By Elisha Gilb
In depth psychological thinking, the image of Hercules as a muscle-bound, strong, warring embodiment is the equivalent of our own ego structure. Hercules is the embodiment of our own psychological structure known as the heroic ego. We all have a heroic ego; this is the part of us that looks to self-preserve, self-protect, and will fight/struggle against events and issues that feel out of sync with our self-preservation and/or containment of our fragile selves. This heroic ego is our own ego’s need to fight and preserve itself as one of our main driving life forces.
“The hero still exists … now the human ego-complex.” –James Hillman.
Though it may sound good to have a strong warrior-like heroic ego, in actuality, this may stop psychological growth. Our heroic ego literalizes the world of images, symbols, dreams, myth, and unconscious material. When the imagined is made literal, we lose the psyche and our ability to work with unconscious material including dreams, images, and life material.
For example, one of the ways that the heroic ego literalizes the imagined is in the dream. What the heroic ego does is interprets the dream into actions for solving life’s problems. When the dream is interpreted and made to solve problems we lose the imagined world and find that we are not honoring the unconscious material or our psyches. Additionally, we are denying the image itself and the archetypal quality of the dream images. With a heroic ego stance, we can’t know the images or archetypes (frameworks of life experience) present within. Thus, the heroic ego fights dreams, psyche, and the unconscious in much the same way Hercules, the hero, warred against others. What this means is that we struggle with our egos. Our ego will continue the strong plow through the “upper world” and attack the psyche and “underworld” — the realm of the unconscious itself. Fighting against the underworld is a part of the hero complex.
The heroic ego is place of might, conquer, and taking things too literally. To understand unconscious material including dreams we must move out of our warring heroic ego stance. When we stay in our heroic ego frame, we are not much more than muscle bound ego and not able to go into the depths of the underworld, i.e. into our dreams or our unconscious material.
Attending to the “underworld” is part of the soul work that we must do in order to work toward health and well-being. Staying in a heroic ego stance does not allow this movement to take place. Part of my own therapeutic style is to work with clients on allowing space for the unconscious, dreams and other “hidden” psychological material, by thanking, but moving through the heroic ego hold on us.