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What is an Alter Ego?

Superheroes create an alter ego to protect friends and family from their real lives.
A person who behaves differently in different situations may be said to have an alter ego.
A loving mother might also be a successful businesswoman.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 12 August 2014
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An alter ego is a second self, a part of a person's personality that is in marked contrast with his or her regular personality. This concept is often used as a literary device, perhaps most famously in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but it has also been explored in philosophy, government, and even economics. The idea of a second distinct personality is intriguing to some people, and the concept is sometimes used to explain behavior that is viewed as irregular or abnormal.

This Latin term, which literally means “other self,” does not come up very often in clinical psychology or psychiatry. While some mental health conditions do involve the manifestation of alternate personalities, clinical terms like “dissociative identity disorder” are usually preferred, as psychologists like to draw a clear line between psychology and disciplines like fiction and philosophy.

People refer to the alter ego in a number of different ways. Some people, for example, use this term to talk about close and inseparable friends, referencing the idea that these friends have become enmeshed in their personal identity. It is certainly true that some people seem to come in pairs with their best friends.

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Characters played by actors are sometimes referred to as “alter egos,” especially when those characters are important and famous, and they have made the actor's name well known. Sean Connery's alter, for example, is James Bond, because although other actors have portrayed the character, Connery made him famous, and his trademark style is often pointed to as the “true” Bond.

When someone behaves differently in different situations, he or she is sometimes said to have an alter ego. In fact, the adjustment of one's behavior to meet social norms and expectations could be considered a social adaptation, but people who feel equally at ease in a variety of contrasting situations are sometimes viewed with suspicion by people who are less adaptable. A loving mother who is also a sharp businesswoman is one example.

Someone with an especially well-developed alter in fiction and film may live a “double life.” For instance, a character in a novel who works as a spy might have a cover job as an auto mechanic, with characters who are in the know about the secret identity referencing the protagonist's double life and the emotional stress it creates. Double lives also occur in the real world, although they are less common than fiction would suggest.

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Discuss this Article

anon345817
Post 14

I've had an alter ego since I was five years old to cope with the constant physical and emotional abuse from my mother and stepfather. It was rare that he came out, only in times where I mentally couldn't handle a situation (anger, sadness, disappointment) because they all brought back memories of my childhood. I realized his existence in high school when I created a nickname that for some reason stuck very strongly in my mind, kyoji (the protector, as I later found out).

The only issue now is his existence was based on me not being able to handle things and I've grown a lot since then, especially thanks to my best friend. But as soon as I'm by myself, he talks to me and puts out all these negative views about people as soon as the first thing doesn't quite add up. So now I'm wondering if there's a way to filter them down. This all happened because we were starting to combine into one solid entity, creating one being with the best of both sides. In doing so, his ability to switch out also became quicker than the blink of an eye.

anon336660
Post 12

I have an alter ego. She came to me at a time when I had no self esteem whatsoever. She's never had a concrete name, and I don't know what she actually looks like. She's not really another "me", just another person who happens to be here with me.

anon323146
Post 10

My life was horrible when I was younger. I never had any friends. Everyone I knew thought I was lame and ugly.

So, when I was in the ninth grade, I went to a different school and I met this guy and silly me, I kind of got played. So I heard of an alter ego and I created one for myself so my life would change. My first alter ego's name is Champagne Moldest and I used her a lot during ninth grade. She changed my life and got me into all this fashion stuff and sexy stuff and now I'm beautiful. I feel proud of myself and her, so after I created her, I created more alter egos.

Then I have this horrible alter ego who is a demon named Resolution Sang, who is always thinking about killing someone, but he can't because his grandmother of sacrifice won't let him. So then I have Aslan Moldest, who wants to be famous and I think he is getting closer and closer to becoming famous because every day he loves to write his own lyrics (so I'm very proud of him). Then I have a school girl and she loves to go to school and do homework and sometimes she's very quiet and sometimes loud. Also, she might joke around a little and sometimes is mean and sometimes nice (it depends on what attitude you give her and the way you look at her). So I have other alter egos, but I don't feel like typing about all of them. But I think alter egos are very cool. They helped me through a lot and I also talk to them too!

anon319058
Post 9

This is some very good information. I am very concerned about my daughter.

anon277785
Post 8

I have schizophrenia and am very functional. I have two years of college and work when I'm ablee, even though I've been on disability for ten years. I'm 43 years old, by the way. I just wanted to say you all are mistaken! Schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder are two completely different things, although there could be someone who has both disorders.

