In this guide, we expose the mysteries behind the Ego Death process by explaining what it entails, and then diving deep into its 7 stages (plus an a hidden, untold chapter at the end).
At some point in our lives, we are bound to experience things that are beyond our comprehension. Banging the door like an unwelcome guest, these instances take us a step further, often taking us towards experiences where we are taken aback.
Questioning the things happening around us, we search for meaning and truth, in the hopes of grasping the unfathomable reality that’s unfolding right before our eyes.
And more often than not, these realities are straightforward instances where the foundations of our humanness are being challenged. In one of his talks, Jordan Peterson was asked what ego death is, and he replied:
“That’s what happens when someone who loves you betrays you.”
Pushing further, Peterson explains that when someone breaks the essential values of our existence, that’s an Ego death.
He gives an example of a family member that decides to betray you. Trust, as one of the core values that’s being broken here, leads to an ego death as it basically collapses our identity as individuals.
When someone you love decides to break your trust, your pain will lead to an unprecedented level of suffering. Described by Peterson as ‘catastrophic,’ he points out that:
“it destabilizes your past, it destabilizes your present, and it destabilizes your future. It shakes your faith in human beings, including yourself. And everything collapses, and that’s an Ego death.”
As such, in this article, we will be exploring Ego Death and how it unfolds our own existence. By systematically going through the different points that are crucial in understanding this phenomenon, you’ll have a better grasp on identifying when ego death is happening.
What is the ‘Ego’?
Although psychology has taught us what the Ego is, this whole concept is still quite challenging to comprehend. While it is easy to say that the Ego is the conscious mind, what exactly does it comprise of? What is its scope? How do we know when the Ego is in control?
A lot of questions will plague us the moment we dip into this ever-complex topic. But fret not, for we will be guiding you in this journey.
Going back to Carl Jung, he described the Ego as the conscious mind, comprising our thoughts, emotions, and memories that we are certainly aware of.
As such, in Jung’s level of the psyche, the Ego basically governs the Conscious in as much as the Shadow dominates the Personal Unconscious while the archetypes govern the Collective Unconscious.
Mapping it out, it would look something like this:
In the illustration above, the black area (consciousness) is where the Ego resides. Governing all thoughts that we currently recognize, the Ego is responsible for who we think we are and how we act in such a way.
Thus, when you act in a certain way, the Ego is in-control as you feel that sort of decision-making power in you. By making your own choices, you experience your sense of selfhood.
What is Ego Death?
In the above-given example, Peterson pointed out an instance where Ego death happens. As such, Peterson essentially pointed out that Ego Death is the collapsing of one’s internal structures. With that, some of the conventional internal structures within us are:
- Individual Perception of ourselves
Just like when we’re looking in front of the mirror, we see a reflection of ourselves when we think of who we are. Whether it is a positive, negative, or combination of both, that reflection defines us since it outlines how we perceive our individuality.
- Deeply held Values and Beliefs
Similar to the example, deeply held values and beliefs that we honor can comprise of our Ego. For instance, defining yourself as a prideful individual doesn’t only outline your individuality but also your own existence.
Taking a quick look in your own life, you’ll be able to identify some of the values that you hold dear. Whether it is your dashing personality or your belief in social justice, these values are fragments of your Ego.
So.. when does Ego death happen?
True enough, ego death doesn’t automatically happen when these values are snapped. Depending on its level of impact on you, ego death can be triggered, or such adverse events can be culled by the Ego itself.
Even so, the challenging of these foundational values which you hold true can trigger Ego death. Because these values form part of who you are, deconstructing them leads to the destruction of your Ego.
As Kilroy J. Oldster, in his book Dead Toad Scrolls, wrote:
“The Ego is the culmination of our preferences and dislikes. Our Ego represents the firm edges of how we perceive ourselves. An ego death involves a merciless destruction of the autobiographical memory system that sustains a person’s collective of bodily and mental images. In order to provoke an ego death, one might choose to pare down their sense of self to a bare skeleton divested of all flesh and blood. It might even be useful to visualize a person’s own burial and then imagine a rebirth. A person who undergoes an ego death might experience a transformation in their life that duplicates a reincarnation.”
