The answer to the above question is actually not immediately clear. We have so many formal definitions, both from various psychological disciplines, as well as definitions from religious sector. And, needless to say, we as individuals have our nuances on these definitions as well.
For us, as Christians, the notion that the ego is real but must be disciplined to take on a deeper or higher perspective, all of which comes from surrender to God, is a better way to proceed. Here we will have to start with our own experience of life, and to see how the geo became important to us. As Americans there will be some commonality. For example, people are usually (not always for all people) brought up to exceed in life. We may have played sports. We may have had a boy scout/ girl scout affiliation. We may have had some military connection, as in the Junior ROTC. Most of us must have realized that we must study hard in school so that we can get good grades so that we can excel.
My own experience was and is that life is competitive, and I must excel so that I can get a higher place in school, not to mention in a job sector. And if I do not exceed, then someone else will and I will be left behind. Is this true for you? I mention all of this to communicate to you that I am very aware of the awkwardness of the spiritual notion of surrendering the ego against such a background where the ego must be primary, and certainly developed to get ahead in life. What is important for us in developing the ego, not surrendering it. But yet it remains true that the Christian spirituality talks of surrendering the ego. Rather than shrugging off this notion due to possible uncomfortable feelings with it as a result of our backgrounds, I advise reflecting on it and see what understanding can be gained.
Christ always talks of surrendering our Will to God’s Will. He states of Himself that He does not speak on His own, but rather says whatever the Father says to Him and through Him. All of the saints (yes, all) would maintain the attitude of not my will, but rather God’s Will be done. There are three primary stages of the spiritual life developed by saints and theologians. The first is total selflessness, the second refers to mutual satisfaction of desires, and the last refers to total selfless actions. It indicates that we grow into these stages, by prayer, meditation, and service to others. We learn to let go, and in this way take on a broader perspective. I am born and I have no ego to speak of; I get older and develop an ego so that I can survive in this world; and then I become aware of God and the spiritual life and I want that now, i.e., a deeper spirituality. Once this need surfaces in me, there is almost an “OK” feeling about a slow, gradual letting go of wanting my own way, to wanting the higher perspective that comes from wanting God’s Way to become dominant. It feels good to surrender.
Blessings, Fr. Walter