Sometimes I think out of the norm, so doctors labeled me schizophrenic, but I just think that I have a mental problem is all. I do not have dissociative multiple personality disorder because I don't take on other identities. I'm as normal as you and have even been thought by doctors at first to have bipolar disorder but different doctors give different diagnoses.

I was an abused child and had been in abusive relationships but I don't dissociate. I'm me all the time and proud to be me regardless of the hell I've been through in my life. I'm schizophrenic, but proud to be me. I love the person God made me and my spirituality I have as I'm a Christian woman. I'm not to be feared as people so often are when they think someone is "psychotic.” I take medication always, but I will always have some symptoms of psychosis (out of the norm thinking). I hope this helps you all.

anon262067
Post 7

My friend has an alter ego. Sometimes she lets me call her by her usual name, and is really nice and quiet, but sometimes she makes me call her Mr. Indigo and says the weirdest things I've ever heard. When she is Mr. Indigo she wears a fake mustache. Cute but weird. It is fun with the changes every few months, though.

anon212403
Post 6

I really agree. I don't know if I have an alter ego but sometimes I'm this good, caring person and sometimes I'm just really mean and violent.

mutsy
Post 5

@Suntan12 - I didn’t know that but it makes sense now that you think about. I always wondered what the motivation was for developing alternative personalities but understanding the past of a person afflicted with this condition really helps to understand how they got where they are.

I always thought that the multiple personality was a biochemical problem.

I also always wondered about people that have to take on an alter ego or new identity because they are in the witness protection program. They not only assume a different name and profession, but they also live a dramatically different lifestyle and cannot contact family members because it would be a threat to their safety. I wonder how this secret double life affects their sanity. I think that this is such an interesting topic.

suntan12
Post 4

@Hamje32 - I just wanted to say that I was reading an article the other day about the alter ego and how many people suffering from schizophrenia have multiple alter ego names. They say that it is a result of a traumatic experience or childhood that causes them to develop this fantasy of multiple personalities in order to cope with life in general.

If you think about it that makes a lot of sense because a lot of people block out painful memories, but the difference with someone that develops a multiple personality disorder is that they take on these identities in order to be able survive. Usually when a psychiatrist treats people with this disorder they often have to resort to hypnosis in order to find out the original source of the patient’s pain.

It is a condition that is treated with therapy and medication because medication alone will not help this type of patient.

bfree
Post 3

Is bipolar disorder another alter ego definition, like schizophenia? I think this might be what’s wrong with my sister’s husband. I’m not saying that to be mean because I love him to death. I think he’s a great guy most of the time.

But I’ve seen this happen twice in their marriage where his identity changes completely. He starts doing things and saying things that are so out of character for him.

Most of the time he’s pretty quiet and calm and a very loving husband, but when this alter ego flairs up, he’s suddenly on a mission to change the world. This kind of behavior goes on for about two or three months before he comes back to his normal self again.

I’m very concerned about him and their marriage. Isn’t there some kind of treatment for this kind of behavior?

hamje32
Post 2

@Mammmood - You raise a good point—but an alter ego is not always evil. I know this guy at work who is as quiet as anyone I’ve ever met, but sometimes he can break out into some of the most hilarious comedic playacting when you get with him one on one—and he trusts you.

I’ve heard that most real funny people are real quiet, or serious, in real life.

Mammmood
Post 1

I think we all have alter egos, but most of us suppress them. That “My Hyde” can be an ugly character indeed. I prefer to call him the “real self.”

For example, what happens in moments of real stress when you think your own life is on the line—literally or figuratively? Do you steal? Do you sell out a best friend for money, or to curry favor?

I’m not trying to sound judgmental, just give us something to think about. You can think of your alter ego as that little devil standing on your shoulder.

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