The imagery pointed out by Oldster carefully depicts the nature of transformation that one must undergo in order to experience Ego death. Unraveling the deepest parts of yourself, exposing the shells that cover your body, taking away the mask that defines who you are… how would it feel?
Imagine yourself divesting your body of its flesh…how do you think would it feel? If you were to die and be reborn, how would you live your life?
With the occurrence of Ego death, we are practically entering a stage in our lives where we will be in a state of emptiness. Because Ego death temporarily places the Ego out of control, we’re taking the whole thing to a new level as we enter the state wherein we face pure uncertainty.
And when that happens, the cornerstone which we usually turn to when we have problems suddenly vanishes. Like a boat in the sea, removing our anchor forces us to drift where the waves will take us. For instance, this can happen in your life when you’re experiencing:
- The unexpected death of a loved one
Especially when they are so important to you. Their sudden loss can cause your Ego to be out-of-control if you’re the type who has been dependent on them for value and purpose.
- A betrayal by trusted kin
Just like Peterson’s example, when someone betrays us, we don’t only doubt them. We also doubt ourselves. Because we believed in these persons so much, we cannot help but change the way we see ourselves in relation to them.
- The destruction of your traditional/cultural values
Just like indigenous people who are exposed to the realities of the world, the destruction of our human values can lead to an Ego death. Upon waking up to the truth that our perspective may be faulty, we may end up devaluing ourselves for clinging on to a lie for so long.
Thus, the way we see ourselves and our non-negotiable beliefs define who we are. And the moment that they are broken, a part of us is lost as ego death unfolds.
But can Ego death happen in a more positive way?
Although the above discussion points out how ego death can happen through negative experiences in life, it is not as if to say that it can’t happen positively.
When the Ego is aware of the Ego, the possibility of a positive Ego death occurs. As such, here are some instances where Ego death can happen as a result of a positive catalyst.
- Spiritual Awakening
Whether conscious or unconsciously done, spiritual awakening is an avenue where we get to question the very foundations of our Ego. Upon recognizing that there’s something beyond what we already know as right, we realize the miniaturized magnitude of our own beliefs and opinions. Stripping us of these foundational aspects of our being, spiritual awakening opens the higher dimension of ourselves.
- Consciously Inducing Ego Death
If you do a quick search on YouTube, you’ll see that more and more individuals are coming out with their own experiences of Ego death. As a conscious choice, they try to induce Ego death by creating conditions where such can be triggered. For instance, this may happen thru psychedelics or dreaming techniques.
- Detaching yourself from Individuality
While our own individuality is necessary for our survival, slowly drifting away from it can be a sign of Ego death. Because the Ego governs the self, the Ego wants to own things for the self. Thus, we highlight our own individuality. But when we realize that there’s more to the world than this, we begin giving lesser value to our own and more to the totality.
By pointing out both sides of the coin, we can say that Ego death can be positively or negatively induced. As such, the bigger question is not how Ego death was triggered, but what we do right after.
When Ego death happens, and we lose grip of our own self, what happens is that we enter a state of nothingness. In the act of taking away our own individuality, we lose it and inflict pain on ourselves.
Given such, what happens next is one of two things – either we overcome the situation positively by properly undergoing the ordeal of Ego death, or we allow ourselves to be conquered by our challenges and lose our individuality.
Considering both scenarios, an improper handling of Ego death can lead to depression and anxiety attacks. Without a reinforced idea of the self that controls the whole transition of things, we lack that security and lose our integrity.
But with proper guidance and thorough understanding, Ego death can be one of the most beneficial things to happen in your life. With its sheer transformative power, Ego death can lead to a selfless transformation where you become free of most pains and suffering in life.
Because you begin seeing yourself as part of the whole, all the uncontrollable aspects of life become integrated into your system. Instead of seeing uncertainties and insecurities, you highlight oneness and meaning.
With that, the obvious question is: how do I undertake the path of a positive Ego Death?
As mentioned above, there is no secret formula in undertaking this path. Naturally, you will experience a lot of ups and downs, coupled with absurd and unexplainable events in your life.
