The Concept of the Superego: A Reformulation

Psychoanal Q. 1982;51(4):501-25.


1. The superego is a group of compromise formations, all having to do with morality, which originate, in large part, in the oedipal phase of development. 2. Once formed as a consequence of conflict, the superego functions as a major component of (subsequent) conflicts. 3. Its role in conflict is diverse. It functions now as defense, now as the equivalent of a drive derivative arousing unpleasure, and now as a calamitous unpleasure to be avoided or mitigated. 4. For a young child "moral" equals approved by parents, while "immoral" equals the reverse. The crucial moral questions at the time of life when the superego is largely formed are, "What will win or forfeit parental approval?" and "What will rouse or dissipate parental wrath?" 5. From the side of ego functioning, superego formation involves much more than identification with parental superego demands and prohibitions. Any aspect of ego functioning which furthers parental approval and/or avoids disapproval and punishment can and does participate in superego formation. 6. From the side of the drives, both libido and aggression are involved in superego formation. Hence masochism plays a role in normal superego formation and functioning as well as in those pathological cases which Freud called moral masochism. 7. Superego pathology is not to be understood, as it has been generally understood by analysts until now, in terms of defective or incomplete development. Everyone has a fully formed superego. Superego pathology must be understood on the same basis as is the pathology of any compromise formation.

MeSH terms

  • Aggression
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Libido
  • Male
  • Masochism
  • Morals
  • Oedipus Complex
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Punishment
  • Religion
  • Superego*