The Constant Critic – Superego part 1
To open up our series we will explore what the superego is and some basics about how it functions, as well as the crucial importance of addressing this sector of the mind in self-development work. The activity for the week will explore the impact of the superego on your sex life.
One of the most important points I’ve found in any type of self-development work is to go below the initial trigger of an upset. This certainly holds true when dealing with the superego. The superego has many disguises, from the faces of the people around us to our current circumstances, so it is especially important to dig a bit and release the triggers and go below the surface in our work with the superego. I wanted to make this point right at the outset of our series because of its importance.
Aside from personal experience, a good deal of the information in our superego series has been gathered from the “Essential Papers on…” series (a psychoanalytic compendium). The book Soul Without Shame by Byron Brown has also been a great inspiration. “Essential Papers on…” is a series of books serving as an excellent collection of key psychoanalytic themes and concepts through the selection of important articles in the field. Soul Without Shame is a first-rate summary of information on how the superego functions and how to handle it. I highly recommend reading them both. Soul Without Shame, being a single book and being exclusively dedicated to the superego, is the more easily digestible of the two and would serve as good companion reading for this series.
The superego is our parents incorporated, incorporated into our mind: the standards, rules and so on, all with the purpose of surviving and obtaining love. With that mandate we can understand why it’s such a controlling and ingrained part of the mind. The superego leads us to be constantly evaluating ourselves and doubting our inherent self-worth, the simple value of being.
It keeps us locked into old belief systems. In fact, that is its purpose. The superego maintains the status quo by focusing us on standards and ideals that we are always attempting to measure up to, but somehow never do. The point is not success.
It also keeps us limited in our experience of ourselves, avoiding any perception, feeling, or experience that it considers dangerous. Perhaps it’s deep sadness, or anger or a particular memory, or anything that it deems unacceptable.
Superego activity often takes the form direct attacks or approving messages towards ourselves and others. But it also functions in our unconscious, simply affecting how we feel. Probably the best way to detect superego activity is to experience how we feel in our bodies. The superego will leave us feeling tight, lethargic, depleted, constrained, and so on. When we feel these in our bodies we can detect the impact of superego activity directly.
The superego has access to everything we have ever known like a huge FBI file. This information helps it maintains a seemingly credibility. There are usually bits of truth in its messages. What makes the superego attacks false, untrue and harmful is the enormous judgment it brings with its messages.
This judgment is usually negative but not always. If we look we can find that every human being is attempting to gain the favor and approval of their superego, the same way children attempt to do that with their parents. This keeps us under the thumb of our superego.
To summarize: the superego develops by incorporating and internalizing the standards, values, rules and ideals of our parents, especially one’s mother or primary caretaker, as well as other authority figures in society. It is the “other” we grew up with initially. It is what we typically project onto others and hence feel judged by them.
We can’t simply throw this guidance system out; we have to replace it with something. That something is moment-to-moment awareness, consciousness, Reality now. We replace it by discovering what is always here. Can we re guided by that? Is there something here in the moment that can guide us? This is a very powerful inquiry.
The superego keeps the past alive. It halts expansion and self-development. It is a cage of the mind. It is the controlling aspect of the mind and uses any means necessary to keep that blueprint from changing. It determines one’s sense of self identity. It is a poor substitute for direct perception and squashes the life out of life because life involves change, growth and expansion.