Superego, An Encounter With Our Inner Judge

Last updated by Katie M.

Even if you don’t know anything about psychoanalysis, there’s one name we all know: Freud. In 1923, Freud published The Ego and the Id. In this work, Freud defined and developed the concept of the superego in parallel with the ego and the id. The superego would be our moral conscience. All will be explained.

The ego, the id and the superego: The Freudian revolution

If you remember your philosophy classes, Descartes said: “I think therefore I am”, which implies that I’m a being endowed with a conscience and that I’m not in the world like an object placed on a shelf. My conscience enables me to project myself, to feel, to act, to represent myself. In his Second Tropic of 1923, Freud introduced the idea that man is not just a conscience, but has three instances inside him that govern his behavior: the Ego, the Id and the Superego.

In fact, there would be our surface, i.e. our conscience and the inner, the depths, our psyche 🧠. There is what we control and our dreams, our slips of the tongue that are beyond our control and yet say a lot about us.

What’s the difference between the ego and the superego?

It’s quite simple: imagine that you’re three people in one. There’s the you that thinks, the you that makes love and the you that punishes.

  • Let’s start with the Id. It’s the raw part that inhabits us, the part of impulses, desire, longing. It’s only goal is to satisfy itself. It’s the passion that the ego tries to rationalize, but according to Freud, “The id doesn’t know or support contradiction.”
  • The Superego can be presented as a judge, but it could just as well be a severe parent or a zealous police officer. The superego is the one who forbids us, who punishes us, it’s the moral which the self is obliged to take into account. Imagine the superego as the little voice that whispers to you: “you’re rubbish”, “you shouldn’t have”, “it would be better”, “you shouldn’t”, etc.
  • And then there’s the Ego, the conscience, the mediator. This is the part of us that’s balanced between our id and its desires, our superego and its severity and the outside world. It’s not easy to be me!

👉 According to Freud, the struggle between these forces, the ego, the id and the superego, is the driving force of life, it’s even life itself. Immobility on the other hand is the driving force of death: so long live difficulty, contradiction, anxiety, failure, doubt, that’s life!

What if the superego becomes too strong?

If the superego is a judge, the judge doesn’t always have a good image, is he a protector or a dictator? In fact, the superego is neither good nor bad, it’s simply our inner law.

The superego isn’t innate, it’s constructed during childhood and over time. The prohibitions imposed upon us are integrated and internalized. We therefore know that we shouldn’t steal, we shouldn’t speak with our mouth full, we shouldn’t hit other people. And then there are the universal or cultural taboos: cannibalism, incest, sex before marriage, nudity, etc. All of these taboos decreed by those around us or acquired through experience enable us to build our superego and make life in society possible, too.

👉 Therefore, a lack of superego can for example lead you to committing wrongdoings, but a superego that’s too strong can become tyrannical. Beyond being a tyrant, a powerful superego pushes us to become our own executioner and generates guilt, self-deprecation, anxiety, obsessions…

To fear giving in to your Id is to repress your desires, thus unconsciously imposing prohibitions on yourself and making your superego stricter.

To fear giving in to your Id is to repress your desires, thus unconsciously imposing prohibitions on yourself and making your superego stricter.

A stimulating ally

But the superego is also the one that imposes a model on us to achieve. It’s an idealist who gives us a goal, a life project, and who supports us to push to surpass ourselves. The problem is that the superego tends not to tolerate failure. You therefore need to evolve your superego so that it takes a step back and becomes more protective.

To make the superego evolve is precisely the aim of psychoanalysis, which helps to displace or cancel the taboos set by this internal moralizer. Fortunately, the superego is capable of moving and changing itself according to new experiences. Thus, harmful taboos set by toxic families can make us feel guilty, but we can find new less guilt-inducing, less destructive limits thanks to another model we admire: a friend, a teacher, an aunt, a partner. If we evolve, our superego can also evolve, and that’s good news!

Editor’s note: a superego to be developed

As you’ve understood, a superego that’s too weak or too strong generates serious problems. It’s therefore urgent to remodel it in order to be able to express our full potential and feel better in our daily life. This work is carried out with a professional through sessions. If you feel that something’s wrong or preventing you from achieving your happiness, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with one of our psychologists.

🤗 Understanding yourself, accepting yourself, being happy... It’s here and now!


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Article presented by Katie M.

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