We review the meaning of this concept used in Psychology.
Be yourself. Do what we think is right, regardless of what others say. These two phrases can seem practically synonymous, and they often go hand in hand in such a way that thanks to their combination we can live the life we want to live, a full and coherent life with itself.
And yet, for many people at some point or aspect of their life, both elements can contradict each other: it is possible that a part of our being and our beliefs conflict. These elements or parts are considered egodistonic, a term that we are going to talk about throughout this article.
Egodistonic: definition of this term
The concept of egodistonia, from which the adjective egodistonic starts, refers to the existence of some characteristic or element which generates discomfort or discomfort to the person or persons who possess them due to the fact that it is contrary or is incongruous with the values, way of being or thinking or beliefs of such people.
As the prefix ego implies, this element contrary to one’s beliefs is part or product of one’s own being: it is a denial of the self. It generally refers to the existence of acts, attitudes, thoughts or even physical aspects carried out or held by a person and that are contrary to what his system of values or beliefs admits. A cognitive dissonance is then created, a discomfort or suffering derived from the perception of the incongruity between one thought and another, and that can lead to the actions or thoughts maintained being deeply criticized internally.
This can lead to a frustrating situation that, if repeated frequently or if the disagreement cannot be expressed or resolved, will lead to stress and can even lead to psychopathology. Thus, something egodistonic is going to be problematic as long as something is not done to make it stop being so.
The opposite concept: egosyntonic
Understanding the concept of egodystonia is much easier if we also value its opposite: egotism. Egosyntonic is defined as all that thought, attribute or action possessed or performed by a person that is congruent with the scale of values and beliefs that he maintains.
Thus, the ego-syntonic is what results from following our own convictions: what each of us considers to be correct. The fact that our thoughts, attributes, ways of being or doing and concrete acts are ego-syntonic can make their existence suppose emotional well-being (although it can lead to negative reactions or repercussions from the environment), especially if it is about something that involves an effort. However, given that it is what we consider “should be”, it is also very common that we often do not notice them (since there is no incongruity) and even that they generate indifference.
Although evidently the egodistonic causes us suffering, the truth is that it has something positive: it indicates that there is a dissociation between belief and situation / thought / action, in such a way that it allows us to value the element in question and / or the beliefs behind the conflict and to be able to reevaluate them and work towards achieving wellness. In case he had not said discomfort, trying to change something would be difficult to say the least as there is no motivation for it.
What can cause something to be / become egodistonic?
The causes of the existence of egodistonic elements can be highly variable. They can be behind from the fear of living or performing actions or thoughts despite not wanting to do them, or the fear of being judged or the repercussions of doing something that we do want and is in line with our being.
Other possible reasons are the belief in the fusion or equality between thought and action (considering that it is the same to think something than to do it), the overvaluation of a specific act or thought in relation to a scale of values or the existence of a high self-demand. Personality is another factor to consider.
Likewise, in all or almost all cases there is also influence of culturally realized values and learning. Another element that can greatly affect the parenting and parenting models, as well as the learning of role models where self-criticism prevails. Obedience to authority or the effect of perceived social pressure (whether it is real or not) also has a great influence on whether something can be or become egodistonic.
Situations in which it may appear
Although the term egodistonic is not often used, the truth is that what it implies happens constantly and in a wide variety of situations and conditions. Here are four examples in this regard.
1. Socio-cultural conditioning linked to sex or sexuality
Education and the socio-cultural vision of things that have been transmitted to us throughout our lives can also contribute to the emergence of egodystonic elements, something especially relevant when the problem is found in elements that are part of our being.
This is the case of sexual orientation : those people with a sexual orientation other than heterosexual have traditionally seen that their sexual preferences have been attacked and persecuted, considered sinful or unhealthy. The same occurs with those with a gender or sexual identity other than cisgender (as in the case of transsexual people), persecuted until recently for having an identity different from what was considered their own due to their sex of birth.
That is why some homosexual, bisexual or transsexual people among others may experience their sexual orientation or gender identity in an aversive and egodystonic way, as something negative and / or shameful. This means that they hide and deny a very relevant part of their being, something that can lead to the emergence of isolation and not to live a free and full life, in addition to being able to lead to problems such as depression, anxiety or other psychological disorders.
2. Eating disorders
A case of mental disorder in which the existence of egodistonia can be easily observed is in eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. These two disorders imply the existence of serious perceptual distortions with respect to the body itself, as well as fear of gaining weight and reduction or alteration of food intake.
Thus, for those (and those, although less frequent) affected by this type of disorder, their own weight or body figure would be egodistonic, since it is contrary to what they would like to have.
3. Obsessive-compulsive disorder
OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder is one of the mental disorders in which egodystonic elements appear. Specifically, the obsessive thoughts that people who suffer from this alteration have, which are defined as constantly appearing in the psyche and that are experienced as intrusive and contrary to their will, are usually totally contrary to their beliefs and values, something that makes such thoughts are unacceptable and unacceptable to the patient.
In fact, it is precisely the fact that they are egodystonic that causes them to arouse great anxiety, something that in most cases leads to compulsions to avoid them.
4. Personality disorders
Our own personality can also sometimes be egodystonic. For example, we can have a pattern of behavior and thinking in which we are highly submissive, very inhibited, very rigid or have an excessive tendency to risk. This may not be bothersome for the person, but in some cases the subject may find great unhappiness and suffering in maintaining these traits.
It may be the case of a person who is always submissive out of fear, or who needs and depends on the approval of others, but who actually wishes to be more independent or not need others to feel good. In these cases we would also be facing an egodistonic characteristic. This is common, for example, in a large part of personality disorders such as avoidant personality disorder, dependence personality disorder, obsessive, borderline or histrionic.
What to change?
We have said before that ego-dystonic is a problem for the person unless something is done to stop it. In this sense, there are two main options: either the scale of values is changed in such a way that we make it congruent with the lived reality, so that what caused us discomfort no longer does so as it is now permissible in the new way of life. see things, or the action or thought is modified in such a way that it becomes congruent with the current scale of values.
Which option to take can be complex to decide, and a large number of variables can affect it. However, we must bear in mind that we are talking about a part of our own being, so the most adaptive strategy is generally to seek to make a change in the belief and value system in such a way that we can fully accept ourselves and make that part stop being egodistonic.
Thus, in the examples given, the person with egodystonic sexuality should not hide their sexuality or fight against it, but change the beliefs that make them unable to live it in freedom. In the case of anorexia or OCD, although they require treatment, it should be noted that part of the solution would pass in the first case by accepting the body’s own figure (something that would avoid the search for weight loss) or in the second the having had aversive thoughts without coming to consider them unacceptable and without the self-recrimination and guilt that generates it turning it into an obsession.
Now, sometimes what needs to be changed are acts or ways of acting that are inconsistent not with our beliefs but with who or how we are. In this case, it would be advisable to make the change in the problem behavior in question. For example, an excessively inhibited or submissive person due to learning or the imposition of others may try to train assertiveness and social skills because such inhibition is against their way of being.
- Triglia, Adrián; Regader, Bertrand; García-Allen, Jonathan (2016). Psychologically speaking. Paidos.
- Vidales, Ismael (2004). General psychology. Mexico: Limusa.