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  • The human being

  • that emerges from psychoanalysis

  • is not a human being

  • that is at peace with itself.

  • It is a human being that is

  • divided,

  • split,

  • that is in conflict with itself,

  • and that doesn't know itself completely.

  • There is a kind of, in a way,

  • a new vision of what it is to be human

  • that emerges through psychoanalysis

  • which recognises conflict as fundamental.

  • Freud's fundamental view of humans

  • is that they are incessantly at war

  • with themselves, inside their own mind.

  • So that model of conflict

  • and of division within,

  • of a sort of fractured self,

  • is fundamentally important.

  • Freud has two models of the mind.

  • In the first model he distinguishes between

  • perception-consciousness,

  • what he calls the preconscious,

  • and the unconscious.

  • In the second model he distinguishes between

  • the ego, the id, and superego.

  • The id refers to the cluster of drives,

  • that push for immediate satisfaction.

  • It's governed by the pleasure principle.

  • It wants things here and now,

  • regardless of the consequences,

  • and if it doesn't get it then it screams

  • or has a tantrum.

  • So if the id's associated with the drives

  • and with getting satisfaction

  • however, in whatever form,

  • then the ego has to deal with that

  • and say: 'You can't do it that way,

  • but maybe you can do it this way'.

  • It's a negotiating agency.

  • And then you've got the superego

  • on the other side, which is to do with

  • conscience and law, which says:

  • 'No, you can't try and do anything ever.

  • You've got to be perfect.

  • You've got to be all right.'

  • And so the ego's got to

  • mediate that too.

  • It's about how to makes these two,

  • the law and the drives,

  • how to make that liveable.

  • One of the difficulties in the later model

  • of ego, id, and superego,

  • and one off the reason why it doesn't just

  • map onto the earlier model

  • of conscious, unconscious, preconscious,

  • is that Freud thought that a part of the ego

  • was also unconscious to itself.

  • So there could be, as it were,

  • something going on in the ego

  • that's repressing thoughts

  • and yet that very fact, or that very process,

  • might be unconscious within the ego.

  • He thought of the ego as split

  • between a conscious and an unconscious part.

  • And then he also realised that

  • when, as a result of identifications

  • with our parents, we form ideals

  • that we want to match, ideals of ourselves,

  • these agencies are not all conscious.

  • So that the unconscious is actually spread

  • over the whole area of the mind.

  • Sometimes I think we can oversimplify it

  • by thinking about these

  • three little figures

  • running about in our minds.

  • The id represents normal, childish desires

  • and pleasures,

  • and to demonise those by calling it a devil,

  • I don't think is a good idea.

  • And with the superego as an angel,

  • I think that is even more problematic

  • because many of the demands of the superego

  • are quite tyrannical and nonsensical.

  • People talk about it as conscience,

  • a kind of, internalised version of conscience,

  • but that makes it sound rather sanitised.

  • So one of the features of the superego

  • is that is seems to be the voice of

  • conscience and morality,

  • but it's actually a passionately sadistic

  • and hating

  • voice in my ear, telling me what to do.

  • You know, the idea of the superego being

  • something quite, potentially perverse.

  • That it's an agency that can even get

  • enjoyment from making the person suffer,

  • from watching them fail

  • to live up to an ideal, for instance.

  • What Freud was saying was that

  • people fall ill of their moral ideals.

  • And we ought to question their moral ideals.

  • But the superego is

  • built out of the orders,

  • and the instructions and the diktats

  • and the words of your primary carers:

  • and 'you should' and 'you shouldn't',

  • and 'you must' and 'you mustn't', et cetera.

  • And so the exact words and beliefs

  • and ideals of your parents

  • are what your superego is built out of.

  • Let's take an example:

  • Take a person who,

  • a man who,

  • whose job was outside, in the street,

  • say he was a merchant at a market stall.

  • He developed panic attacks

  • when going into work,

  • and only in the summer,

  • and in the end he couldn't go into work

  • at all in the summer.

  • What emerged in the analysis was that

  • he was told as a young boy,

  • when he became interested in girls

  • and used to look,

  • 'You mustn't stare at a woman.'

  • Now, in the summer, lots of slightly clad,

  • very pretty young women, girls

  • came to his market stall,

  • and he found it impossible not to look.

  • So to fulfil this moral demand of the superego

  • of which he wasn't aware, not initially,

  • all he could do in the end was to

  • avoid the situation completely.

  • So he was unable to work

  • because of his strict superego.

  • If people have a moral ideal,

  • that doesn't enable them to live,

  • then they're going to suffer.

  • In a way any symptom.

  • any psychological symptom,

  • would be an example of the ego breaking down,

  • so, you know, whether it's a phobia,

  • or an obsession with handwashing,

  • or an inability to go to work,

  • or depression.

  • All those things are signs

  • that the ego just isn't coping

  • and isn't managing to find a suitable compromise.

  • The second model of the mind

  • that Freud came up with,

  • the one that distinguishes between

  • the ego, the id, and the superego,

  • which also became the most popular one,

  • has advantages and disadvantages.

  • The disadvantage is,

  • and I think Freud himself noticed that

  • towards the end of his life, is that

  • it gives pride of place to the ego.

  • Freud draws the analogy between

  • a horse and a rider

  • and the ego and the id.

  • The id is a horse: a strong animal,

  • full of energy,

  • and the rider tries to rein in the horse,

  • to direct it along a pathway

  • that the rider chooses.

  • and, more often than not, that works.

  • However, sometimes

  • the horse has a mind of its own

  • and it chooses its own way,

  • and the ego, the rider, just follows

  • and pretends that it's going where it wants to go

  • where it's the horse that's making the decision.

  • And this gives us a bit of a problem

  • with the ego

  • because our egos are often giving us

  • a false idea about who we are

  • and what we can see.

  • The ego is always a bit of a

  • hokey construction. It's always a bit silly.

  • It's always just trying to make everything ok

  • and make everything look good.

  • It's a bit like politicians saying:

  • 'We don't want to be seen to da da da da.'

  • They don't mind actually doing it

  • but they don't want to be seen to do it.

  • The ego is something a bit like that.

  • So, some of the things the ego might bring

  • when someone comes

  • is a story about themselves.

  • A typical one would be:

  • 'I had a very happy childhood.

  • My mother and father got on very well.'

  • It's a story that, with a question,

  • may prove to not be the whole story.

  • And it's the ego,

  • it's job has been to censor

  • some of these darker aspects of people's lives.

  • There's no idea of propping up the ego.

  • It's just: stop the ego being so silly,

  • stop it being such a politician

  • and be a bit more realistic about the fact that

  • you might want to do bad things,

  • you might fail to live up to your ideals,

  • it might be very difficult to be human,

  • but try with that

  • and stop trying to be a robot.

The human being

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What is Psychoanalysis? Part 4: The Ego, the Id and the Superego

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