Why do people have alter egos

alter ego

As alter ego different things are called. On the one hand, the term can describe a very intense relationship between two people when one has become a figure of identification for the other and thus part of one's own identity. On the other hand, in some countries there are people of great power (e.g. they can decide between life and death), known as the alter ego. In literature, the term means either the mouthpiece of an author in the literary text or the second self of a character (Doppelganger, mirror image, shadow etc.).


The word sequence has a Latin origin and can be used with other me translate. This translation also points out why the terminology is used so differently. Because whenever there is talk of another ego - whether in a psychological, creative or philosophical moment - the term alter ego is quickly used. The origin lies with Cicero.

Cicero, a Roman politician, lawyer and philosopher wrote in 44 BC His work Laelius de amicitia. This was dedicated to his friend Titus Pomponius Atticus and, as the title suggests, deals with friendship, which is discussed in a kind of dialogue form. The following passage can be found there:

[...] verus amicus numquam reperietur; est enim is qui est tamquam alter idem.
Translation:[...] a true friend will never find each other like this; because this is, as it were, our second self.

The saying was subsequently taken up by Seneca, also a Roman philosopher, and for the first time in the form known today (alter ego) used, from which the winged word was derived. This was then used in different contexts, which is why it is sometimes difficult to give a precise definition of the term: it is only clear that an embodiment of the self is always meant.

Alter ego in literature and art

The term can mean the intense relationship between two people. And then when one becomes an identity figure for the other. Thus it becomes part of your own identity. However, this can also mean a second self that lives in the body of a single person.

This phenomenon is called a split personality in psychology. Here the ego, i.e. the actual ego, and the alter ego, the other ego, are in contradiction. This contradiction has the effect that the person has two sides, as it were, lives two lives and therefore unites two personalities: there are numerous examples of this in literature.

Some are morbid, like Mr. Hyde in the novellaThe strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson or the cartoon character Hulk. Both examples spontaneously transform into the corresponding alter ego. Others are self-chosen, such as Batman or Superman, who pursue normal activities but lead double lives as superheroes.

Poster:The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1885)

The novella tells the story of the esteemed Dr. Jekyll, who manages to brew a potion that does that Good from bad in man separates. At first he enjoys being able to transform himself into the unscrupulous Hyde with the help of the drink. But he has to quickly find out that he is losing control. Because suddenly the protagonist turns into Hyde, although he did not touch the potion.

More and more often overwhelmed by evil where he needed increasing amounts of his potion to turn back into Jekyll. The doctor's malicious alter ego is now breaking out of him in a pathological and chaotic manner and can no longer be controlled. Another example can be found in Gottfried KellersClothes make the man, however, the alter ego is not pathological, but still involuntary.

The point is that Wenzel Strapinski, a young tailor's apprentice is looking for a job in the wealthy town of Goldach. On the way to the city he is surprised by the rain, which is why a coachman takes him with him. When he reaches town and gets out of the carriage, he makes for all sorts of looks. Since he is very elegantly dressed and gets out of the stately vehicle, the citizens consider him a count.

Wenzel, who is too shy to break this belief, gives himself up to the role, dines and immediately plays with the most important people from Goldach and can only be exposed at the end. Nevertheless, the double role that Wenzel Strapinski devotes himself to can be seen as the poor tailor's alter ego, that is, as a different self.

A modern example is James Cameron's science fiction film Avatar. This takes place in the year 2154 on the planet Pandora. There is a raw material there that is supposed to be plundered by the people. In order to win the trust of the Na’vi, the indigenous people of the planet, the former US Marine Jake Sully, who has been paralyzed from the waist down since a combat mission, is brought into a Na’vi body via thought transmission. He should convince the Na’vi to give up their planet for raw material extraction.

Alter ego as an avatar in computer games

The title of the film is also a nice transition to the world of computer games. Here the player takes over a character and controls its actions, actions and ultimately its linear fate. This figure, known as the avatar, also resembles the alter ego.

The game industry market has developed rapidly, especially in recent years. The player can adjust the appearance of his avatar in detail in many games, which is an essential characteristic of the genre, especially in role-playing games. Accordingly, the player can create the figure according to his own ideas and, to a certain extent, slip into its skin.

So is the avatar a graphic representation that is assigned to a player in the virtual world. The player controls the figure, interacts with it and experiences the course of the game through its eyes or looks over the graphic shoulder. The figure thus resembles the concept of the alter ego, the other self. As an example, let's take a look at an excerpt from Skyrim, part of the Elder Scrolls series by Bethesda Softworks:

Brief overview: The most important things about the alter ego at a glance.
  • As an alter ego, that becomes other me designated. This can be the relationship between two people, one of whom feels so strongly connected to the other that she identifies with this one. In some countries, the term means people who are in great power.
  • In literature, the alter ego means either the mouthpiece of an author in the literary text or the second ego of a character. This second self can be pathological and thus resembles the split in personality, but can also be selected by the figure itself.
  • A gamer's avatar in computer games is very similar to the alter ego. The player takes on a virtual character and controls its actions and actions, basically taking on certain traits of the ego being played when he embodies it while playing.

  • Note: The role played by an artist is often referred to as an alter ego, if it is often taken over by him. The hard rock band “Kiss” always presents itself in costumes and make-up. They choose a different me when they appear (Youtube). Another example is the German comedian Hape Kerkeling, who often slips into recurring characters. A well-known example is his alter ego Horst Schlämmer (Youtube).