We’ve all heard the term “ego” used in psychology, which refers to the conscious aspect of an individual’s identity, encompassing their self-concept, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Sigmund Freud first introduced it in his psychoanalytic theory of personality, where he divided the human psyche into three components: the id, the ego, and the superego.
According to Freud, the ego is responsible for decision-making, problem-solving, and perceiving reality. It also plays a crucial role in an individual’s self-worth and self-esteem.
What is Ego Dissolution?
Knowing the definition of ego, it should be easier to understand the concept of “ego dissolution”, commonly known as “ego death”. Ego dissolution is the temporarily diminished sense of self often experienced through psychedelics, meditation, or other spiritual or religious practices.
In a state of ego dissolution, a person might feel that their identity or sense of being a separate individual has dissolved or disappeared. They may experience a sense of unity with the universe, a feeling of interconnectedness, or a sense of profound understanding.
In psychology, ego dissolution refers to a fundamental self-transformation, a process often tied to personal growth and self-discovery.
How Do Psychedelics Contribute to Ego Dissolution?
The exact mechanisms through which psychedelics contribute to ego dissolution are still not entirely understood. It’s important to note that while psychedelics can induce ego dissolution, they don’t always do so. Various factors, including dosage, set and setting, and individual psychological makeup, can influence the ego dissolution experience.
Psychedelics work primarily by interacting with serotonin receptors in the brain. These substances significantly alter activity in various brain regions and change how different areas of the brain communicate with each other.
Psychedelics are also known to promote neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to form new neural connections and pathways. After experiencing ego dissolution, people often report lasting changes in their perspective, attitudes, and behaviors, which could be attributed to these neuroplastic changes.
Did you know we all have a “Default Mode Network” (DMN) in our brains? DMN is a network of interacting brain regions associated with self-referential thinking and mind-wandering. It’s essentially a “default” state for the brain when it’s not focused on the outside world. Psychedelics appear to reduce the activity of the DMN. This decrease in DMN activity contributes to the dissolution of the sense of self.
Is Ego Dissolution Always Positive?
Ego dissolution is often described as a transformative experience, leading to significant changes in a person’s perception of themselves and the world. However, it can also be unpredictable, intense, and challenging. Some people may experience an increased sense of self during their session rather than forgetting themselves.
A 2016 study found that both ego dissolution and ego inflation were positively correlated with improved well-being after psychedelic drug use. Ego dissolution can be an excellent tool but is not alone sufficient for healing.
One can temporarily lose their sense of self but then may not proceed to make any meaningful changes in their life. This can lead to feelings of disenchantment or even solipsism, when someone believes they are the only person who is real. This is why integrating experiences is so important. Integration is necessary to reconcile a person’s day-to-day existence with the insights gained on your journey.
What Are the Benefits of Experiencing Ego Dissolution?
Ego dissolution is a profound experience that has the potential to yield various psychological and spiritual benefits. However, these benefits vary widely among individuals and may not be experienced by everyone.
Some commonly reported benefits of ego dissolution include:
- Personal insight and self-discovery: People often report a greater understanding of their own minds and behaviors. This may result in a better understanding of personal values, strengths, and weaknesses.
- Improved empathy and compassion: Ego dissolution can foster a heightened sense of empathy and compassion for others and a greater appreciation for the interconnectedness of all beings.
- Altered perception of reality: Ego dissolution can lead to a fundamentally changed perspective on life, reality, and existence. This could potentially allow someone to let go of previously held beliefs that were limiting or unhelpful.
- Reduced fear of death: Many people report a lessened fear of death following an ego dissolution experience, likely due to the dissolution of individual identity.
- Enhanced creativity: Some people report heightened creativity following an ego dissolution experience, possibly due to a shift in perception and a greater openness to new ideas.
- Spiritual growth: Many report experiencing a spiritual awakening or growth, leading to a greater sense of peace, purpose, or understanding in life.
- Therapeutic benefits: This may include reduced symptoms of conditions like depression, anxiety, and PTSD or improved quality of life for individuals with terminal illnesses. However, much more research is needed in this area.
Ego dissolution is a fascinating phenomenon that is still not fully understood. Research into the nature and effects of this concept is ongoing, and our understanding of it may change over time.
Ego dissolution can be an amazing experience that is often achieved using psychedelics. It is important to remember, however, that engaging in psychedelic therapy to reach an altered state of consciousness can be a transformative journey that is always best to take in a controlled setting under the care of trained medical professionals. Your local ketamine-assisted therapy resource can help you further understand what you can expect when undergoing a psychedelic experience and why it is best to undergo this journey with an integration specialist.