Detecting and Dismantling The Superego
We left off last week at the point where we discovered just how messed up the Superego’s nine primary messages are. They are based on fallacies, not objective and punitive in nature. The Superego gives you gold stars for obeying its mandates, like “Don’t wear that tie; it makes you stand out too much” or “Don’t wear that tie; it makes you look invisible” or “Don’t wear a tie; it makes you look desperate.” You get an inner “Yes” of approval and safety when you obey the seemingly all-knowing Superego. When you decide to do something different, like wear that tie anyway, you get a Superego demerit. That feels like an inner “Bad boy!” or “Bad girl!” and that feels unsafe. It doesn’t sit well, so you feel uneasy and are more apt to obey that inner voice next time.
Here’s what Riso & Hudson have to say about the Superego’s messages:
““…if we listen more closely, we may see that they are not only arbitrary and subjective but also coercive or damaging. They present us with increasingly impossible standards to live up to, for which we always pay a heavy price. If we feel anxious, depressed, lost, hopeless, fearful, wretched or weak, we can be sure that our superego is on duty.” (The Wisdom of the Enneagram)
Feeling anxious, depressed, lost, hopeless, fearful, wretched or weak is not our birthright as Christians. Rather, the kingdom of God (which, don’t forget, is WITHIN US) is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Superego is ripping us off of the true, real, good things that are rightfully ours. It means well, but its guidance is a substitute for the inner guidance that’s available from our spirits – where God abides in us.
Remember from the last post that the mind creates the Ego/personality and its own overlord, the Superego. This happens as the mind is frantically trying to replace a sense of lost connection with God and the true self in our early childhood, and this Ego/Superego combo is the best it can do. It serves us well initially and is in fact necessary for our human development, but it’s not meant to be our permanent state. What happens is that we become so identified with this combo that we think it’s who we are.
But it’s not. You are NOT your personality. That is not your authentic, essential self. So, the key to growth and freedom is to begin to disidentify with the false self. There are a variety of ways to do this. Here’s one: learn to distinguish and disagree with the voice of the Superego.
Any judgment, positive or negative, about yourself or others or situations comes from the Superego. I know this can be hard to hear for Christians, who want to reply, “But, but, isn’t it the Holy Spirit?” Here’s how to tell the difference. The Holy Spirit convicts without condemning; He never makes you feel devalued. And He never rips on other people! The Superego, on the other hand, will make you feel like you have failed, or like someone else doesn’t measure up. Even if you are getting a Superego pat on the back, it’s a back-handed compliment. For example: “Good for you for exercising today” actually means “You are not acceptable if you don’t exercise X number of times per week.” Any performance-based grading is Superego-originated.
So, learning to recognize this voice is crucial. I recommend keeping a Superego journal and writing down every message you hear it giving you. Do this without judgment of yourself; your true self is actually not involved in this process! Once you can distinguish this voice, it’s time to disagree. You can disarm the Superego by laughing at it, or over-agreeing with it. For instance, if you hear “Don’t eat that; you’ll get fat,” you can reply with “You’re right, Superego. In fact, I’m never eating again!” I used to laugh out loud at my Superego messages; now I do an internal, exaggerated “Ha ha ha!” or say, “Oh, Superego, you’re so silly.”
These reactions freak the Superego out! It doesn’t know what to do; it’s not used to being openly defied. It takes its job quite seriously; it thinks it’s saving your life. Injecting humor into this self-serious situation is great for diffusing tension and breaking the Superego spell.
You can also shout at the Superego, or tell it to shut up, or throw an imaginary hand grenade at it. Experiment! Each of us has a Superego with its own volume and degree of sternness. Some people’s are downright mean. I attended a couple of Diamond Heart trainings on the Superego, where I learned these wonderful techniques, and a man there said his Superego regularly told him things like “You’re a loser” and “No one will ever love you.” Ouch. Those are definitely messages that need to be shut down.
I do hope you’ll experiment and share your experiences below. Do yourself the favor of letting go of the false burden, the impossible standards, of the Superego. Let me know if you have any questions, too.
Quick Start Guide to Centering Prayer
This short guide gives you the essentials for learning to be still and quiet before God so you can hear his voice and feel his love in a deeper way.