We live in the age of the alienation of desires. And that's not a good thing. If we ask most people what they really want, they probably won't be able to answer. People are so busy and worried, they live so fast, that they have lost the connection with their deepest self and only want what others want.
It seems that the exercise of desire requires too much energy, an energy that we prefer to allocate to more irrelevant activities but which keep us mentally occupied, so that we do not even suspect that we are not capable of desiring independently and at our own risk.
But how can a person do what he wants if he does not know his wishes? If we don't know what we really want, we risk being just a cog that feeds the consumer society in which we are valued only for what we have and not for what we are.
Noam Chomsky warned us: “The perfect system would be a society based on a dyad, a couple. That couple is you and your television, or maybe now, you and the internet. A place where perfect life should be shown, the kind of devices you should have. Remembering that you have to put your time and effort into getting those things you don't need and don't want and that you will likely end up throwing away. But this is what is needed for a dignified life. "
Freud too, in his day, saw the risk. He stated that "the price we pay for our advanced civilization is the loss of happiness through the intensification of guilt", guilt for having what we are supposed to have, or because we have not achieved the desired success, guilt for not being able to deal with all the commitments and also to desire what others do not want, in case we dare to do so.
One way to get out of the labyrinth, to be more authentic and at the same time to live in a more complete and balanced way, is to develop the strong ego proposed by Freud.
Freud's strong self
This idea is found in one of his posthumous works, "Outline of Psychoanalysis". He profiled it at the age of 82, after fleeing the Nazi regime, but remained unfinished as he had to undergo a major operation due to the cancer he suffered from.
However, before delving into the concept of the strong self, it is necessary to understand how the psychic apparatus works from the Freudian perspective:
- Self. It contains “all that is inherited, that which comes from birth, established constitutionally; above all, therefore, the impulses that come from the organization of the body, which find in the self a first psychic expression, the forms of which are unknown to us ”. Basically, these are the most basic impulses that respond to our basic needs.
- The. It is the part of the self developed through the relationship with the world, which ends up mediating between the self and the external world. It would concern our identity, the image we have of ourselves.
- Superego. It is an instance within the ego that would be the prolongation of the dependence on the parents. It is about all the rules, norms, laws and values that we have internalized and which, in a certain way, control the ego. Freud indicates that "to the extent that this super-ego separates itself from the ego or opposes it, it is a third power that the ego is bound to take into consideration".
Thus, two forces coexist in our ego that can not only be contradictory but also mutually exclusive. On the one hand, the self seeks to meet basic needs urgently, without worrying about long-term plans, because it knows neither tomorrow nor anguish. On the other hand, the super-ego limits the self by making calculations and taking society into account because it always has its eyes on the future.
As a result of these forces and their imbalance, it is not surprising that many people feel divided or fragmented and end up with a "weakened self".
The strong ego, on the other hand, is the one that "satisfies the needs of the self, the super-ego and objective reality at the same time, that is, knows how to reconcile their needs with each other". It is a balanced self.
This ego is no longer at the mercy of the self or the super-ego, of basic needs or repression, but it is an ego capable of growing without feeling subject to its own instincts or culture.
How to develop a strong self?
“Our path to strengthening the weakened self is part of expanding our awareness of ourselves. We know this is not all, but it is the first step. The loss of self-knowledge implies for the ego a loss of power and influence, it is the first tangible sign that it is inhibited and constrained by the needs of the self and the super-ego ”, wrote Freud.
It's hard work because it involves balancing the instincts, rules and needs of the environment.
First we must understand that “the ego aspires to pleasure and wants to avoid sorrow. Faced with an increase in sorrow, we respond with anguish ”. This means that we need to understand how we usually react, the mechanisms that are automatically triggered within us when we face certain situations in the environment. It involves becoming aware of our nervous and automatic responses when we have to deliver a speech, for example, or our anger when things don't go according to plan.
Secondly, we have to overcome the resistance that the super-ego places on us. This is another major challenge because, although “independent” from our parents, we actually still maintain a relationship of dependence, awe and repression of their authority. In fact, the repressive voice you hear in your mind is likely to be phrases your parents or other authority figures from your childhood told you.
The super-ego subjects us to these rules and laws to gain acceptance and love, not only from our parents but also from society. Therefore, to develop a "strong self", we must overcome that fear, dare to be ourselves even at the risk of losing the approval of some close people.
We must not forget that “the more annoyed the ego feels, the more tenaciously it will cling, almost terrified, to the anticatexis in order to protect its precarious existence against new irruptions”, according to Freud. It means that when we feel attacked, for whatever reason, we activate a resistance, which requires a great deal of energy.
When we devote so much energy to fight against the self and the super-ego, our ego weakens. We can only overcome these resistances when we know and accept each other. At that moment, the self and the super-ego cease to be obstacles and work in harmony with a "strong self".
Then an authentic miracle happens: we rediscover our ability to desire and love. And it is in the pursuit of authenticity that our ego is strengthened and we obtain freedom in all senses.