For Freud, our parental figures are extremely important to the development and interactions of our consciousness. His model of consciousness is a little different from the others we have encountered so far in that it takes into deeper account the internalization of our external experiences and influences. Unlike the slave consciousness in the Hegelian Dialectic which eventually transcends external objects, Freud describes a process of token keeping in which external influences like our parents, culture, and “what is taken over from other people” are internalized and ever present in the “psychical province” which he calls our superego (An Outline of Psycho-Analysis 147).
In An Outline of Psycho-Analysis Freud describes the our conscience/superego as the part of our consciousness which sort of takes the place of our parents when our external world is internalized after our early development (An Outline of Psycho-Analysis 205).
“This new psychical agency continues to carry on the functions which have hitherto been performed by the people [the abandoned objects] in the external world: it observes the ego, gives it orders, judges it and threatens it with punishments, exactly like the parents whose place it has taken. We call this agency the super-ego and are aware of it in its judicial functions as our conscience.” (An Outline of Psycho-Analysis 205).
I hope I wasn’t the only one who read that and realized how awful that sounds. I can barely handle my mom’s judgement outside my head much less inside my head. More than that, I do not like the idea that my morality and sense of right/wrong are all things I have “taken over from other people”; that at the end of the day I am doomed to become like these “other people”. It takes away any sense of autonomy and originality I thought I had been living under.
However, after thinking of my own experience I realized that things don’t always end up that way. There are many cases where the ego overcomes the superego, where the superego is the very facilitator of this deviation. In a study published in The British Journal of Political Science researchers found that although children of very politically engaged parents are likely to initially acquire the same political views, they are also most likely to later abandon these initial political views as a result of their own political engagement which their parents values facilitated. So maybe in the process of internalizing external influences we personalize more than is initially thought. In which case the superego is more of a dynamic facilitator than a replacement for a chastising parent. What do you guys think this internalizing process and the function of the superego?
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