What is Ego Death? – A Look into a Popular Reason Why People are Taking Psychedelics
What Is ‘Ego Death’? – A Look Into a Popular Reason People are Taking Psychedelics
Taking psychedelics for spiritual purposes can leave a humbling mark among some of those who take it. Psilocybin magic mushrooms, LSD, ayahuasca, and DMT are among the psychedelics that are taken for spiritual reasons.
It forces one to question their life, look at it without the mask that you work so hard to display to other people. A mask that you have kept, as well as opinions and habits you have formed throughout your lifetime as a result of your upbringing, family, relationships, and environment. Oftentimes, the way we look at life can be flawed and biased because of these factors, but that is completely normal. But when these factors, such as traumatic life experiences and narcissistic parents to name a few, result in a mentality and behavior that harms ourselves and others, then it may be time to consider a reevaluation through ego death.
Sigmund Freud, the famous Austrian neurologist and father of psychoanalysis, developed his personality theory back in 1923. This is where he discusses the ego as part of the personality, and we know it today to be responsible for balancing the id, the most basic component of personality, with superego, which when combined enable us to conform to reality. The ego is also influenced directly by our own external world.
Some people have healthy egos, while others – those that can benefit from psychedelic therapy – may not. It’s what we know ourselves to be, and in some cases this can lead to substance abuse, eating disorders, and other types of mental disorders that we associate ourselves with subconsciously.
Ego Death May Not Be Blissful
Ego death, also known as ego dissolution, is widely known as the experience wherein one loses the sense of self. Psychedelics are a very useful way to induce this.
Unlike other people who trip on psychedelics for its blissful effects, those who undergo ego death may not find it pleasant at all. It could be cathartic to some, it may even cause temporary sadness followed by feeling like a heavy load has been lifted from your shoulders. It’s also common for many to feel like one was actually dying, but instead of a physical death, one goes through a death of self and identity.
For those who have never tried psychedelics, this may seem like the antithesis of recreational drugs. But this is where the mental health benefits of psychedelics comes in: people actually seek out ego death purposefully especially when they are suffering from alcoholism, addiction, trauma, depression, and other psychological disorders.
There are many ways to describe ego death, oftentimes varying from one person to another. In essence, experiencing ego death allows us to break free from the identity and opinions we have formed about ourselves and the world. It can be painful when psychedelics forces us to come face to face with parts of ourselves that we didn’t want to look at before, but in doing so, it helps us prepare for the future in a different way – and have the chance to live a much better life.
Ego death has sparked an interest among scientists and researchers. They have found that there is unusual activity going on in the brain’s hippocampus, which is the region of the brain where memories are stored and retrieved. Experts hypothesize that when ego death occurs due to psychedelic consumption, the transport of information from the hippocampus to other parts of the brain are interrupted. As a result, autobiographical memory temporarily stops working.
In a 2015 study out of Imperial College, researchers found that ego death induced by psilocybin was found to cause “decreased functional connectivity between the medial temporal lobe and high-level cortical regions,”. In addition, they found that “individuals with lower diversity of executive network nodes were more likely to experience ego-dissolution under psilocybin.”
Another study from 2018 analyzed ayahuasca ceremony participants. The researchers assessed ego dissolution among participants by asking them to fill out a questionnaire gauging both short and long term changes in their behaviors and mood. They found that “ratings of depression and stress significantly decreased…. Convergent thinking improved.” Furthermore, researchers found that: “Changes in affect, satisfaction with life, and mindfulness were significantly correlated to the level of ego dissolution experienced during the ayahuasca ceremony.”
Then in 2019, a study by researchers in Switzerland assessed 38 people on a 5 day silent retreat. Participants were randomly given either 21.82mg of psilocybin or a placebo. They were asked to continue their scheduled meditation and brain scans were taken before as well as after the retreat. The researchers discovered that after the retreat, participants who were given psilocybin displayed significant changes in the regions of the brain related to the DMN, which is evidence of ego death. Similar findings have been reported in other studies. Changes in brain connectivity such as these were associated with a mood improvement as well as positive changes in spirituality, attitudes about one’s self, and behavior.
No matter how you look at it, ego dissolution can be a truly powerful and life-changing experience. It has been known to have lasting psychological impacts which are not necessarily negative but perhaps – transcendent. Individuals can come out of psychedelic trips feeling more content, at peace, and knowing their strengths and weaknesses better. This whole experience will also enable you to let go and release trauma, grudges, anger, and other negative emotions in order to come out the other side from a place of peace and more love towards yourself, others, and the world as a whole.
Is an Ego Death for Everyone?
For many people, an ego death is a hallmark for taking psychedelics. One needs to take a significantly large dose, as opposed to a microdose, in order for this to occur. If you are at a crossroads in your life and are looking to make some big changes starting from within, try psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. It might give you the ego death and new perspectives that you have needed this whole time.