed that the id is based on our pleasure principle.[10] In other words, the id wants whatever feels good at the time, with no consideration for the reality of the situation. When a child is hungry, the id wants food, and therefore the child cries. When the child needs to be changed, the id cries. When the child is uncomfortable, in pain, too hot, too cold, or just wants attention, the id speaks up until his or her needs are met. The id doesn't care about reality, about the needs of anyone else, only its own satisfaction. If you think about it, babies are not really considerate of their parents' wishes. They have no care for time, whether their parents are sleeping, relaxing, eating dinner, or bathing. When the id wants something, nothing else is important.

            The ego is the surface of the personality, the part you show the world. The ego is governed by the reality principle or a pragmatic approach to the world. “Ego seeks to bring the influence of the external world to bear upon the id and its tendencies, and endeavors to substitute the reality principle for the pleasure principle which reigns unrestrictedly in the id.”[11] The simple difference between the id and the ego is that the id knows only the subjective reality of the mind but the ego distinguishes between things in the mind and things in the external world. For example, a child may want to steal a cookie from the kitchen, but will not steal if the child's mother is present. Id desires are still present, but the ego realizes the consequences of theft.[12] The ego represents what may be called reason and common sense, in contrast to the id, which contains only passions. Ego is the executive of the personality because it controls the gateways to the action, selects the features of the environment to which it will respond, and decides what desires will be satisfied and in what manner.[13] In short, ego, the consciousness of the personality keeps the man in the real world.

            The third and last constituent of mind system is super-ego. The super-ego is the moral part of a human-being which develops due to the moral and ethical restraints placed on us by our caregivers. Super-ego is the internalization of parental conscience and the rules of society, and functions to reward and punish through a system of moral attitudes, conscience, and a sense of guilt.[14] Many equate the super-ego with the conscience as it dictates our belief of right and wrong and the behavior that conflicts with it results in guilt. “The super-ego persuades the ego to substitute moralistic goals for realistic ones.”[15] In short, super-ego is like a policemen who rules over the ego and the id to bring a moral perfection. Super-ego always tries to make the person to be superior in the society and when the person is looked  down upon, it involves conflict with ego. The conflict between the super-ego with the ego and the id results in negative emotions such as guilt, envy, hatred, bitterness, fear, anger, depression, anxiety, worry and so on.

BIBLICAL VIEW OF EGO

            The Bible straight away does not talk about id, ego and super-ego but it does talk about flesh, self and conscience. The id is the corrupted evil or sinful nature which God refers, “How great man's wickedness on earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.”[16] God created the id as the pure instinctive drive,[17] but because of the fall it is corrupted by evil. Freud is correct in his findings but still he is unaware of the biblical principle of total depravity and tries to justify the character of id. This id is always evil and gives birth to evil behaviors in a human mind. Even Jesus tells “the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make man unclean. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”[18] In Romans, Paul talks about sinful nature or flesh, saying “when we were controlled by the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit of death”[19]

            Regarding super-ego, Bible tells that the requirements of the law are written on our hearts with our consciences also bearing witness.[20] For Jews, there is Mosaic law and Jewish tradition which acts as their super-ego and conscience. For Gentiles, God has made known everything by nature[21] and also they have the law written in their hearts. Since human conscience itself is weak and defiled[22], the Bible often emphasizes on having a good and clear conscience.[23] The Bible also testifies that the conscience, which is considered as the super-ego oversees the ego and the id.[24]

            As we have seen in the Freudian theory, the ego is the one which suffers in the middle to satisfy both the id and the super-ego. Paul refers super-ego as the law of the mind, id as the law of sin and ego as himself in Romans. When he explains his paralyzed ego, he tells “When I want to do good evil is right there with me... I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.”[25] This passage exactly picturizes the burning conflicts between Super-ego, id and ego in the mind of a man. Both id and super-ego pulling ego to their side and finally the sinful man falls into sin to fulfill what the corrupt id desires. Then super-ego punishes the ego with guilt for fulfilling id's desires. So frustrated Paul cries out saying “What a wretched man I am!”[26]

THE BIBLICAL ANSWER FOR THE EGOISTIC CONFLICT

            Freud believed that childhood events cause major conflicts between the three constituents[27] of the human mind. He also blamed super-ego for causing guilt in the mind. His psychoanalytic therapy aimed at re-establishing a harmonious relationship between the three elements which constitute the mind by excavating and resolving unconscious repressed conflicts.[28] But Bible gives a simple answer through Christ and His work on the cross. A biblical counselor must go for a biblical solution for every psychological problem.

            Paul tells “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature.”[29] Those who are saved by Christ through His blood in the cross are relieved from the domination of the corrupted id. While explaining this Paul says, “our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless that we should no longer be slaves to sin.”[30] In the salvation experience, our self or ego is crucified with Christ[31] and we receive the Holy Spirit as our super-ego or conscience.[32] Because it is crucified, our ego cannot obey the id or sinful nature. As Paul says “if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.”[33] Those who live according to the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires[34] and when they sin, the Holy Spirit will convict them of their sin. So when a man comes to Christ, he is a new creation. Everything that happened in the past has gone and he has been renewed by the regenerating experience of the Holy Spirit in him.[35]

SIGNIFICANCE AND IMPLICATIONS OF THE THEORY OF EGO IN BIBLICAL COUNSELING

            The problem of egoistic conflict is the cause of all other negative emotions such as fear, anger, hatred, bitterness, jealousy, anxiety, depression, guilt etc... Once the cause is rectified, then the symptoms will recede from the scenario. For example, assume that two individuals have hatred between themselves. Hatred towards someone is the egoistic conflict within the individuals and not between the individuals. The conflict between ego with super-ego and id of a person brings out hatred towards another man. The reconciliation of this internal conflict will certainly resolve the external symptom called hatred. Hence, this theory of ego captures a significant place in the discipline of biblical counseling.

