4 out of 4 stars
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Though many of us are familiar with the general concept of the ego, it can be a difficult term to define, in part because its meaning has shifted and evolved since its Freudian origin. Ego: The Ghost in Your Machinery by Louis D. Cox, PhD, is a book that examines the properties of our ego and presents strategies for gaining awareness and control over its sometimes-self-destructive tendencies. Much of the book focuses on helping us form an understanding of the nefarious and subconscious workings of our ego, it’s rigid rules, and its obfuscations of the truth behind our behavior patterns.
This author presents us with a helpful guide in identifying the hidden recesses of our own emotions, outlooks, and repressed beliefs about ourselves and the world. He argues that our culture tends to nurse an aversion to fully examining our internal personal motivations, and that most people operate based on many unconscious forces without realizing those forces even exist. The key role of the ego, as posed in this book, is to subtly influence our actions to constantly seek out what we have determined (whether we realize it or not) makes us socially “acceptable” human beings. Simultaneously, the ego works to suppress those habits and tendencies that go against its often rigid and simplistic understanding of acceptable and desirable behavior.
Because our egos are formed in childhood, based on the models around us and the messages we receive about the acceptability of our choices, they are rarely based on rational thought. Instead, the ego operates through habits, using positive feelings to reinforce the choices that fall within its rules of “acceptability” and negative feelings (like shame, self-doubt, embarrassment, and guilt) to discourage and suppress choices that go against these rules.
In addition to explaining the processes used by the ego, the author also presents the concept of a Truthplace, which is the space within all of us that reacts honestly to the world around us, without fear or judgement or repression of feeling. The book provides practical exercises to identify this part of ourselves through the process of “dropping in” to our bodies, and the use of mindfulness to stay within our emotions and communicate them accurately. Real life examples of these processes are also included, via transcribed conversations between the author and the participants in a therapeutic group devoted to uncovering and addressing the ego. One of the most interesting elements of the book is the evidence of resistance that each of the group members exhibits to this process, which often manifests as anger or embarrassment. Nonetheless, each member of the group is able to witness their own ego at work, and to verbally identify its processes in real time.
This was quite an informative book about a topic that seems simple on the surface yet can be quite complex to fully grasp. The author does an excellent job of presenting his ideas in a variety of ways, both conceptual and concrete, and the examples of real clients going through the process of self-discovery bring this book into a level of practicality that would not be achieved in an abstract self-help format. The writing is sophisticated yet accessible, and only a few minor typographical errors are present in the text.
I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars, primarily because its content is so comprehensive and applicable to nearly any reader. Due to the complex nature of some of the topics within, and its focus on significant long-term relationships, this is a book best suited to adult readers who are ready to critically examine their behavior patterns. Readers looking to increase their self-awareness of the motivations and fears that drive their choices would benefit highly from reading this work. Topics addressed within include social anxiety, intimacy in close relationships, and the terrifying and complex nature of shame. At the heart of all of humanity is our desire to be accepted by others, and our fear of rejection, and this book highlights the universal anxieties that we all carry in relation to these needs. Though this book helps the reader to work on him or herself in a private and individual way, its ultimate impact serves to erase some of the boundaries that separate us from each other, and gives us tools to build richer, more fulfilling, and more transparent relationships.
Ego: The Ghost in Your Machinery
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