What does ego syntonic vs. ego dystonic mean? Ego syntonic and ego dystonic are both terms used by psychologists: ego syntonic refers to behaviors, feelings and values that are in harmony with one’s own self image, whereas ego dystonic refers to behaviors and thoughts that are in conflict with one’s ideal self image.
Ego syntonic refers to ideas and instincts that we are comfortable with, so any type of behavior that comes naturally to you, even if it could be considered ‘wrong’, would be described as ego syntonic. For example, the behavior of a man who is a serial philanderer could be described as ego-syntonic. Even though most people would consider that type of behavior as morally repugnant, to him it is acceptable and ‘normal’; therefore he suffers no internal conflict or guilt as a result of his actions.
Ego dystonic refers to impulses, thoughts and behaviors that go against the grain of our personal beliefs and ideas of who we are. So if we take our previous example, unlike the serial cheater, a morally upstanding individual would probably be stricken by guilt and remorse as a result of his actions. For such a person, an affair would go against everything they believed in and would therefore be perceived as distressing and inconsistent with their belief in the type of person they thought they were.
Ego syntonic vs. ego dystonic?
Psychologists use the concept of ego syntonic and ego dystonic behavior in the diagnosis and treatment of behavioral disorders. Certain psychiatric disorders are characterized by patterns of behavior that can be described as ego syntonic. In order to treat the disorder, the patient needs to undergo a shift in thinking until their behavior is more ego dystonic.
Anorexia nervosa is an example of an ego syntonic behavioral disorder. A patient suffering from anorexia is often obsessed with weight gain and usually ends up being dangerously underweight as a result. But although the person will look ill to anyone else, the patient feels their body image and eating habits are ‘normal’. Such a distorted view of self-image and behavioral patterns is a classic example of an ego syntonic disorder. The only way to treat such a disorder is to make the behavior ego dystonic: only then will a patient begin to make the necessary changes—emotionally, physically, and behaviorally.
Conversely, obsessive compulsive behavioral disorder is a mental disorder where a patient shows ego dystonic behavioral patterns. OCD patients suffer from obsessions and compulsions characterized by repetitive behaviors that cause a great deal of mental and emotional stress. Such behaviors can include repetitive cleaning, hand washing, checking to see whether doors are locked, etc. But unlike an eating disorder such as anorexia, in the case of obsessive compulsive disorder syndrome, the patient is fully aware that their behavior is “wrong” and it is therefore classed as ego dystonic as opposed to ego syntonic. Thankfully, because the patient recognizes that they have a problem, the road to recovery is a little easier because the patient will be more able to take an active role in changing their destructive behavioral patterns.