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The Structure of the Mind Pt3

The Structure of the Mind Pt3


The superego develops from the ego around age five or six (refer also to the psychosexual stages, described later). It represents the moral arm of the personality and comprises prohibitions and values acquired from parents and society. There are two components of the superego.  Conscience dictates what is immoral – what one should not do – especially concerning id impulses. Transgressions may result in punishment from the superego through the presentation of feelings of guilt, shame and inferiority, and also, Freud believed, through “accidents”.  Ego-ideal dictates what is moral – what one should do – and what one ideally can be. Adherence to such lofty principles may secure reward from the superego in terms of feelings of pride and self-worth.

The superego is, therefore, moralistic and idealistic and, although Freud never used the term, could be considered to be governed by the perfection principle. Its functions are, broadly, to inhibit id impulses and to persuade the ego to strive for moralistic and idealistic goals.  The superego develops from the ego and, in common with this structure, straddles a conscious, preconscious and unconscious topography.


A couple of analogies may provide additional clarification.  Firstly, from Freud himself:

[the relation of ego to id] is like a man [sic] on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior  strength of the horse; with this difference, that the rider tries to do so with his own strength while the ego uses borrowed [id] forces. (SE, XIX.25)

Secondly, in humorous vein,  Bannister (1966) asserts that:

…psychoanalytic theories seem to suggest that man [sic] is basically a battlefield. He is a dark cellar in which a well-bred spinster lady [superego] and a sex-crazed monkey [id] are forever engaged in mortal combat, the struggle being refereed by a rather nervous bank clerk [ego]. (p.21)

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