Spend enough time researching psychedelics, and you’ll no doubt come across the term “ego death.”
What does it mean exactly, and is it as scary as it sounds?
Psychedelics allow the mind to open up to new ideas, new ways of thinking and seeing the world or the self.
For those who want to experience a life-altering, earth-shattering psychedelic trip, ego death is oftentimes the end-goal.
Ego death is typically characterized by a loss of boundaries between the subjective and objective worlds, where a person experiences a sense of unity with the universe and a realization that the self can’t (and shouldn’t) be the primary focus in order to achieve peace.
Ego death can be a powerful and incredibly introspective experience, and it all depends on your state of mind going into it.
While some consider ego death a state of ecstasy and aim to achieve it every time they indulge in a full dose of hallucinogens, others consider it an overwhelming, even terrifying trip. Meanwhile, some experience ego death once, feel all the better for it, and never need to use psychedelics again.
Theorized by the polarizing Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud (and borrowed from the Latin word for “I”), the “ego” is one’s sense of self.
According to his three-prong theory, the ego is the part of the personality that mediates between the id (primitive, impulsive instinct) and superego (ethics and moral standards). The ego strikes that balance, intended to keep us from acting on our basic urges 100 percent of the time.
Ideally, a person’s ego will work to appease the id in realistic and appropriate ways while honoring the moralistic credences of the superego – like holding yourself back from racing after someone who cut you off on the freeway, but still cussing them out in your head.
Once you realize what the concept of the ego is, you realize how easy it is for inflation to occur: for someone to believe that their perspective and their measure of balance is the only valid one. This is where psychedelics come into play, and why experiencing ego death can be so life-changing.
The concept of ego death was first explored by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung in the early 20th century. His collection of psychoanalytic theories, known as Jungian therapy, is built on the idea that the unconscious mind is a well of wisdom and guidance that encourages psychological growth – if properly utilized.
The term “ego death” specifically refers to the dissolution of that balancing act. Instead of working on finding the middle ground between id and superego, you’re able to look outside of yourself for probably the first time in your life and tap deeply into the collective pulse of the world around us.
It’s a beautiful and humbling journey that holds the power to be a transformative pillar and tool, but only if you’re ready to take it on.
Your relationship with ego death has a lot to do with your state of mind, and if you’re not in a place where you can handle a reality-unraveling and esoteric journey through consciousness, that sudden shift in perspective can get really frightening.
Ego death is much easier experienced than explained. Each trip can also be vastly different, allowing you to consistently take away new insights and value. But in general, there are a few common themes that most regular psychedelic users report in reference to ego death.
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