The Superego: Not So Super After All
We have journeyed around the entire Enneagram symbol now – what else could there be to talk about? So much! We have barely scratched the surface of knowledge and understanding about human personality and its implications. Believe me when I say I’ve got blog material for the rest of my life!
In fact, it was a bit of a challenge to decide what to talk about next. But I remembered that the Diamond Heart approach teaches about the Inner Critic (or Superego) first, because it is so fundamental to self-discovery. This falls right in line with my desire to put out information that not merely fascinates but can be used on a practical, daily level to lead you to your authentic self and, therefore, to the fullness of your destiny. So, Inner Critic it is.
The famous show business lament, “Everybody’s a critic!” is truer than most people know. The Inner Critic is just what it sounds like: the voice in your head that makes judgments about you and others all day long. Freud called it the Superego, and while I’m certainly no Freud devotee, I will cede that he did have a couple of good ideas. The Superego is one of them. He spoke of it as the part of the mind that shepherds the Ego (or sense of self). The human mind creates not only a personality (Ego) but a sort of overlord to protect and defend it (Superego).
The way that the Superego or Inner Critic protects you is by making the aforementioned judgments. “Don’t touch the hot stove”; “This is wrong and that is right.” How it determines what is wrong and right is based on a combination of factors: parental values, cultural standards and any religious mores that may be at work in one’s life. These are all filtered through a person’s particular personality type. So, a One, for instance, will instinctively pay more attention to what is good or bad, while a Seven’s Superego will be focused on providing judgments about what it feels will provide the most joy.
Now, no one would argue that a voice telling you not to touch a hot stove is bad! And so the point is not that the Inner Critic is bad or inherently evil. Rather, it is just horribly misguided for the most part and has outlived its usefulness once we become adults. The problem is that by this time, we have become so identified with our personalities that we believe that’s who we are, and the Superego runs our lives.
How? Well, it has set standards for acceptable behavior, and these standards are, by and large, not objectively true. They are also incomplete and therefore limiting, allowing only for a slice of human experience. Riso and Hudson have done a fantastic job of laying out the Superego/Inner Critic messages for each Type:
One: You are good or okay if you do what is right
Two: You are good or okay if you are loved by others and are close to them
Three: You are good or okay as long as you are successful and others think well of you
Four: You are good or okay if you are true to yourself
Five: You are good or okay if you have mastered something
Six: You are good or okay if you do what is expected of you
Seven: You are good or okay if you get what you need
Eight: You are good or okay if you are strong and in control of your situation
Nine: You are good or okay as long as those around you are good or okay
You have probably noticed, in going through this list, that there are several messed-up things going on. First, these if/then statements are impossible to maintain at all times. For instance, how can you ALWAYS be expected to do what is right? How do you even know what right always is? Second, since these statements are not based on objective reality, how can they be relied upon? If someone expects you to commit murder to avenge a loved one’s death, is that really good and okay? Third, you have no actual control over how well people think of you or how much they love you, so these are losing propositions from the start.
Finally, the most messed-up aspect of the Superego messages is that they place conditions on your goodness and okayness. They presuppose that you are not good or okay and that their instructions will fix you. IF you follow this set of rules, THEN you will be okay. IF you don’t follow this narrow set of fixations and patterns, THEN there is no way you’ll be good or okay.
Well, there is a ton more to say about the Superego, so I’ll continue talking about it next time, along with ways to begin to dismantle it. Please trust me – you don’t need it anymore! Let me know in the comments if this is making sense so far, if it resonates, or if you have questions.
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.