But fret not, since the next section of this article will outline the steps of Ego death, leading you to become more familiar and knowledgeable of the whole process!
The 7 Stages of Ego Death
Stage 1 – Spiritual Awakening
Just as the title suggests, the first stage is when we begin yearning for spiritual growth. Often induced by life-changing events in our lives, spiritual awakening forces us to recognize the existence of ‘moreness’ in life.
For instance, spiritual awakening happens when we begin having that feeling of oneness or interconnectedness with nature. Realizing that all life is the same and that they are necessarily connected, we seek to reconnect with nature intuitively.
With this process, we are opening up ourselves to the divine and the unbounded.
Stage 2 – The Dark Night of the Soul
Often depicted as a negative experience, the Dark Night of the Soul is a necessary challenge that we must undertake. When we begin doing spiritual awakening, we are slowly destroying our own Ego.
As the whole process unfolds, we cannot run from the fact that stripping away the powers of our own Ego will lead to existential doubt.
For instance, this happens when we face the inevitable uncertainty of life. As we veer away from our preconceived notions of what is right or wrong, it is natural for us to feel as if we have nothing to stand on.
With this process, we are facing our own fears about Ego death in order to conquer them.
Stage 3 – The Spiritual Seeker
Having left our own ways, we now need new pillars of knowledge and wisdom. And as we realize how futile it is to simply rely on earthly forms of security like money and social connections, we begin searching for more.
As such, this inevitably leads us to become a spiritual seeker.
In this transformational stage, we are practically exploring the different beliefs and practices around us. Assessing their true worth and value instead of blindly believing, the seeker in us is alive as it carefully and selectively pursues the higher spiritual self.
As such, this can be in the form of traditional spirituality like the major world religions, or alternative forms of spirituality like chakra healing, astral projection etc. Regardless of the path you take, it is crucial to note that these processes are meant to bring you closer to your spiritual self.
Stage 4 – Glimpse of Enlightenment
Also known as “Satori,” this Zen Buddhist word literally translates to “momentary enlightenment.” What this simply means is that the path towards Ego death necessitates that we experience those moments in life where we suddenly feel connected to the universe.
In the Buddhist tradition, the more you abstain from worldliness, the less pain you experience in your life. After all, it is your desire that fuels your disappointments and false expectations.
But when you begin experiencing an otherworldly level of inner peace as soon as you detach from such, you’re practically experiencing a glimpse of enlightenment.
Similarly, our pains stem from our Ego. Since the Ego prioritizes itself above all else, it will naturally promote self-gratification.
And as we undergo this whole process, we realize that the dying Ego within us leads to more instances of being one with the ultimate reality.
Stage 5 – The Elder Soul
As we consistently undergo this arduous process of breaking our Ego, we will reach a certain point that we’re bound to hit – the state of spiritual discernment.
While this can also be viewed as a skill, seeing it as a state of self also helps in picturing out what spiritual discernment actually means.
Simply put, spiritual discernment is like having more control over your own self at the most fundamental level. Compared to your Ego, which is driven by self-interest and instinct, you’ll observe that a spiritually mature individual has more to give than to receive.
Because they see themselves as ultimately connected to the whole of reality, they begin living a life that’s not dependent on these fragile notions of happiness and success.
Stage 6 – The Deconstruction of the Ego
Also known as the state of surrendering, the deconstructing of the Ego entails our strong commitment to finally let go of our inhibitions of self-centeredness.
While this whole process helps us in our movement forward, we cannot fully do away with the Ego until such time that we accept its deconstruction through surrendering.
For instance, one of the temptations of having a strong Ego is making things happen. When we are used to turning visions into results, such empowers our idea of the self where we are the own heroes of our story.
But contrary to that, if we do an evaluation of our own story from a perspective of interconnectedness, we’ll see how minuscule our effect is. Like a drop into the ocean, our efforts form part of it but is not the center of it.
After all, who are we to say that we are great if not for the generations before us who strived for us to see the present?
Stage 7 – The End and the Awareness
As a form of culmination, Ego death finally reaches that tipping point where we’ve learned to let go of things.
