Ego reduction

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The concept of ego reduction is predicated on the use of Sigmund Freud's concept of the ego to describe the conscious adult self; and broadly describes the deflating of an over-inflated or egotistical sense of oneself[1] - a curtailment of what Iris Murdoch called “the anxious avaricious tentacles of the self”.[2]

Among other contexts, ego reduction has been seen as a goal in Alcoholics Anonymous; as a part of BDSM play,[3] providing a means of entering "subspace"; and as a way of attaining religious humility and freedom from desire in Buddhism.[4]


Harry Tiebout saw the surrender of the alcoholic in AA as dependent upon ego reduction, in the twin sense of a relinquishment of personal narcissism, and the development of a new trust in other people.[5]

Tiebout stressed that this was a process that should be applied only to the (over-extended) infantile ego sense – the surviving remnants of an original megalomania that had not been worn away by the normal processes of life.[6]


While most therapy favours a process of strengthening the ego functions, at the expense of the irrational parts of the mind,[7] a reduction in self-importance and self-involvement – ego reduction – is also generally valorised: Robin Skynner for example describing the 'shrink' as a head-shrinker, and adding that “as our swollen heads get people we grow”.[8]

Rational emotive behaviour therapy also favours such ego reduction as a part of extending self-control and confirming personal boundaries.[9]


Ego reduction is traditionally seen as the goal of the Buddha's teaching.[10]

However, the goal of egolessness (as Buddhist therapists warn) is not to be confused with a mere loss or paralysis of ego functions: it is rather their incorporation and transcendence.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Edmund Bergler, in J. Halliday/P. Fuller eds., The Psychology of Gambling (1974) p. 176-7
  2. ^ Quoted in D. N. McCloskey, The Bourgeois Virtues (2006) p. 190
  3. ^ B. A. Firestein, Becoming Visible (2007) p. 365
  4. ^ Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue (1992) p. 40
  5. ^ K. G. Davis, Primero Dios (1994) p. 60
  6. ^ Harry Tiebout Harry Tiebout: Collected Writings (1999) p. 78
  7. ^ Harold Stewart, Psychic Experience and Problems of Technique (1992) p. 127-8
  8. ^ Robin Skynner/John Cleese, Families and how to survive them (1994) p. 63
  9. ^ K. E. FitzMaurice, Garbage Rules (2012) p. 7-8
  10. ^ S. Sharma, Legacy of the Buddha (2001) p. 40
  11. ^ Mark Epstein, Psychotherapy without the Self (2007) p. 79