Sociology Index


Superego is a concept developed by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud that describes one of three components of the individual personality or self. The personality consists of the id: the innate impulses and drives, the ego: the unique and individual self; and the superego: the internalized social norms or conscience. Much Freudian analytical theory is based on articulating the development of these aspects of self and their relationship. The Id is the unconscious drives and psychic energies of humans as biological organisms. The Ego is the outcome of the individual's struggle to adapt their basic drives or the ‘id’ to the imperative control of society and culture or superego. Sigmund Freud, who coined the name narcissism believed that some Narcissism is an essential part of all of us from birth.

In Psychoanalysis or Freudian theory: Superego is the part of the mind which internalizes parental and social prohibitions or ideals early in life and imposes them as a censor on the wishes of the ego which is the agent of self-criticism.

The superego is the faculty that seeks to police what it deems unacceptable desires; it represents all moral restrictions and is the "advocate of a striving towards perfection."

The Superego and the Act: A lecture by Slavoj Zizek 

Excerpts: The more profit you have, the more you want, the more you drink Coke, the more you are thirsty, the more you obey the superego command, the more you are guilty. In all three cases, the logic of balanced exchange is disturbed in favor of an excessive logic of "the more you give the more you owe", or the "more you possess what you are longing for, the more you are missing and thus the greater your craving", or the consumerist version, "the more you buy the more you must spend".

This paradox is the very opposite of the paradox of love where, as Juliet put it to Romeo, "the more I give, the more I have." This superego-paradox also allows us to throw new light onto the functioning of today’s art scene. Its basic feature is not only the much deplored commodification of the culture, but also the less noted, perhaps even more crucial opposite movement: the growing culturalization of the market economy itself.

Superego is the reversal of the permissive "You May!" into the prescriptive "You Must", the point in which permitted enjoyment turns into ordained enjoyment. We all know the formula of Kant's unconditional imperative: "Du canst, denn du sollst". You can do your duty, because you must do it. Superego turns this around into "You must, because you can." The New Age wisdom of recovering the spontaneity of your true self seems to offer a way out of this superego predicament. Is this attitude not secretly sustained by the superego imperative? You must do your duty of achieving full self–realization and self–fulfillment because you can. So what is superego? The external opposition between pleasure and duty is precisely overcome in the superego.