Realizing our true meaning and relevance in this world, the path of being opened up to it leads a whole new kind of existential truth – that I am interconnected with the universe.
Thus, in this state, we stop searching… We stop searching for things that our Ego used to pursue. We stop searching validation for the sake of self-gratification; We stop searching for social acceptance just to ‘fit in.’
We stop searching for things that are out of our control and will continually make us unhappy.
Reaching a sort of pinnacle of awareness, the death of the Ego leads us to be more attuned with our spiritual and archetypal self.
Individuation: The Untold Chapter of Ego Death
Looking up similar articles online, you would most probably end on the 7th stage of Ego death.
Often discussed in a disconnected manner, Ego death is perceived as the end of the journey, given how we’ve finally been able to let go of our own self-centeredness.
But have you asked yourself what happens after Ego death?
For instance, where do you base your own ideas of yourself, or morality when the Ego is no longer in control? What would be your anchor from which you can say that you’re still a human being, to say the least?
The problem with Ego death is not in itself. Rather, the issue here lies in the romanticization of New Age belief systems. Portraying the seemingly noble and transcendental experience of Ego death, most discussions layout itself in a fragmented manner.
If we are to accept Ego death as simply the end, wouldn’t that be contradictory towards what is sought (universality)?
With that, we’ll be pointing out to you the next step of Ego death – the process and achievement of Individuation.
Coined by Carl Jung himself, individuation refers to the unending process of integrating oneself with our archetypal nature.
Just at the beginning of this article discussed, who we are is directly linked and influenced by the archetypes that are present in us.
From the very moment of conception, we are already given the power of the psyche. Although it needs quite some time to develop, Jung argues that it already contains a collective experience of mankind and grows just as how any other muscle in the body evolves throughout time.
As such, this notion of pre-installed ideas of the self and of the world, according to Jung, exists within the psyche.
And as we take on different roles in life (in the form of archetypes), we learn more about ourselves and our true purpose.
Where is Ego death in this whole complex process of Individuation?
That’s right… Ego death is not an end-in-itself. Instead, Ego death is simply a part of our own journey as individuals.
As a matter of fact, you’ll eventually realize that Ego death is just the starting point. After all, it is only a state where we’ve freed ourselves from Egoistic notions of truth and selfhood.
When we reach the death of the Ego, a new dimension of our existence unfolds. Going back to Jordan Peterson’s point, he continues in his lecture by saying:
“And so, underneath the Ego, as far as Jung was concerned, was another structure that he called the Self. And the Self is this thing that remains constant across Ego deaths… but it’s deeper and less personal; it is archetypal. And it’s the thing that the Ego collapses into when it collapses, and it rebuilds the Ego across sometimes”
Doing a thorough re-reading of Peterson’s point, it is clear that he presents Ego death simply as a transitory step towards greater integration towards our Archetypal self.
After all, the ‘Self’ archetype, as presented by Jung, is at the core of who we are since it serves as a string that ties all of humanity’s existence.
With that, it is important to see Ego death as a process that leads to Individuation.
As we dive deeper into exploring the Self archetype, we’ll realize that it is even far more complex than our Ego and its death.
The Self, being a culmination of the varying facets of archetypes, both known and unknown to us, is truly complex such that one’s lifetime is not enough to encompass it.
For instance, Jung presents to us a long list of archetypes. Starting from the most basic ones, we have the Shadow Archetype, the Anima and Animus, the Wise Old Man, the Hero, and the Great Mother archetype.
Over time, these primordial images of the self have evolved into the now known 12 Archetypes.
By digging deeper into the Individuation process, we’ll realize where the whole Ego death is headed towards.
Instead of seeing it from a fragmented perspective and misinterpret it as “forever gone” after its death, properly synthesizing the points will make us realize the true value of such an arduous path that we’ve decided to take.
By properly transitioning towards the process of Individuation, we not only empty ourselves of our own Egos. More importantly, we get to learn about the jungian archetypes that are in us and how to live by them.
Have you personally experienced ego death? Let us know in the comments below!