How Ego Strength Is Used to Manage the Id, Superego, and Reality (2024)

Ego strength is a psychological concept that refers to an individual's ability to cope with stress, deal with adversity, and recover from setbacks. When a person has good ego strength, they can manage the challenges that they face without resorting to harmful or unhealthy coping mechanisms.

In Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory of personality, ego strength is the ability of the ego to deal effectively with the demands of the id, the superego, and reality. Those with little ego strength may feel torn between these competing demands, while those with too much ego strength can become too unyielding and rigid.

Ego strength helps us maintain emotional stability and cope with internal and external stress.

At a Glance

Ego strength has a few different meanings in psychology. Freud described it as the ego's ability to manage the demands of the id, superego, and reality. Erikson described it as the ability to persevere through each stage of life.

What these different definitions boil down to, however, is an ability to carry on despite life's challenges with resilience and determination.

The Origins of Ego Strength

According to Sigmund Freud, personality is composed of three elements: the id, the ego, and the super-ego.

  • The id is made up of all the primal urges and desires and is the only part of personality present at birth.
  • The super-ego is the part of the personality that is composed of the internalized standards and rules that we acquire from our parents and society. It is part of the personality that pressures people to behave morally.
  • The ego is the component of personality that mediates between the demands of reality, the urges of the id, and the idealistic, but often unrealistic, standards of the super-ego.

Where the id compels people to act on their most basic urges and the superego strives for adherence to idealistic standards, the ego is the aspect of personality that must strike a balance between these baser urges, moral standards, and the demands of reality.

When it comes to mental well-being, ego strength is often used to describe an individual's ability to maintain their identity and sense of self in the face of pain, distress, and conflict. Researchers have also suggested that acquiring new defenses and coping mechanisms is an essential component of ego strength.

Erikson's View on Ego Strength

Erik Erikson also described the concept of ego strength in his theory of psychosocial development. According to Erikson, ego strengths are qualities people gain at each successive stage of life. People attain this sense of strength or mastery by successfully navigating each stage of development.

Characteristics of High Ego Strength

People with well-developed ego strength tend to share several essential characteristics. They tend to be:

  • Confident in their ability to deal with challenges
  • Good at coming up with solutions to life's problems
  • Have high levels of emotional intelligence
  • Able to successfully regulate their emotions, even in tough situations

An individual with good ego strength approaches challenges with a sense that they can overcome the problem and even grow as a result.

By having a strong ego strength, the individual feels that they can cope with the problem and find new ways of dealing with struggles. These people can handle whatever life throws at them without losing their sense of self.

People with good ego strength tend to be very resilient in the face of life's difficulties. Rather than giving up in the face of an obstacle, these individuals view such events as tasks to be mastered and overcome.

Even when complicated events or tragedies occur, those who possess ego strength can pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and move forward with a sense of optimism.

Characteristics of Low Ego Strength

On the other hand, those with weak ego strength view challenges as something to avoid. In many cases, reality can seem too overwhelming to deal with. Characteristics of deficits in ego strength can include:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Poor judgement
  • Cognitive distortions
  • Problems in relationships
  • Poor distress and frustration tolerance
  • Lack of adequate coping resources
  • Tendency to be overwhelmed by stress
  • Learned helplessness

Individuals with low ego strength struggle to cope in the face of problems and may try to avoid reality through wishful thinking, substance use, and fantasies.

Low ego strength is often characterized by a lack of psychological resilience. In the face of life's challenges, those with low ego strength may simply give up or break down.

How to Build Ego Strength

Like a muscle, ego strength is something you can build with work, practice, and dedication. Developing effective coping strategies can help. Tactics that can help you develop better ego strength include:

  • Journaling
  • Goal-setting
  • Positive affirmations
  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Challenging negative thoughts
  • Reframing negative thoughts
  • Developing open-mindedness
  • Positive self-talk

Therapy can also be an effective way to develop a stronger, more resilient ego. Working with a therapist, you can identify different thought patterns and behaviors that make it more difficult to cope with the challenges in your life. You can then find ways to change those thoughts and learn more effective coping skills.

What This Means For You

Ego strength is a personality characteristic that can determine how resilient you are in the face of life's challenges. If you have good ego strength, you can better cope with stress and bounce back from challenges. Problems with ego strength, on the other hand, can result in unhealthy coping mechanisms. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to develop new skills and develop healthier ego strength.

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

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Additional Reading

How Ego Strength Is Used to Manage the Id, Superego, and Reality (1)

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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