alter ego

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Alter Ego ( Latin for a second [other] I (from very trusted friends) ) is a popular word and is used as a psychologically oriented technical term in various areas of science and culture.


The name goes back to the Roman politician and philosopher Cicero , who lived around 44 BC. Chr. In Laelius de amicitia 21, 80 wrote: “verus amicus […] est […] tamquam alter idem” ('A true friend is like a second self'). Cicero resorted to a saying by Zenos . Its original formulation was used by Seneca the Elder. J. took up and changed there to the form of "alter ego" which is common today. The term has meanwhile become a household word in many languages.

Technical terms


The term can denote an intense relationship between two people when one person has become a particularly strong figure of identification for the other and, so to speak, part of their own identity .

In decision-making procedures, especially in personnel selection , a partially unconscious resemblance to the applicant felt by the decision-maker can lead to a biased decision, see homosociality .

In psychology it can also designate a “second self”, a “second identity” within one and the same psyche (see shadow (archetype) and shadow (mythology) ). Ego and alter ego are therefore two contradicting sides of a split personality .

In communication psychology there is an alter-ego technique , also called doubling ; a form of therapy or counseling in which a moderator (e.g. communication psychologist) expresses his or her possible “hidden thoughts” for one of the participants, possibly standing behind him.

Alter ego (identical with “ double ”) is a term used in the psychodrama process to refer to the protagonist's deputy. If necessary, the “double” represents the protagonist in the scene and reflects him. He can now look at the situation he is portraying from the outside and better assess his own reactions or even be shown alternatives.


In animistic beliefs of ethnic religions , alter ego (also known as the outer soul ) stands for the worldwide widespread notion of spiritual doppelgangers who exist as a "personal protective spirit " in the form of an animal (more rarely a plant, a natural phenomenon or even bodiless), spatially separated from a person and yet exist Are inseparable and for better or for worse connected to man for life. If such a spirit animal is caught, the person belonging to it is also in danger.

Depending on the religion, all people or only selected people have an alter ego. This can be a shaman , for example , who is protected by his "double" when traveling to the hereafter. In ancient Egypt , the animal-shaped outer souls Ka and Ba reflected the political and social hierarchy of the state.

For the first time, the idea of ​​the alter ego in the form of an animal or a plant was examined more closely by the Maya and Aztecs of Central America, the so-called nagual . The nonish of the Waika of Venezuela and other tribes of the South American rainforest inhabitants are designed in a similar way . The North American Indians often have protective spirits in the form of animals, but not as part of their own soul.

With the Semang- Negritos of the Malay Peninsula the outer souls appear as a tree or bird, with many Australian Aborigines like the Kurnai as a marsupial, bird, reptile or fish. In addition to the Negrito peoples of Southeast Asia, plant spirits are also present in West Africa with the Kpelle and in Polynesia.

The relation to totemism is controversial for many authors. As a rule, ideas of alter ego are only counted among the totemic concepts if at the same time direct descent from a common ancestor is assumed and corresponding taboos exist for sexual contact with people of the same totem. With the Kpelle, for example, the alter ego punishes its owner as soon as he violates one of the totem prohibitions.

In religious anthropology , the alter ego concept is also used for the idea of ​​the free soul , which leaves the human body during sleep or in ecstasy and can exist as an independent, disembodied doppelganger.


Alter ego here refers to a person who lives two different lives. Well-known examples from literature and popular culture are Mr. Hyde and Superman .

The term alter ego is also used in a figurative sense by artists , comedians and cabaret artists , especially when they play the same fictional role over and over again. Such roles sometimes have their own (fictitious) résumé, a different look and a different character. Examples of this are the comedian Hape Kerkeling , who, among other things , embodies Horst Schlämmer as an alter ego, and Dr. Kurt Ostbahn , personified by Willi Resetarits . One also speaks here of fictional characters . The musicians of the Kiss group also used alter egos for their entire public relations work until 1983, when they only appeared in costumes and make-up and tried to hide their true identities from the public.

The term alter ego is partly related to the term avatar . An avatar is an artificially or artistically created person, or a graphic representative of a real person in the virtual world, for example in a computer game or a chat in cyberspace .


The term alter ego (in the sense of deputy ) used to designate in some Romance states (e.g. the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies ) an official with extraordinary power (with decision-making power over life and death) who was able to make decisions in the last instance. an imperial vicar who was given the authority of the king . Such a power of attorney itself was also called an alter ego .

Web links

Wiktionary: Alter Ego  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Karl Ernst Georges : Comprehensive Latin-German concise dictionary . 8th, improved and increased edition. Hahnsche Buchhandlung, Hannover 1918 ( [accessed September 23, 2019]).
  2. Ludwig Julius Billerbeck (Ed.): M. Tullii Ciceronis Laelius sive de amicitia dialogus ad T. Pomponium Atticum . Newly acquired for use in schools and provided with German verbal and factual explanations. 2nd Edition. Hahnsche Hofbuchhandlung , Hanover 1829, p. 90 ( limited preview in Google Book Search [accessed September 23, 2019]).
  3. a b c d e Horst Südkamp: Totemism: Institution or Illusion? . In:, online PDF document, accessed January 23, 2015. pp. 11-12, 22, 38, 86, 151, 162, 168
  4. a b Walter Hirschberg (founder), Wolfgang Müller (editor): Dictionary of Ethnology. New edition, 2nd edition, Reimer, Berlin 2005. p. 20.
  5. Tuxtla Gutierrez: ICACH. Instituto de Ciencias y Artes de Chiapas, 1970. p. 53.
  6. Hannes Stubbe: Indigenous Psychologies using the example of Brazil. In: Psychologie und Gesellschaftskritik 34. 2010, 2nd edition, pp. 83–111.
  7. Ernst Dammann: Afrika, published in: Horst Balz, James K. Cameron, Stuart G. Hall, Brian L. Hebblethwaite, Wolfgang Janke, Hans-Joachim Klimkeit, Joachim Mehlhausen, Knut Schäferdiek, Henning Schröer, Gottfried Seebaß, Hermann Spieckermann, Günter Stemberger, Konrad Stock (ed.): Theologische Realenzyklopädie , Volume 1: "Aaron - Agende". Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, New York 1999, ISBN 978-3-11-019098-4 . Pp. 640-747.
  8. Pierer's Universal Lexicon of the Past and Present . 4th edition. Verlagbuchhandlung von HA Pierer , Altenburg 1865 ( [accessed on September 23, 2019] lexicon entry "Alter ego").
  9. ^ Meyer's Large Conversational Lexicon . 6th edition. Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig / Vienna 1909 ( [accessed on September 23, 2019] Lexicon entry "Alter ego").