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The superego is the third and final part of Sigmund Freud’s classic understanding of human consciousness. The superego is the place in human personality where societal norms are incorporated and reflective of morality and ethics. The superego lies at the opposite end of the spectrum from the id, and concerns itself with the goal of perfection, according to Freud.
Superego and Impulses
In the superego lies conscience, that both criticizes the desires of the id and restrains the individual from acting on his or her impulses. From the superego arise feelings of guilt, which are psychological punishments for misbehaviors driven by the id. The superego is like conscience:
- The Superego arises from the conditioning imposed by parental demands
- The Superego works to restrain the blind impulses generated by the id.
- The superego is not something which works on a principle of utility
- The Superego does not “calculate” in terms of the consequences of an action
- The Superego does not restrain one from committing murder because murder will be punished, but rather, it’s restraining force is based on a pattern of parental conditioning that has made one feel that murder is “wrong.”
Superego Verses Ego
The ego stands in between these higher thoughts of the superego and the lower passions of the id. Psychological conflict arises when the ego cannot balance between the two, and psychosis results. Freud also held that the superego was an internalization of the authority figure, and its formation occurs during the individual’s resolution of the Oedipus complex. However, a great deal of criticism has been leveled at Freud for the sexist nature of the Oedipus complex and his original intention that the superego was not as developed as in men. Later, in Civilization and its Discontents, Freud posited the idea of a cultural superego, which is a societal-wide system of ethics into which the individual’s superego falls into harmony.