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Creating the Ego



The links in the table on the left take you to sub-headings on this page.

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The Universality of  Violence

If we look at humanity around the world and throughout recorded history, there seems to be many things that are common to all societies and many things that are different. One view of this pattern is that humans have a common nature or essence, overlaid with cultural and historical differences.

Sub - Headings
Period of  Ego creation
Vulnerability
References

This view is self-deceptive. It cannot explain the violence, and its associated suffering, that humans inflict on each other, unless we take the view that violence is a part of our essence. Violence is independent of cultural and historical differences between societies – such differences only change the forms that violence takes. So where does the universality of violence come from? [¹]

I use a framework of thought that includes a scenario of reincarnation theory. Understanding the many forms of limitations, creativity and sensitivity in children cannot be explained except by invoking ideas of reincarnation. [²]

Understanding the conditions of the infant's world generates an intelligible view of the most important origin of violence. The new-born infant does not have a conscious mind but only a subconscious one. Hence it does not have an ego. Its first task is to create one. This creation occurs within the first 12–18 months of life (after this period the ego develops itself for the rest of its life). It is helped and hindered in this task by its parents and other significant adults. Relationships and individuality are the principle means that the infant uses as its path to acquiring an ego.

However, there is a major difficulty that the infant has to surmount : if these relationships are problematical then they will be reflected in the character and degree of stability of the resulting ego.


The only factor common to mankind is not an essence but the time after birth when the infant has to begin the process of relating itself to the parents. It begins this process at a stage of its life when it has not fully established its ego. The crystallising ego has to learn to relate whilst it is still being created. The creation of a strong and harmonious ego requires a preponderant amount of loving kindness from the parents. Unfortunately this does not always, or even usually, occur ; instead, the stresses and negative states of mind of the parents’ own lives are transmitted to the fledgling ego of the infant, with results that can be disastrous. What is common to mankind is not a basic human nature but a basic human event, the trauma of infancy. [³]

Violence has several origins, and one of the most important is the consequence of trauma that is experienced in childhood, in the time before the ego is fully created.

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Period of Ego Creation

I consider in detail the time period for the creation of the new ego. When does it begin to be created and how long does this process take?

In the creation of consciousness out of subconsciousness and unconsciousness there are only events and no dates. Linear time (or clock time) is not a part of the subconscious and unconscious minds ; events in these minds can only be attached to definite dates if they are associated with particular objective events whose dates are known, such as birthdays.

A deep psycho-analysis can reach back to the time when the ego was in the process of creation, but the psycho-analysis does not reveal any dates for this process. So we have to make inferences of the time period of ego formation from the child’s reactions and achievements, using the results of psychological studies.


There are two limitations to the time period that I accept as indicating the formation of an ego.

1). First I limit myself to an average period. Precocious children are likely to develop an ego earlier than I suppose, and slow learners later.

2). Secondly, we have to avoid depending on automatic responses. When the infant responds to the mother’s smile, this is usually a subconscious reaction and does not necessarily indicate consciousness. We have to put weight on unusual responses, such as the beginning of language formation and the fear of strangers. Language formation denotes linear (or logical) thinking, and hence requires an ego.


Fear is a dominant feature of man’s consciousness, but is usually hidden in the adult by compensatory effects, such as the ease by which anger is generated (anger usually arises in order to mask fear) and the adoption of a conservative attitude to life. But fear is hidden far more consistently and effectively by a layer of guilt, so that the fear is not an obvious component of adult consciousness. It is this primary reality of fear that provides the susceptibility to infancy trauma. Therefore the ego will show this fear once it begins to be formed (especially if sensitivity had been developed in previous incarnations or lives on Earth). [4]

According to Schaffer (quoted in Gross, page 550) the infant will gradually develop attachments to significant people over a prolonged period of time. However, the onset of separation distress and fear of contact with strangers is usually quite rapid – this fear becomes evident at about seven or eight months of age. This response of fear to people is a more certain indicator that the ego is forming than the responses of attachment formation. If the infant’s life is happy, then in its attachment formation the transition from subconsciousness to consciousness will be slow and indistinct. But the presence of fear creates sharp boundaries.

