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The superego is one of the three parts (Id, ego and superego) of the psychic apparatus defined in Sigmund Freud's structural model of the psyche; they are the three theoretical constructs in terms of whose activity and interaction mental life is described. According to this model of the psyche, the id is the set of uncoordinated instinctual trends; the super-ego plays the critical and moralizing role; and the ego is the organized, realistic part that mediates between the desires of the id and the super-ego. The super-ego can stop you from doing certain things that your id may want you to do.
The superego reflects the internalization of cultural rules, mainly taught by parents applying their guidance and influence. Freud developed his concept of the super-ego from an earlier combination of the ego ideal and the "special psychical agency which performs the task of seeing that narcissistic satisfaction from the ego ideal is ensured ... what we call our 'conscience'." For him "the installation of the super-ego can be described as a successful instance of identification with the parental agency," while as development proceeds "the super-ego also takes on the influence of those who have stepped into the place of parents — educators, teachers, people chosen as ideal models."
The superego aims for perfection. It comprises that organized part of the personality structure, mainly but not entirely unconscious, that includes the individual's ego ideals, spiritual goals, and the psychic agency (commonly called "conscience") that criticizes and prohibits his or her drives, fantasies, feelings, and actions. "The Super-ego can be thought of as a type of conscience that punishes misbehavior with feelings of guilt. For example, for having extra-marital affairs." Taken in this sense, the super-ego is the precedent for the conceptualization of the inner critic as it appears in contemporary therapies such as IFS and Voice Dialogue.
The super-ego works in contradiction to the id. The super-ego strives to act in a socially appropriate manner, whereas the id just wants instant self-gratification. The super-ego controls our sense of right and wrong and guilt. It helps us fit into society by getting us to act in socially acceptable ways.
The super-ego's demands often oppose the id’s, so the ego sometimes has a hard time in reconciling the two.
Freud's theory implies that the super-ego is a symbolic internalisation of the father figure and cultural regulations. The super-ego tends to stand in opposition to the desires of the id because of their conflicting objectives, and its aggressiveness towards the ego. The super-ego acts as the conscience, maintaining our sense of morality and proscription from taboos. The super-ego and the ego are the product of two key factors: the state of helplessness of the child and the Oedipus complex. Its formation takes place during the dissolution of the Oedipus complex and is formed by an identification with and internalisation of the father figure after the little boy cannot successfully hold the mother as a love-object out of fear of castration.
"The super-ego retains the character of the father, while the more powerful the Oedipus complex was and the more rapidly it succumbed to repression (under the influence of authority, religious teaching, schooling and reading), the stricter will be the domination of the super-ego over the ego later on—in the form of conscience or perhaps of an unconscious sense of guilt."—Freud, The Ego and the Id (1923)
The concept of super-ego and the Oedipus complex is subject to criticism for its perceived sexism. Women, who are considered to be already castrated, do not identify with the father, and therefore, for Freud, "their super-ego is never so inexorable, so impersonal, so independent of its emotional origins as we require it to be in men ... they are often more influenced in their judgements by feelings of affection or hostility." However, Freud went on to modify his position to the effect "that the majority of men are also far behind the masculine ideal and that all human individuals, as a result of their bisexual disposition and of cross-inheritance, combine in themselves both masculine and feminine characteristics."
In Sigmund Freud's work Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), he also discusses the concept of a "cultural super-ego". Freud suggested that the demands of the super-ego "coincide with the precepts of the prevailing cultural super-ego. At this point the two processes, that of the cultural development of the group and that of the cultural development of the individual, are, as it were, always interlocked." Ethics are a central element in the demands of the cultural super-ego, but Freud (as analytic moralist) protested against what he called "the unpsychological proceedings of the cultural super-ego ... the ethical demands of the cultural super-ego. It does not trouble itself enough about the facts of the mental constitution of human beings."
- Snowden, Ruth (2006). Teach Yourself Freud, 105–107, McGraw-Hill.
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- Schacter, Daniel (2009). Psychology Second Edition, United States of America: Worth Publishers.
- Freud, On Metapsychology p. 89-90
- Freud, New Introductory Lectures p. 95-6
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- Arthur S. Reber, The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology (1985)
- Sédat, Jacques (2000). Freud. Collection Synthèse 109.
- Sigmund Freud, On Sexuality (Penguin Freud Library 7) p. 342
- Freud, On Sexuality p. 342
- Sigmund Freud, Civilization, Society and Religion (Penguin Freud Library 12) p. 336
- Freud, Civilization p. 337