Have You Experienced An ‘Ego Death’? A Psychologist Explains

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An “ego death” or ego dissolution refers to a profound, intense and transformational experience where a person’s sense of self or personal identity dissolves or is temporarily lost. During ego deaths, individuals may feel a strong sense of interconnectedness with everything around them and a dissolution of boundaries between themselves and others.

Ego deaths can lead to a deep sense of self-awareness, spiritual awakening or personal growth as individuals confront and transcend their usual ego-driven perspectives and attachments, questioning everything they have been taught to believe. This can have lasting effects on a person’s worldview and sense of self.

A few other signs of experiencing an ego death include:

  • Loss of control. During ego death, people may feel a loss of control over their thoughts, emotions or bodily sensations. This loss of control can be both frightening and liberating, as individuals completely surrender to a state of openness.
  • Transcendence of time and space. Ego death can involve a feeling of transcending ordinary perceptions of time and space. Past, present and future may seem to merge into a timeless and boundless state of consciousness.
  • Spiritual or mystical experiences. Ego death experiences are often characterized by a profound sense of awe, reverence and insight into the nature of existence.
  • Integration and reflection. After experiencing ego deaths, individuals often reflect on the experience and its significance, usually inspiring a shift in their priorities.

Recognizing that ego death has occurred can be subjective and deeply personal. People often feel fundamentally changed by the experience and undergo a shift in perspective towards a more expansive understanding of themselves and reality.

How Do People Experience Ego Deaths?

Here are some common methods through which people report experiencing ego deaths:

  • Psychedelic substances. Research shows that ego dissolution is often a by-product of psychedelic experiences. Substances such as psilocybin, LSD, DMT and ayahuasca are known to induce alterations in consciousness. When taken in appropriate settings and doses, these substances may have therapeutic effects; but is it crucial to exercise caution.
  • Meditative states. Certain forms of meditation can facilitate states of deep absorption or “non-self” experiences. Through focused attention, breathwork and mindfulness, individuals may temporarily transcend their ordinary sense of self and identity, leading to experiences akin to ego death.
  • Spiritual practices. Engaging in intense spiritual practices aimed at inducing altered states of consciousness or spiritual awakenings, immersing oneself in nature or engaging in ecstatic dance and movement may also elicit ego dissolution.
  • Near-death experiences. A 2021 study found that those who had been through physical near-death experiences also described feeling ego dissolution, out of body experiences and a sense of unity with the universe.

“Without aspiration or projection I crossed the tunnel at full speed. Speed is not the right word because there was no movement. It was more like a dissolution of myself and an equally sudden eclosion. In short, I found myself split into two parts. My body was resting on the bed and from the top of a cloud I could see myself. My double on the bedroom ceiling was witnessing an extraordinary scene in sharpness and authenticity,” explained one participant from the near-death experience study.

It’s important to note that the contexts in which these practices are undertaken, as well as the intentions and mindset of the participant play crucial roles in shaping the nature and depth of the experience.

These experiences can offer valuable insights about the nature of existence, consciousness and personal identity, foster a sense of purpose, enhance feelings of belongingness and connection with others and experiences of awe, which are linked to greater well-being.

Ego death experiences may also challenge limiting beliefs, allowing individuals to transcend self-imposed barriers and discover untapped potential within themselves.

However, ego dissolution and psychedelic experiences can also be accompanied by intense feelings of fear, existential anxiety, a sense of losing control and physical symptoms like nausea, sleep disturbances or paranoia. This can be distressing and overwhelming for some individuals, particularly if they are unprepared or lack adequate support during the experience.

Rapid shifts in worldview and identity can also be disorienting and may require ongoing psychological support and integration practices.

Research in this area is still evolving and it is essential to use discernment and guidance if you are seeking out such an experience. To begin with, a valuable way to gain self-awareness and experience deeper interconnectedness with the world is to learn how to quieten the ego instead.

Wondering whether you’ve had an ego death experience? Take this test to find out: Ego Dissolution Scale

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