27 March 2019
What is ego strength?
There are many views about ego strength including that of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality, where ego strength is the ability to maintain emotional stability and cope with internal and external stress. From a mental well-being perspective, ego strength is an individual’s ability to maintain their identity and sense of self in the face of pain, distress and conflict, whilst having the ability to acquire new defence and coping mechanisms.
Our ego strength relates to our core sense of self and is part of our psychological, social, emotional and cultural development. It indicates our ability to be adaptive, flexible and resilient in how we respond to challenging circumstances in our life; how we face and deal with challenges and falter or grow, and our personal power to make choices. Our ego strength also influences our capacity to regulate difficult emotions and our ability to accept and tolerate stress, discomfort and frustrations without losing emotional control.
Why assess and develop ego strength?
A healthy ego is essential for personal and relational happiness. Ego strength deficits can result in poor judgement, difficulties with reality-testing, and problems with interpersonal relationships. There can be defensiveness, a lack of self-control and an inability to regulate emotions or to self-soothe when distressed. Where a client is overwhelmed but has some ego strength, then a therapist may take a more supportive approach aimed at stress reduction and more effective problem solving. Where clients have limited ego strength and an inability to cope with current life roles, then targeted interventions to directly build ego strength can be helpful first. Clients can develop a strong and more robust attitude to life, becoming more optimistic and less fearful, insecure and fragile.
How do we recognise low ego strength?
People with low ego strength can find reality too overwhelming to deal with and can avoid reality through wishful thinking, substance use and fantasies. They may struggle to cope with problems and can give up or break down. In addition, they will often avoid challenges (whilst wasting energy in avoidance mode) and be reluctant to go beyond what ‘feels’ comfortable.
Where there is low ego strength, the brain is more focused towards protection rather than learning, so clients find it harder to consider healthier possibilities. Furthermore, there can be rigid, unrealistic expectations, coming from fear or anxiety and limiting beliefs. These can result in avoidance of conflict or use of anger and rage to ‘teach’ others how to respond to them. It can also be observed that there is an external locus of control, such as the view that others or life should alleviate their pain, discomfort or distress. They will seek others, activities and substances that they ‘must’ have for comfort and to feel okay about themselves.
What can we observe with high ego strength?
Clients with higher ego strength have confidence in their own ability to deal with challenges and using their own resources to handle and resolve difficulties. They feel able to approach challenges with a sense that they can overcome problems and grow from the experience. Indeed, they can even find new ways of dealing with struggles and be good at coming up with solutions to life’s problems. Resilience is associated with higher ego strength and can be seen in how clients master and overcome difficult situations, rather than giving up on tasks.
Those with a higher ego strength tend to be better able to tolerate discomfort and regulate their emotions, even in tough situations. These higher levels of emotional intelligence are displayed by not only their ability to express and control their own emotions, but also understanding and responding to the emotions of others. Not only will those with a higher ego strength be better able to handle their life without losing their sense of self, they will take a curiosity approach to life, exploring new situations having a learning approach to life and grow from challenges.
Why do we work on client’s ego strength within hypnotherapy?
A client with low ego strength is less able to engage with therapeutic change. It can seem easier to stay as they are than risk greater discomfort by having to face something difficult. By developing the client’s ego strength, they will be more open to change and better able to engage with the therapy process.
What builds ego strength?
In the hypnotherapy environment, there are many different behavioural, cognitive, analytical and regressive techniques that will help a client develop greater ego strength.
Behavioural approaches work on adjusting behaviours, actions and habits, whether with direct suggestion or indirect approaches, such as metaphors. Cognitive approaches address unhelpful thoughts and limiting beliefs. When core beliefs are limiting, this can result in over-responses e.g. a small concern becoming an overwhelming anxiety or fear. These beliefs can activate stress responses, leading to defensive responses such as avoidance and restrict recognition of healthy choices and personal growth and development, whilst keeping the client repeating problem behaviours, habits and addictive patterns. Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) all can help a client develop flexible beliefs and increase their frustration tolerance, whilst also working on acceptance and self-acceptance.
When behavioural responses and habits have been addressed and limiting beliefs and intrusive thoughts refocused, analytical approaches also help build a client’s ego strength. This may take the form of gaining insight and working with subconscious drivers, potentially leading back to further behavioural and cognitive work. In addition, regressive techniques may be engaged with, particularly for resource building. Many clients will have had past positive experiences that can be revisited and utilised to support the client in the present and going forward.
As well as in the hypnotherapy session, ego strength can be developed beyond the therapy room by the strategic use of lifestyle management and developmental homework tasks and activities. These may be focused around development of emotional intelligence, self-honesty, activities for moving beyond their comfort zone and exploring new things, or self-acceptance activities, self-discipline habits (e.g. exercise) and social skills development.
By assessing a client’s ego strength, you can formulate a therapy treatment plan which enables the client to develop sufficient ego strength to actively engage with the therapeutic process. Where a client’s ego strength is weaker than desired, either direct or indirect work to build and develop ego strength can positively enhance the effects of therapy and reduce the likelihood of relapse. Thus, overall, optimising the effectiveness of the therapy.
We hope that this blog on hypnotherapy and ego strengthening has been useful for you. If you have any questions about this topic or anything else for that matter, do please get in touch, because we’re always happy to help!
– written by Dr Kate Beaven-Marks