Search Results for superego
In Freud‘s psychoanalytic theory, the superego is the conscious or unconscious element of the ego that is formed from the child’s internalization of parental values, beliefs and prohibitions.
Because the superego is internalized in childhood, its moral injunctions are partially based on imagined rather than actual parental demands.
A common mistake among popular psychologists is to equate the superego with the conscience.
Although influencing moral attitudes, the superego differs from the conscience. Internal conflicts can arise between the superego and the conscience or between the superego and more recently acquired attitudes and beliefs.
» Censor, Conscience, Defense Mechanism, Dreams, Ego, Electra Complex, Introjection, Psychopath, Repression, Totem
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The censor is a psychological mechanism hypothesized by Sigmund Freud in which threatening or socially inappropriate dream material is toned down. Freud describes the censor through the analogy of professional writing.
To be effective, media writers must consider their audience. If words are too strident or suggestive, an editor rejects or possibly edits an article for publication.
With regard to dreams, Freud believed the censor acts like a newspaper editor. The censor disguises an unconscious wish symbolized in a dream. The stronger the prohibition of the wish by the ego, superego or conscience, the more it will be distorted in the dream, or in a series of dreams.
Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) is worth quoting at length here:
A similar difficulty confronts the political writer who has disagreeable truths to tell those in authority. If he presents them undisguised, the authorities will suppress his words…A writer must beware of censorship, and on its account he must soften and distort expression of his opinion…The stricter the censorship, the more far-reaching the disguise and the more ingenious too may be the means employed for putting the reader on the scent of the true meaning. The fact that the phenomena of censorship and of dream-distortion correspond down to their smallest details justifies us in presuming that they are similarly determined.¹
However, Freud’s analogy might not hold up in the 21st century because it assumes a political writer is concerned with telling the truth and not just with making a living, stomping on an opponent, or winning an election.
As for the idea of the censor itself, it assumes that the brain (and person) works like software filters, merely distorting hidden desires before they reach consciousness. The idea that dreams could be symbolic because they point to something far greater than mundane reality is never considered. Why? Well, Freud was a reductionist atheist. So for most of his life he saw just about everything from a sexual, materialist and conceptual bias, which for spiritually biased people is not entirely wrong but definitely incomplete.
¹ Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) trans. James Strachey, London: Pelican, 1976, pp. 223-224.
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Dream interpretation is practiced in most cultures and dates back to ancient times. Dreams have been analyzed in Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, African, Australian, as well as North and South American Aboriginal cultures. The overall aim in dream interpretation is to predict, assist and inspire.
Sigmund Freud makes a distinction between the manifest and latent content of dreams. The manifest content is the symbol first remembered by the conscious dreamer. The latent content is what the dream truly signifies, deciphered through the process of psychoanalysis.
The manifest content is usually a distorted, incomplete version of the actual dream, having undergone a process of psychological censorship. And if the latent content strongly threatens the ego, the manifest content may be symbolized two or more symbolic steps away from the ‘true’ meaning of the dream.
Consider the following hypothetical example: If a student’s unconscious homosexual desires for her math teacher conflicted sharply with her conscious attitude, the remembered dream image would be highly abstract, such as two mathematical equations adding up to the same result. During analysis it would be revealed that the patient also enjoyed dreaming about her math class.
In the next dream the patient would be invited for dinner to her math teacher’s home. Further analysis would reveal that, in the second dream, patient and teacher exchanged compliments over dinner.
After continuing psychoanalysis in this manner, the dream censor is finally overcome and the patient would finally realize her lesbian desire for the math teacher. Freud’s idea of the censor was later replaced by his concept of the superego.
Freud’s pupil and psychology superstar in his own right, C. G. Jung, says there are “big” and “little” dreams. Big dreams are often prophetic and stem from the collective unconscious. Little dreams deal with the personal unconscious and usually compensate for a skewed or incomplete conscious attitude.
In some cases the interpretation of a collective, big dream content is distorted by an unexamined personal unconscious. A similar idea was expressed by the thirteenth-century Kabbalists who claimed that dreamers may communicate angels but divine knowledge is often distorted by “subjective wishes” within one’s own “emotional life.”
Jung believes that his approach incorporates and extends both Freud and Alfred Adler‘s ideas. While Freud and Alder recognize libidinal impulses originating from a common psychological storehouse (similar to Jung’s collective unconscious), Jung’s idea of the archetypes tries to spell out the collective psyche to a degree not found in either Freud’s (i.e. eros/thanatos) or Adler’s (i.e. drive for aggression) theories.
More recently, the ancient interest in dreams and their relation to what is now called paranormal and precognitive phenomena has been rekindled by developments in the New Age movement and within depth psychology.
