(Image by Toby Dixon: found at https://i.pinimg.com)
The term alter ego was first used by the Roman philosopher, lawyer and statesman, Cicero. Cicero described a second self or other self, he used it to describe his close friend and trusted advisor Atticus, saying in a letter to him: “You are a second brother to me, an alter ego to whom I can tell everything.”
But alter ego has also been used to describe something else, a person who has a second self which is distinct and separate from the person’s true original self, they literally live a double life. Or put differently, the alter ego is a differnt version of you, it is another “I.”
We can see this in David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust, Barry Humphries/Dame Edna Everage, Ernest Hemmingway/Nick Adams. In the dark sense this is Jekyll and Hyde, or Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. In the hero sense this Spider Man/Peter Parker, Superman/Clark Kent. In the non-fictional sense they are projected or intentional personality, an alternate person, a way to express differntly. In the Fiction sense, it is a person thrust upon you or is derived from circumstantial change. But it can be dark and evil too, the unrecognised me as when the gentleman doctor Jekyll becomes the evil Mr Hyde when he takes a particular potion.
There is in some of this a hint of the shadow as described by Carl Jung where he talks about the shadow as being an unknown dark side of the personality, the unacknowledged, rejected least desirable aspects of oneself, manifests in dreams, and also comes out in the things we see clearly in others (ego, controlling behaviour, manipulative behaviour, fantasies, greed, lust). Shadow feeds the ego.
We all have a shadow, and some of us have alter egos, and some of those are dark. My late father was wonderful, caring, helpful, George in public and jealous, angry parent and husband in the home. I think we all have a bit of Darth Vader in our Skywalker. But if that is true, we also then have a bit of Skywalker in our Vader, depends where you’re standing and how you’re feeling, it’s never black or white. It gets dark when we fail to recognise who we are and how we are effecting others. It gets better when we acknowledge our other side and we put it to good use and it becomes creative potential (like Bowie).
I very much prefer Cicero’s original use in practice, that my alter ego is a close and trusted journey or soul friend. The twist is, if we have a good journey friend, they will point out to us the short comings of both alter ego, and shadow in due time. I hope you have a good journey friend, I certainly have a few, they are like gold, but a far better investment. Soul friends are the key to unlocking the shadow and pursuing the real me, that’s an alter ego we all need.