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Ego Ideal - Psychology

Updated on February 2, 2013
A famous photo of Freud, the man behind our understanding of Ego Ideal
A famous photo of Freud, the man behind our understanding of Ego Ideal

Freud was one of world's leading psychologists in early 20th century. His views on the human mind were widely regarded as conclusive, and his views began to spread. Even today there are some psychiatrists that strictly (or not so strictly) abide by his work. Though he is most acclaimed for his work in the field of dreams and relations between parents and children, he wrote a number of papers on "Self Ego" or "Ego Ideal" as he called it.

First appearance of Ego Ideal

In his book "On Narcissism: an Introduction" published in 1914. Freud first wrote about "ego ideal". The precept is that children as they grow into adulthood, evolve ego based on the ideals of their youth, namely their parents and/or other similar persons, which affected their lives. They wish to become similar to their role-models hence they lean-to their ideas and values. He pointed out that it was a separated part of self-awareness that conflicted other parts, judging one's actions and choices. Later in his work, he superseded this ego ideal with another, even greater, which he named "super ego" (see "New Introductory Lectures" published 1933.). This new phenomenon, he claimed, was the greatest in self-awareness that any person can achieve, and embodiment of all the virtues of its role-models - the parents. In short it is child's expression of the perfection perceived in parents, reflected on to self, and most importantly, conflicted with other parts of self-awareness.

The Self Ego can be noticed to have a leading role in many aspects of the everyday life
The Self Ego can be noticed to have a leading role in many aspects of the everyday life

Super Ego and Pathological Behaviors

Freud's followers furthered his studies, claiming that super ego influenced pathological behaviors (see works of Otto Fenichel and Hermann Nunberg). They stipulated that every good or inauspicious aspect of behavior can be linked with super ego. In essence, if parents treated child badly his/hers super ego would show that and if parents gave fair treatment the opposite. Others (see Herbert Rosenfeld and Otto Kernberg) went the opposite direction, claiming that super ego was, in fact, a self-destructive being within each person, drawing from all childish misconceptions of perfection. To escape this constant self grinding state, person must abolish the super ego and "embrace the innocence of humility" (from Harold Bloom). This would mean that Freud's super ego destroyed any chance of happiness since its constantly conflicting with the ideals imposed on by (im)perfections of his role-models. To free yourself from it, you must embrace the philosophical and ethical norms of modern (for that time) society and live by them.

Ego and Childhood

The concept of Ideal Ego or as Freud later paraphrased it Super Ego revolves around misconceptions of childhood. As every child perceives his or her parents as godlike beings, it tries to take on their attributes, which, in the absence of others must seem to be the embodiment of life values. As a child grows into adult age, the preconceived misconceptions come in conflict with real self since every person is of free will and no pre-imprinted behavioral patterns can suppress individuality in long-term.


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