The Ego and the Tyranny of the Superego

The Freudian model is a great representation, but keep in mind it is only a model. The model points the way and conveys the information, but your brain does not have 3 separate compartments with walls between them. It is not a three in one trinity.


The superego is the policeman or the judge. It keeps the rules given to us by our families and culture. It could be seen as your conscience and a storehouse of rules, laws, and values. The superego has the tendency to demand perfection and will judge itself and others harshly as it develops. It can be viewed as opposite the id.

Freudian icebergID

The id, present from birth, contains a human’s basic instinctual drives. It is the source of our wants, desires, impulses, and bodily needs. The Id has no judgments of value, no sense of good and evil.


The Ego deals with the outside world. Per Freud, the ego mediates between the id and reality. It works to fill the id’s drives and needs in sensible ways and should eventually learn to do so in a way that benefits the person in the long-term, rather than causing pain, grief, or other problems.

The ego navigates a tricky three-way obstacle course between the outside world, the superego, and the id. Following the rules of the superego, the id may not be happy. If the ego makes mistakes, the superego may cast harsh judgments. Meanwhile, the outside world watches, rewarding and punishing according to its standards.

One can view the ego as common sense compared to the id which is uncontrolled desires and passions. The ego is the seat of reason, thinking, and conscious awareness, although not all operations of the ego are conscious. The superego, as the law keeper and judge, also has operations that are not conscious.


This sounds like a good model so far, that is when everything is working in balance. The problem is that often things are not in balance. We are all aware of those who seem to have no superego (conscience or ability to follow laws) and or those whose id is unchecked and out of control carrying out desires, and impulses in antisocial ways.

Yet, what we often overlook is the superego’s assaults on the ego. The super-ego or judge constantly watches every move of the ego then punishes the ego with feelings of long-term guilt, anxiety, and inferiority for any failure, or even perceived failure or shortcoming. The superego occasionally rewards the ego for what it considers good behaviors with positive feelings, but they appear short-lived in comparison to the judgments and punishments.

The superego, as keeper of the rules and laws, sees itself as right and its judgments infallible as though God Himself was on its side. It does not matter that the rules and customs it exalts are not the results of any original thought. It does not matter that most of its ideas came from someone else. Nor does it matter that many of the rules and laws were never challenged, but were accepted blindly, many before the development of critical thinking.

Growing up, the superego accepts all that is programmed into it by family, friends, neighbors, subculture, culture, the educational system, television and various other societal sources. It accepts the rules it is given as absolute and judges harshly by those standards. It aims for perfection and the person it occupies is not capable of perfection. Neither is anyone else the superego meets. With the images of perfection shown by modern media, the judgments are even harsher. To make matters worse, many of the superego’s rules and values are below ground or in the unconscious realm.

Thus the ego after being judged by the superego believes (consciously or unconsciously) that it is not good enough, not skilled enough, not smart enough, not lovable enough, or not pretty enough. Its teeth aren’t white enough, its car is not stylish enough, its spouse and kids don’t measure up to what is on television. In short, it does not have enough of whatever it needs to feel good. It can never measure up to the superego’s standards and never will. There will always be some regret, feeling of inferiority, failure, or dislike about either itself, its circumstances, or the body it occupies.

The judgments cast against the ego forces it to adapt by taking several of many options. Some of the options available to a suffering and persecuted ego include masochism, co-dependency,over compensation, rationalization, repression, regression, dissociation, splitting, projection, identification with an outside model, and somatization – the unconscious manifesting of repressed emotions into psychosomatic illness.

This war between how things are supposed to be (the superego) vs how things appear to be (the ego’s perception) has huge and devastating consequences. It results in a large host of disorders including, depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety, eating disorders, and many types of physical illness ranging from ulcers, arthritis, headaches, heart problems, and even cancer.

One step toward getting better and happier is to challenge the rules and the “shoulds” that have been forced on you.

Ask – Whose rules are they? Did you choose them or inherit them? Do they serve you or hurt you? Do they bring happiness or do they bring bondage?

The Ancient Toltecs also had simple effective ways of dealing with this issue. Don Miguel Ruiz offers the following simple aid among several in his book “The Four Agreements.” I call it questions to the judge.

Get a marker and write the below words on a bright piece of paper. Whenever guilt, anxiety, shame, depression or any value struggle occurs, look at the words and say to the judge:

Big deal!
Who cares?
So what?
Why not?
(If none of these satisfy your situation, then remember this last one.)
It doesn’t matter.

Try both aids together. Good luck and please stop persecuting yourself and others. We need to quit being judge, jury, and warden. We need to lighten our load from this tyranny as much as possible.

Never forget, most of what causes our suffering is based on someone else’s ideas. Many of these ideas are hundreds of years old. Many of these ideas were not necessarily created from any real wisdom but were simply good ideas at the time. Many of them are incorrect and are inaccurate at best.

I will cover more on these subjects in the future. All Comments, discussion, criticism or advice are welcome. Please post below.

More on Freud – Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Carlson, N. R. from Personality. Psychology: the science of behavior
Freud, New Introductory Lectures
Snowden, Ruth from Teach Yourself Freud.
Carlson, N. R. from Personality. Psychology: the science of behavior
Schacter, Daniel from Psychology Second Edition.
Freud, On Metapsychology
From “Ego Development and Psychopathology: A Study of Hospitalized Adolescents”.
Freud from The Ego and the Id, On Metapsychology p
Gangaji from the Diamond in your Pocket
S. Sutker/H. E. Adams from Comprehensive Handbook of Psychopathology

Don Miguel Ruiz from The Four agreements
Vishen Lakhiani fromCode of the Extraordinary

MindPicture Credit:   public domain
attribute –  By historicair 16:56, 16 December 2006 (UTC) [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Paul Nieto – The Old Dirt Road

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