Ego & Id -> I and It

When I first read and learned about Freud, I was partly impressed by his insights into projections and defense mechanisms (which both seemed right on), and partly disappointed by some of the terminology which seemed contrived.

But, as it turns out, the parts I was disappointed over was largely created by an over-eager translator who wanted to polish up the language to make it sound more scientific and impressive. Where Freud used everyday words to describe everyday experiences, the translator (James Strachey) exchanged it with impressive sounding and largely meaningless terminology. And this was unfortunately picked up and used in non-German speaking countries. Freud and Man’s Soul by Bruno Bettelheim has more on this.

For instance, Freud talked about the “I” and the “it”. The “I” is our self-identity, that which we consciously see as “me”. The “it” are those parts of us we don’t identify with, the part that show up in projections – that we see in others more easily than ourselves. And as Freud said, Where it was, there I will be. A beautiful and simple expression of recognizing and integrating projections. In the translations, it became “where the ID is, the Ego shall be” which hardly makes any sense.

Of course, realizing this, the typical descriptions of the I and the it makes far more sense. The I is that which is largely congruent with the norms of society, which is where most of us get the prescription for our self-identity from. And the it are the disowned parts of ourselves, including what Jung came to call the Shadow. These are the impulses and qualities which does not fit with the norms and expectations of society, and – partly from not being seen and acknowledged and partly from not fitting our self-identity – can come out in ways we find disturbing. When we engage in the process of making the its into the I, when we invite the lost children home, then we find them to be incredibly enriching to our lives. What was lead or worse, now turns into gold.

Freud famously summarized his version of depth psychology as, “Where id was, there ego shall be.” As is now well known, Freud never used the Latin words “ego” or “id,” which were words inserted by his major translator (Strachey). Freud himself used the German words “das ich” and “das es,” or “the I” and “the it.” Freud’s actual statement that summarized therapy was, “Where it was, there I shall be”–a truly wonderful summary of therapeutic re-authoring, reflecting well the calculus of indigenous perspectives (from “it” to “I”).Ken Wilber

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