Self & Other – Superego part 2

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Let’s start with a basic description of the human psychological situation. The psychoanalyst Fairbairn does a good job with this summary, which you may remember from the Pleasure Course:

Each of us shapes his relationships according to the patterns internalized from his earliest significant relationships. The modes of connection with early objects become the preferred modes of connection with new objects. Another way to describe the repetitiveness of patterns in human relations is to say that each of us projects his internal object relationships onto new interpersonal situations. New love objects are chosen for their similarity to bad (unsatisfying) objects in the past; new partners are interacted with in a way that provokes old, expected behaviors; new experiences are interpreted as if they fulfilled old expectations. It is because of this cyclical projection of old patterns and the reinternalization of self-fulfilling prophecies that character and disturbances in interpersonal relations are so difficult to change.
-Fairbairn

Basically, every human being maps out a self-other template from their earliest relationships, especially the relationship with the mother. Last week we learned that the incorporated or internalized mother (and father…) becomes a sort of judge with the purpose of guiding us through the difficulties of life. We also learned that for a variety of reasons this judge can be extremely controlling, harsh and critical.


Now let’s look at how all this gets started. Basically, the child stops paying attention to it’s innate sense of wonderfulness (I am wonderful, you are wonderful, the world is wonderful, etc.) and starts paying attention to “I need mother’s approval to survive. If I am not approved of I will not survive”. Something innate to our core self is given up for social approval. This is the beginning and basis of the relationship blueprint (a relationship with one super ego) or how one thinks one needs to be to survive.


A person’s super ego tries to map out a response to every possible circumstance based on early memories and experiences. This is impossible, of course, and why the superego’s instructions are such a tangle and so self-contradictory. It is an endless list of should’s and should-not’s, do’s and don’ts, that self-contradict. And the very act of living through a map, no matter how good it is, is in fact lifeless of living. The whole thing is a self-reinforcing tangle of deficiency. And it tends to be harsh for three reasons. It is based on a loss of faith and loss of connection to ones deepest self. Its mandate is survival, so it is always in emergency mode (because it is cast in the most challenging circumstances of childhood). Thirdly, the parent’s and role models that it is based on are often harsh themselves because of their own relationship blueprints.


Relationship blueprints plays out both internally and externally. For example, internally, a person may feel deficient because of a critical super ego. Externally, that sense of deficiency may cause them to withdraw from others or reject others. This plays out in all kinds of relationships, especially romantic relationships. The other person is likely to respond in kind, thus creating a vicious circle.


Our sense of identity is, in fact, split into many senses of identity. And our sense of other, or superego, is also split into many others. The more strong the divisions or splits are within us the more severe the psychological difficulty. For example, we may have an angelic sense of self and an angry sense of self. The angry self may be linked to a rejecting other. The angelic self may be linked to an ideal other we want to be like. The less they are brought together in a single sense of identity, in other words the more split, the more we are divided within ourselves. These senses of self and other can be in conflict with each other in a wide variety of ways that are beyond the scope of our current topic.


Different situations trigger different senses of ourselves, for example, one situation may trigger a wounded self and another may trigger a superior self. The same applies for our sense of other: one situation may trigger us to feel the other as rejecting other, and another situation may trigger us to perceive the other as tantalizing other, or bullying, and so on. My point is that these feelings about ourselves and others are often more internally driven than driven by the real circumstance, and that there are many of them. Our self-other blueprint is divided like slices of a cake.


Practically, we need to be able to recognize this self-superego blueprint. Understanding it’s function as a judge is critical. It is also important to recognize that these judgments are, in fact, attacks. They are attacks against who we are so that some kind of survival program can be run instead. We must learn to distinguish the way these attacks feel. We must learn to distinguish how we respond to them. And, we must learn to see the effect of this self-rejection.


Once we get the hang of recognizing the judgments and attacks inherent in our relationship blueprint, as it plays out internally and externally, we can begin to do something about it. Recognition is the first critical step: What is our self-other template? How are we split within ourselves? And how do we split our sense of others? Disengaging from this template will be the next step. This opens up the question how will we function without our old guide?

Alicia Davon