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The superego is one of the three components of personality in Freud’s psychoanalytic theory.

Learn the characteristics of the superego in this lesson, and discover how it interacts with the other components of personality.

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Definition of the Superego

Imagine yourself as a parent. You are at a candy store and your child tries to take a lollipop and eat it. You tell your child that this is wrong. They cannot have any candy until it has been paid for. It is your job to tell the child what the right thing is to do.In this example, your actions are similar to the superego.

According to Freud, the superego is the social component of our personality that is represented by our conscience and is based on our ideal of perfection.According to Sigmund Freud, personality consists of the id, ego, and superego. These three parts work together to create a complete personality. The superego is the social component and is your conscience. The id is your instinct, while the ego is your conscious decisions.

Characteristics of the Superego

The superego is the last component of personality to develop.

According to Freud, it begins to emerge around the age of five. The main concern of the superego is whether an action is right or wrong. The superego is not concerned with reality. Instead, it seeks the ideal answer to a situation regardless of how practical it may be. This ideal is determined by the standards that were taught to us by our parents and society.

According to Freud, there are three levels of consciousness that we experience: consciousness (our current awareness), pre-consciousness (knowledge and memories we can retrieve), and unconsciousness (outside of our awareness at all times). The superego exists in all three levels of consciousness.The superego can be divided into two parts:

  • Ego ideal
  • Conscience

The ego ideal is our idealistic view of what is right. You can think of it as an imaginary picture of how you ought to be. The ego ideal is made up of all of our rules for good behavior. It represents how we should treat other people and how we should behave as a member of society.

When we engage in actions that obey the rules of our ego ideal, we feel good about ourselves and are proud of our accomplishments.The conscience is our view of what is considered wrong. You can think of it as an internal set of rules. When we break one of these rules, the superego considers our behavior to be bad. When we do things that our conscience considers bad, it leads to feelings of guilt or remorse.

The Relationship of the Id, Ego, and Superego

The superego has three main functions relating to the id and ego:

  1. Suppress socially unacceptable desires of the id
  2. Persuade the ego to choose moral behavior
  3. Persuade the ego to look past reality and strive for perfection

The superego persuades the ego to choose moral behavior and strive for perfection by offering punishments and rewards. For example, if the ego gives in to id demands, the superego may make you feel bad through guilt.

On the other hand, if the ego chooses to suppress the demands of the id, the superego may make you feel good about yourself. Through this process, the superego uses its influence over the ego to regulate the desires of the id.Let’s pretend you are the ego. Imagine the id on your left shoulder telling you to eat an entire chocolate cake because it will taste good and make you feel good. Now imagine the superego on your right shoulder telling you not to eat the cake because it is bad to eat unhealthy food and overindulge. The super ego is persuading the ego to choose the behavior closest to perfection. It exerts influence by making the ego feel guilty that you want to eat the entire cake.

The ego must make a choice. Usually this choice is a compromise. In this case, the ego chooses to only eat a small piece of cake.

The superego rewards the ego with a feeling of pride because it did not completely give in to the demands of the id. The superego has successfully influenced the ego to make a more acceptable choice.

Lesson Summary

To review, the superego represents your conscience.

In some instances, this can be a sense of guilt that prevents you from succumbing to your gut instincts, like eating a delicious piece of chocolate cake. Freud divided the superego into two parts: the ego ideal and the conscience. The ego ideal is the idealistic view of what is right, while the conscience is that sense of guilt, or the view of what is considered wrong. The superego interacts with two other personality parts: the id and the ego.

Learning Outcomes

Following this lesson, you’ll have the ability to:

  • Describe Freud’s concept of the superego and its characteristics
  • Recall the three levels of consciousness
  • Explain the superego’s two parts
  • Summarize the three functions of the superego in relationship to the id and the ego

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