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In 1922 the pioneering psychologist Sigmund Freud wrote that the defense mechanism is “a general designation for all the techniques which the ego makes use of in conflicts which may lead to neurosis.”¹
The defense mechanism may be useful and adaptive but when inappropriate or out of balance it is regarded as neurotic and potentially destructive.
A defense mechanism arises from anxiety that poses a threat to the psyche. Anxiety may be generated by instinctual tensions, guilt (threats of bad conscience from the superego) or by actual danger.
Freud was close to his daughter, Anna, who became a psychoanalyst in her own right. Anna Freud lists the defense mechanisms as
- reaction formation
- turning against the self
Of the ten, sublimation always refers to positive, so-called normal behavior and is never deemed neurotic or negative. Additionally, the psychological processes of splitting and denial are usually regarded as defense mechanisms.
It’s interesting to note that the idea of the defense mechanism is worded in such a way so as to make the world seem like a hostile, attacking place. While it’s true that much of human life is about psychological assault and being assaulted, children with a good, loving upbringing have parents (or primary caregivers), family and friends who shield them from many of life’s attacks. Good parenting also knows how to guide the child toward a healthy kind of mastery that includes genuine consideration for the rights of others. From this, kids and adults can experience all the joy and satisfaction that accompanies a mature balance of mastery and considerateness.
Having said this, one might wonder why Freud didn’t take a more positive approach and call these psychological dynamics coping or, perhaps, living mechanisms instead of defense mechanisms. Perhaps Freud’s choice was partly due to the fact that he developed his theories from working with neurotic patients. Also, Freud had a pessimistic, atheistic vision in which his patients, at best, progressed from neurotic anxiety to an apparently normal state of human unhappiness.
By forwarding a psychology which omitted God’s love from the healing process, one could say that, for all his smarts, Freud missed the main point.
¹ Cited in Charles Rycroft, A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1977, p. 28.
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For Melanie Klein, these feelings begin as early as the first year of life.
The Electra complex is outlined less clearly than the Oedipus complex, the counterpart complex for young boys. With the Electra complex the girl apparently envies her father’s penis, desiring it for herself to the extent of fantasizing about bearing his children—the origin of the term “penis-envy.” Her unrealistic, unattainable desire causes her to resent her mother. And the young child’s mind translates her extreme psychological discomfort into the fantastic belief that she’s been castrated by her mother.
A feminist response to this is expressed as follows:
The idea that the Electra complex is referred to most of the time as “penis-envy” shows where Freud was in his thought process. He simply thinks the male psyche is the dominant entity in human relations, and that female influence is secondary. This may be due in part to his belief that girls have weaker superegos, where morality is developed and values internalized. We develop this judicial component of our personality during the phallic stage.¹
¹ Amy Simokaitis, “Freud: Let’s Talk about Sex,” October 13, 1999. http://www.umsl.edu/~mgriffin/psy302/Simokaitis/electra_complex.html
In Sigmund Freud‘s psychoanalysis, the ego is the conscious, structured and reasoned aspect of the id. The ego is not present at birth but emerges from the id, acting as mediator between the often conflicted demands of the id and the superego.
In Carl Jung‘s analytical psychology, the ego is a highly continuous “complex of ideas which constitutes the centre of [one's] field of consciousness.” As the psyche’s “point of reference,” the ego’s partly biological component is offset by cultural influences. Its function is to balance the forces of the collective unconscious, the personal unconscious, external society as well as ethically good and destructive influences from both internal and external stimuli.
Jung borrows from Aristotle‘s idea of ‘effects from a First Cause’ by saying that the ego stands in relation to the self as “moved to the mover.” The ego is said to arise from and, in some cases, is at risk of being overtaken by the collective unconscious (as in inflation). Jung claims that many people mistakenly regard their egos as the total self. To compensate for this limited perspective, the collective unconscious tends to assert itself. Because of the almost limitless power of the collective unconscious, this can be a tricky time for the ego, which must represent the forces of the unconscious through language, symbols or art to maintain its autonomy.
In comparing industrialized mankind to so-called primitives, Jung sees the Western ego as a high achievement of humanity (recall that Jung is writing during the modern period). He says that the egos of modern individuals are better differentiated and less luminous than those of their, as he sometimes implies, cruder ancestors. Although no longer wholly identified with the numinous, modern egos are surrounded by a “multitude of little luminosities”–-that is, the unconscious affords different ‘lights’ to ego consciousness without overtaking it entirely. And different individuals exhibit different lights from the unconscious.