            A biblical counselor who is aware of this theory can easily assist the counselee to relieve himself from the existing problem. Let us look at this case  study.

            “A pastor counselor met a young boy called Arun, a depressed student, doing his bachelor degree. He is a handsome intelligent boy from a well-off family background. His parents are spiritual and doing a lot of ministries in the Church. But his close friends in his college are the ordinary youths having all sort of bad habits. Arun is an addict of alcohol and smoking for two years and his parents are well aware of his habit. Now he is completely depressed and even willing to die. He does not want to come to Church and live for Jesus.”[36]

            The pastor counselor should not be in a hurry to make any decision regarding the case. If we think about the root cause of Arun's problem, there is an internal egoistic conflict which causes depression and self hatred in him. It is because of his super-ego (to show off himself) he started to consume alcohol and smoke with his friends and later his id took control of his bad habits. When he goes home, his spiritualistic parents scold him by saying that he is a sinner against God. Now his super-ego too blames him “your parents are holy and you are unholy, unworthy to go to Church and pray.” Poor Arun (ego) feeling guilt and depressed because of the ongoing conflict of his id and super-ego. To forget these, he consumes liquor again and again and finally he decides to die, thinking that he is completely unworthy to live.

            Although the counselor understands everything under ego theory, he should not explain the same to his counselee. The duty of the counselor is to make Arun to understand the whole process of problem development. Then, make him realize that he is worth living a life amidst all his bad habits. Try to turn his feeling of guilt towards a repentance towards Christ. Counsel him not to feel guilty at any point of time. Without talking about his addiction and other sins, lead him towards love of Jesus and the salvation experience.

            As we have seen earlier, when a man comes to Christ and gets salvation, the old self has passed away and our ego has been crucified with Christ. But in a wrongly programmed unconscious mind, the corrupted id still continues to exist.[37] So even after having a close relationship with Christ, some times Arun may struggle in addiction. Then the counselor should also counsel the family members to treat him with love and affection and to create a conducive atmosphere for his spiritual life. They should not accuse him of anything at any cost because accusation would cause egoistic conflicts within his mind which will result in depression and finally to liquor consumption. If the counselee is in Christ, then the Holy Spirit will strengthen his spirit and conscience and help him not to walk in the sinful nature or id.

CONCLUSION

            A biblical counselor will be more effective if he knows and practices this ego theory in counseling. This theory gives a perspective of looking at problems. We  have seen that internal egoistic conflicts are the cause of all psychological problems in man. Whatever may be the theory and its usage in pastoral counseling, as I stated before, beyond Scripture and apart from Christ there is no other way to escape from the psychological problems of man. As Jesus said to the Samaritan woman “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.”[38] Secular psychology is able to explain our real psychic problems but it cannot give a lasting answer to them. In short, psychology explains the what, the why and the how but only Scripture gives the solution. So in counseling a counselor must be focused on the Scripture even if he uses psychology as a tool.



[1]Larry Crabb, Effective Biblical Counseling, (Secunderabad: OM Books, 2002), 47              Spoiling the Egyptians is a model in which Christians plunder the secular psychological ideas and concepts which do not contradict with the scripture to use them for biblical counseling.

[2]V.P. Gay, “Psychological meaning and theory of Ego,” in Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling, Ed. Rodney J. Hunter, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990), 343

[3]W.L. Edkins, “Ego,” in Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology & Counseling, Ed. David G Benner, Peter C. Hill, (Michigan:Baker Books, 1999), 385

[4]Gay, in “Psychological meaning and theory of Ego,” Ed. Rodney J. Hunter, Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling, 343

[5]R.F. Hurding, “Analytical Psychology,” in New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology, Ed. David J. Atkinson, David H. Field, (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 57

[6]Anthony Storr, Freud: A very short introduction, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1989), 61

[7]Stephen P. Thornton, “Sigmund freud,” in Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, available from (accesed on 14 March 2005)

[8]I.P. Chritensen, H.L. Wagner and M.S. Halliday, Psychology, (New Delhi: Viva Books Private Limited, 2001), 237

[9]Chritensen, H.L. Wagner & M.S. Halliday, Psychology, 237

[10]Calvin S. Hall and Gardener Lindzey, Theories of Personality, (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1978), 36

[11]James Strachey, ed., Sigmund Freud: The Ego and the Id, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc.,1960), 15

[12]Edward P.Kardas, “Ego, Id, Super-Ego,” in Peace.Saumag Online, available from (accesed on10 March 2005)

[13]Hall, Gardener Lindzey, Theories of Personality, 37

[14]Matt, “ID, Ego, Super-ego,” in Mattcoenen Online, available  from (accesed on 10 March 2005)

[15]Hall, Gardener Lindzey, Theories of Personality, 38

[16]Genesis 6:5

[17]Genesis 1:31; God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.

[18]Matthew 15:18,19

[19]Romans 7:5

[20]Romans 2:15

[21]Romans 1:18-20

[22]1Corinthians 8:7; Titus 1:15

[23]1Timothy 1:5; 1:19; 2 Timothy 1:3; Hebrews 13:18; 1 Peter 3:16

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