Ego & Its Difference Between Personality and Identity

In this article

You will learn new perspectives related to ego and find out the difference between ego, personality and identity.

Check the list of contents to jump to desirable section.

Ego Has Two Meanings

Ego has mainly two meanings, one which is a sense of self-esteem while other is in the context of a field of study called psychoanalysis. We’ll explain both in simple words:

Ego as a Sense of Self-Esteem

Ego is the Latin word for “I” or “me”, it’s a self concept that includes whatever we think of ourselves i.e. self-esteem. In our conscious mind, what we consider our self is called ego.

Here’s a quick fun exercise to understand ego:
Close your eyes and ask yourself “Who am I?”
The collection of thoughts that come in answer to this is your ego. It’s what you think of yourself.

The concept of I/ego is a fundamental one as it creates a feeling of separation and allows us to experience the world as an unfolding story. Self-awareness also makes us unique from other intelligent beings like dolphin, grey-parrots etc.

From a young age like age 3-7, we start getting a sense of self, perceiving surroundings, absorbing others thoughts and creating our own . This process creates a perception of our self which continues to develop our whole life.

While ego can be healthy/negative it’s not a negative term in itself but just knowing yourself. It is incorrectly linked with vanity (inflated pride) or megalomania (delusion about one’s power).

More on healthy and negative ego below:

Healthy Ego

If your sense of self fits in the social structure, then it’s called a healthy ego. Do note, that a healthy ego isn’t necessarily good but it’s just the acceptable version of self to the society.

For example: In an open-minded friendly neighborhood, the ego of the extrovert person may be considered healthy one because it fits the particular society.

In a not-so-open neighborhood, the ego of an introvert person may be considered healthy one instead.

Negative Ego

If what we think of ourselves doesn’t fit to our social structure, our ego may be considered a negative one. It can be a bad thing but not necessarily so if we use the same example of healthy ego:

In a not-so-open neighborhood, the ego of an extrovert person may be considered a negative ego. It can’t be considered a bad thing, it’s just who you are.

But when the idea of our self is unjustified and beyond a realistic perception, like considering yourself superior compared to rest makes this an example of negative ego being bad. This may also called egomania (obsessive self-centeredness) or simply arrogance.

Cases like this often lead us to hearing the infamous “that guy’s ego is over the moon!” which unfortunately has resulted in ego as a whole being labelled as some negative aspect when it is simply an idea of our self.

This concludes the first meaning of ego, but before the popular usage of ego in its current state started, ego was a word used to explain how our mind thinks:

Ego as a Meditator Inside Our Mind

Sigmund, the founder of psychoanalysis (a psychology branch) studied how our minds think i.e. cognitive psychology. He proposed in his study that our mind consists of 3 concepts and ego was one of them. These concepts are oversimplified below:

  • Id is present at birth and includes our needs and desires, it tries to gain immediate gratification of the impulse/desires.
  • Super-ego aims for perfection and punishes misbehavior with feelings of guilt. It tries to make us act in a socially acceptable manner.
  • Ego is the meditator between Id and Superego, it proposes the most balanced action and is often the sane voice in our mind.

Often, there’s a conflict between id and super-ego as id wants instant self-gratification while super-ego tries to act in a socially acceptable manner. This results in making the reconciliation difficult sometimes for ego.

This is a very deep topic, and for further study you can check a short research paper specifically on this concept and the background of it: Daniel Lapsley, & Paul C. Ste (2012). Id, Ego, and Superego. Encyclopedia of Human Behavior.

Now difference between ego, personality and identity can be easily observed:

Difference Between Ego and Personality

A set of characters that define how we act, feel and think corresponding to our environment is called our personality. So, what you think of yourself is your ego, while personality defines your character and how you interact with your surroundings.

It’s likely that that the idea you have for yourself may expand to your personality but you can notice the difference:

For example, if you consider yourself to be an honest person (an idea of yourself i.e ego), that means you try to deal with others with honesty (how you deal with people, personality).

Or if you think of yourself as a shy person, that often translates to a quiet personality who doesn’t talk much.

Difference Between Ego and Identity

Identity, like its name suggests, is something you identify as. Everything including your ego, personality, beliefs make up your identity. To explain further, let’s discuss the work aspect of person named Bella:

Bella thinks she’s stubborn.

Which means stubborness is her idea of herself (ego) related to work. But later she hears the following from a co-worker:

“Bella is a hard-working women who doesn’t leave her chair until the work is done, no matter what. “

On a glance, her identity seems to be along the lines of a workaholic, a sturbborn and hard-working women. Since Bella acts like such in her workplace, this eventually becomes her identity. The example also differentiates ego from identity.

There was little emphasis on the personality and identity part, they are deep topics and have different meanings depending on if you’re talking from philosophy or psychology perspective.

After learning about ego, you may wanna learn about perception and perspective.

For further study on ego, you may also check out Daniel Lapsley, & Paul C. Ste (2012). Id, Ego, and Superego. Encyclopedia of Human Behavior.