The Superego: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:05 Definition of the Superego
  • 1:04 Characteristics
  • 2:59 Id, Ego & Superego
  • 5:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

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.

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

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