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Q: I have been reading the reports of other people's experiences on LSD and am considering trying it. However, people talk about the affects it has on their 'ego' and I do not fully understand what they mean by 'ego' or the effects they describe as being 'separated' from it. I don't have anyone I can ask about this.

A: Freud introduced the word “ego” into our language around 100 years ago, and although he had something very specific in mind when he did, professionals (including psychologists and psychiatrists) and laypersons alike now use the word pretty loosely. Generally, the word “ego” is used to refer to the sum total of all the thoughts, feelings and sensations that make up a person’s experience of his or her Self. So when I speak of my ego, I’m referring to the totality of my understanding of who I am - my overall sense of “me”, as contrasted with everything else, that is, of “not-me”.

It has always helped me, when thinking about the early development of our knowledge of the self or of the ego, to envision a very small baby lying on its back, moving its limbs, exploring its body and its physical environment. As babies touch their legs with their hands (for example), they have the experience both of touching (the hand) and of being touched (the leg). As they touch their blankets, they have the experience of touching, but not the experience of being touched. These two experiences are fundamentally different from one another. So we could say that “leg” gets categorized as one kind of thing (as part of the baby’s ego, or self), and that “blanket” is another kind of thing (that is, part of the not-self).

And so it goes, as we accumulate experiences over the course of our lives. By the time we get to be adults, most people have a pretty clear sense of self, of ego. Our sense of who we are evolves over time and eventually goes well beyond the boundaries of our physical bodies – ego also includes more-or-less abstract concepts like “human”, “male”, “joyful”, and “sane”.

However, LSD and other entheogens, by altering our neurochemistry in the way they do, can change all that. For example, under the influence of LSD, a person might experience “blanket” as “me”, or “hand” as “not-me”. It’s not at all uncommon for explorers under the influence of LSD and other entheogens to find their strongly-held, long-standing beliefs about where the self leaves off and where the not-self begins deeply challenged. Sometimes, a person’s sense of self can disintegrate entirely – this can be very disorienting and scary, or it can be a profoundly joyous experience. Furthermore, as the acute effects wear off, the ego gradually re-assembles itself, and the explorer is faced with the sometimes-difficult task of making sense of the experiences and insights of the altered state.

Because of these considerations, I personally believe that it’s generally a good idea for a first-timer both to be adequately prepared for the experience and to arrange to have a “sitter”, that is, a trusted friend or professional who will be present and available throughout the experience for guidance and/or support. LSD is a very powerful agent that can expand our understanding of ourselves and of where we fit into the overall scheme of things – and it can also be really terrifying. So it has always been my opinion (and I’m hardly alone in this!) that LSD and the other entheogens deserve enormous respect.


The ego is a concept of Freud. He separated the human psyche into three forms, the Ego, the Id, and the Superego. The Id is our animal impulses. Its what drives us to seek sex, food, pleasure, etc., regardless of consequences. It is also tied to subconscious motivations for behaviors. The Superego is essentially our morality. Its what tells us what to do or not to do and alerts us to the possible consequences of our actions. The Ego is the 'self' as most people know it. It is involved with day to day decisions, interactions, basic functioning of the higher brain functions.

The Ego is what you usually encounter when you interact with someone. It is the 'me' or the 'I'. Thus someone who is egotistical is full of themselves, regarding themself as more important than others. The ego is not always one distinct 'entity'. Many of us assume different characteristics depending on whether we are interacting with friends, parents, authority figures, and so forth. These different 'masks' are all different incarnations of the same Ego, with some parts left out or suppressed. Often, intimacy comes from getting beyond these 'masks' and experiencing the true person of your significant other.

In LSD use, these concepts are similar and become quite important. In moderate to high LSD doses, one can lose this sense of self. It can be a simple matter of no longer having your 'masks' and reducing yourself to simple "being". It can also mean a complete dissolution of self and even boundaries between self and other so that one feels that one is integrated into everything. It can also sometimes mean bringing out more of the Id or Superego aspects of your unconsciousness. For some people, this can be quite disorienting and disturbing while others find it quite refreshing (after they return). When one strips away all the masks, games you play interacting with people, filters for your senses, and other tools your thinking mind uses to make sense of the world, you are often left with what seems like a more "true self". Then as you come back into reality, you reassemble your ego self and are able to see what you have been doing in life from a different perspective and can sometimes leave out or at least acknowledge whats less important to you. Thus ego-loss can be a powerful tool for self awareness and for developing insights into yourself, your mind, and your behaviors.

Now understand that these are abstract concepts, and not all people experience this or utilize the experience in a beneficial way to better themselves. Those that do have done their best to put words and metaphors onto what happens to try and make sense of it and explain why they find it useful. Some people take LSD to enjoy the visual effects and just have a good time, and there is nothing wrong with that. LSD is not for everybody, and I feel should be approached with a good deal of caution and respect. It can be quite fun, but it can also be quite dangerous when appropriate precautions arent taken. Even when fully prepared, in the right set and setting, it is possible for things to go wrong.

For more information, you may want to read up on Freud's theories, check out Aldus Huxley's Cleansing the Doors of Perception, and Stanislov Grof's LSD Psychotherapy.

Know your body, know your mind, know your substance, know your source



Asked By : DuckNucks
Answered By : psilo, ShapeShifter
Published Date : 7 / 17 / 2001
Last Edited Date : 7 / 20 / 2001
Question ID : 2758

Categories: [ LSD ] [ Effects ] [ Psychology ]

Ask Erowid v1.7 - Jul, 2005

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