Therefore, in my view, the creation of the ego in an average infant begins at around seven or eight months of age.

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In order to decide when the infant’s ego is fully formed, in terms of a structure of basic beliefs, I turn to ideas on language development.

The period from birth to 12 months of age is usually the pre-linguistic stage of the child. The term ‘pre-linguistic’ is used to indicate that the child has no public, or objective, language – its thinking uses only a purely subjective and private language, such as is indicated by babbling.

The period from 12-18 months is usually the one-word stage. The child uses one word at a time. Its first words are usually private ones and it uses them to label things: it makes up its own words for the teddy bear, the toys and other objects. After a time it begins to use these words consistently – the same word for the same object. Then it slowly begins to acquire a public language: it begins to label things by the words that the parents use to label them. This ability indicates the tentative accomplishment of full consciousness.

On average, a child will acquire a 10 word objective language by the age of 15 months (Nelson, quoted in Gross, page 662). This growth in the development of objective language indicates that the ego has been formed and can now consciously react to its environment. Therefore the ego is fully formed by the time that it is between 12-15 months of age. From now on the ego begins its long process of development and expansion.

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Vulnerability

The period of about 7-15 months of age is the time in which the average ego is created. What is the value of assuming this period for ego creation?

This period is a critical one for the infant. During this time the fledgling ego is vulnerable to certain forms of psychic disturbance or trauma.

So infant care needs to be at its very best during this time in order to allow the infant to form a stable ego. It is within this period that infancy trauma can occur and provide the conditions for later adult madness. Episodes of insanity in adulthood usually indicate that the infant did not create a stable ego.

In my understanding of madness, the Oedipus complex is a particular consequence of infancy trauma. Hence this complex occurs within the period of 7-15 months of life, much earlier than Freud thought. [5]


The ego has to be created, but not from nothing. The infant has a subconscious mind, and this subconsciousness is the primary material out of which the ego is made. Relationships are secondary material.

If the ego came ready-made at birth then it would have to be derived from essence or human nature ; the ready-made ego would prove the reality of essence. If essence existed then the wounded, traumatised ego could fall back on it as a means of coping with infancy. An essence would allow the ego to discount the effects of poor relationships.

However, psycho-dynamic psychology reveals that poor relationships in childhood have a marked impact on the character of the person even when he has become an adult. Hence psycho-dynamic psychology does not support the idea of a basic human nature. The fledgling ego has to create itself by its own efforts, aided by its subconscious mind. It does not even receive any help from its soul. Although the soul exists, it acts principally as a silent witness to the ego’s efforts ; free will, and hence experience, belongs to the ego, not to the soul.


Note.
This article is an abridged version of the article Vulnerability of the Ego, on my website Patterns of Confusion. See Links page.




References

The number in brackets at the end of each reference takes you back to the paragraph that featured it. The addresses of my other websites are on the Links page.

[¹]. There are articles on aspects of violence on my website Patterns of Confusion[1]

[²]. Reincarnation theory is explained in articles on my website Patterns of Spirituality. [2]

[³]. There is an article on Infancy Trauma on my website  The Subconscious Mind[3]

[4]. Sensitivity is analysed in the article Sensitivity and Effects of Fear. [4]

[5]. The emotional factors of the Oedipus complex are explained in the article Two Identities on my website  The Subconscious Mind. Another approach to the Oedipus complex is the article Oedipus and Electra on my website  The Strange World of Emotion[5]


My website that specialises in psycho-analysis and psycho-dynamic psychology is  The Subconscious Mind


Books

Gross, Richard. Psychology. Hodder & Stoughton, 3rd edition, 1996.




Home List of  Articles Links Top of  Page

The articles in this section are :

Creating the Ego

Confusion

Antithetical Thoughts

Corruption of  Power

Determinism

Alienation




Copyright @2003  Ian Heath
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Ian Heath
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