The term alter ego was originally coined in the 19th century by psychologists to describe schizophrenia, but in layman’s terms it is used more generally when a person takes on another character. The actual definition for alter ego given by the Oxford online dictionary is “a person’s secondary or alternative personality.”
Based on this “non – prescriptive” definition, I want to agitate some thoughts around the idea that all of us have an alter ego: that is, all of us take on different personalities in the machinations of our day-to-day lives. We use our behaviours and reactions to influence what people think of us and think about us.
Most humans are comfortable in their own skin and in who they are (or pretend to be!). However, if we are honest with ourselves, all of us carry insecurities about whom we are and have personality traits that we may not like. To compensate for this we put in place mechanisms and behaviours to cope and protect ourselves from them becoming exposed to people we interact with. We try to deny them out of existence and take on a different persona – or by definition, take on an alter ego.
For example, in my own life I have a reasonably high IQ, but going through school and University I decided that I didn’t want to engage in that high IQ world, or in the business world. So in my twenties I took a non-participatory path in life and – you could argue – disowned this part of my personality. Taking that path was a conscious decision I made in how I wanted to live my life. But the result was my behaviour changed to back up this decision, and to fit into the environment I was now in. I was living my life with other people who weren’t participating in the world, either by choice or by design. In this environment the way I talked and interacted with other people changed to “fit in” and was influenced by this decision. It could be argued I had taken on an alter ego, albeit consciously.
Let’s look more broadly. Take a small business environment where there are people of all different ages, cultures and personalities. Superficially we might interact with people differently depending on who they are, but beyond this do you change your persona, depending on the person, to influence what they think of you? Are you consciously trying to make them think differently or better of you, in essence take on an alter ego!?
Alternatively, take an individual who has been labelled disparagingly in the school yard by their peers. How do they cope with this? Do they develop an insecurity that there must be some truth in this? In this case we see their behaviour and persona change as they try to change the perception and prove they are not this. They may even do things that they otherwise would not. In the extreme an individual may be “scarred for life” by this, and have taken on a different persona and developed an alter ego to cope with and compensate for the perception developed, and built those traits into who they become.
All of us as humans have insecurities in our make-up and all of us fundamentally want to be liked and feel good and be happy. As a result we are forever trying to make people like us, or make people think something about us, or influence what they think about who we are. This suggests that we all have different ways of behaving and coping around different people depending on the outcome we want and we all take on an alter ego to achieve and support this.
Photo By Florence Stroud – All Rights Reserved
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Discussion of the real issues in life and insightful writing that really deals with true human experience is what interests me.