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 - a curtailment of what Iris Murdoch called “the anxious avaricious tentacles of the self”.
Among other contexts, ego reduction has been seen as a goal in Alcoholics Anonymous; as a part of BDSM play, providing a means of entering "subspace"; and as a way of attaining religious humility and freedom from desire in Buddhism.
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.
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.
While most therapy favours a process of strengthening the ego functions, at the expense of the irrational parts of the mind, 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 smaller...as people we grow”.
Ego reduction is traditionally seen as the goal of the Buddha's teaching.
- Edmund Bergler, in J. Halliday/P. Fuller eds., The Psychology of Gambling (1974) p. 176-7
- Quoted in D. N. McCloskey, The Bourgeois Virtues (2006) p. 190
- B. A. Firestein, Becoming Visible (2007) p. 365
- Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue (1992) p. 40
- K. G. Davis, Primero Dios (1994) p. 60
- Harry Tiebout Harry Tiebout: Collected Writings (1999) p. 78
- Harold Stewart, Psychic Experience and Problems of Technique (1992) p. 127-8
- Robin Skynner/John Cleese, Families and how to survive them (1994) p. 63
- K. E. FitzMaurice, Garbage Rules (2012) p. 7-8
- S. Sharma, Legacy of the Buddha (2001) p. 40
- Mark Epstein, Psychotherapy without the Self (2007) p. 79