Although offering an important alternative to the psychoanalytic wisdom of the day, Jung tends to make sweeping generalizations about the ‘normal’ Western ego, revealing that he too, at least in part, is a product of his times. And his archetypal theory tends to downplay the idea of wholly spiritual influences from above, or at least, constrain these influences into his somewhat limiting theory.
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Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was a Jew of Austrian parentage and the founder of psychoanalysis. He studied medicine in Vienna and then neurology and psychopathology. He was marginalized by the medical community for his interest in the idea of infant sexuality. Today he, perhaps ironically, is often frowned on as a reductionist.
Freud remains one of the great innovators of the modern age. He attempted to scientifically outline the idea of the unconscious which formerly had been represented in literature, philosophy and nineteenth-century occultism.
His psychoanalytic techniques of free association and abreaction were influenced by several other contemporaneous “doctors of the mind,” most notably Jean-Martin Charcot, but Freud made them uniquely his own.
His works were almost entirely destroyed by the occupying Nazis. In 1938 he reluctantly withdrew from Vienna to London, leaving behind several sisters, all of whom died in concentration camps.
A habitual cigar-smoker, his relationship with his daughter Anna became extremely close; she acted as secretary, friend and confidant. Freud eventually contracted jaw cancer but refused pain-killers because they dulled his mind and interfered with his work.
After Freud’s death Anna further elaborated on the idea of defense mechanisms, distinguishing herself as an important thinker in her own right.
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The imaginary content is called an introject and can take negative or positive forms—e.g. the punitive mother, the kindly grandfather, the distant father, and so on.
According to Freud, introjection plays a role in the development of the superego and in diminishing separation anxiety. And it’s considered a normal aspect of psychological development leading toward ego independence.¹
There are a couple of issues here to be considered.
First, it should be stressed that introjection is part of a developmental process and as such, involves a series of ‘necessary mistakes’ in understanding—mistakes that must be overcome for true maturity to arise. However, we never really stop distorting our world, so it’s problematic trying to determine exactly where healthy imagining starts and unhealthy imagining stops. As in most scientific assessments, not a little bit of human bias is involved.
Another problem, one not really looked at by Freud or his hardcore followers, is that a person may be intuiting the unexpressed impulses and thoughts (aggressive or benevolent) of another which rarely (or possibly never) come to the surface, socially speaking. So if, for example, an aggressor is clever enough to mask his or her aggression in front of others, he or she may seem benevolent when, in fact, harboring aggressive tendencies. If a person picks this up at the intuitive level, he or she may be concerned, but a supposedly dispassionate psychoanalyst may dismiss that concern as a mere introject, when, in fact, it’s quite an accurate perception of aggression.
Freud’s at one time student C. G. Jung talked about the importance of intuitive knowledge to a greater degree than did Freud. Jung even incorporated intuition into his model of the self. But even Jung doesn’t really offer much more than an introductory analysis regarding the importance of non-localized, non-discursive knowing—at least, this is the perspective which most bona fide mystics would hold.
¹ Charles Rycroft, A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1977, pp. 77-78.
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A psychopath – also called a sociopath – is an individual with no regard for ethics who displays little or no emotional response in harming others or being harmed.
Psychopaths habitually lie, cheat, engage in antisocial and even criminal behavior; they manipulate, exploit, betray and break hearts but feel no shame, guilt or remorse in the process.
Psychopaths are cold, callous and often chillingly clever. They may, for instance, take a spouse and even have children just to look normal and get away with nefarious schemes.
Psychopaths can often sense another person’s feelings but, unlike the empath, use that ability to manipulate and exploit.
More recently, Declan Murphy and a team of psychiatric researchers in the UK suggest that neural activity in the emotional centers of the psychopath’s brain is minimal.
Many attribute violence in the media as a contributing factor that might push a borderline personality into full psychopathy. But psychopathy isn’t just about violent crimes. Participants in the Enron scandal, for instance, could be seen as psychopathic.
And while many associate psychopathy and hate, this isn’t necessarily the case. Psychopaths just don’t feel remorse, guilt nor shame. And it’s unclear whether this is caused by a deeply repressed hate that comes out in twisted forms or, on the other hand, some genetic characteristic that just makes the psychopath callous and uncaring.
According to http://www.abc.net.au, psychopath managers at the workplace are as frequent as 1 in 10.¹
We should remember, however, that the term psychopath is a concept, one not necessarily fully present in reality. Some individuals, for instance, may exhibit many of the characteristics of a textbook psychopath 99.9% of the time but exhibit genuine caring 0.1% of the time.
¹ “Corporate Psychopaths,” Catalyst, Reporter: Jonica Newby, Producer: Louise Heywood, Researcher: Jonica Newby, May 5, 2005.
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