Superego vs Conscience and Sociopathic Pseudo-Alpha vs True Alpha
Pretext superego note: The superego grows out of a child’s ego (the rational, aware part of the mind) as a child developmentally melds this isolated ego and the external rules of his or her parents and of society, all together, into one psychological force or entity. It is the inner guilt-brandishing voice that “corrects” your behavior even when no one else is around. It can be extremely overbearing and destructive in certain people, and when especially harsh, it can create lifelong depression and/or lead to suicidal behavior or accomplishment.
Relevance: Sociopaths/psychopaths, the worst form of a mimicking Pseudo-Alpha, may possess a superego, but they do not possess a conscience. A conscience is a sense of obligation to another individual or species based upon an authentic emotional bond. A stabilizing true Alpha does possess such a conscience, and this conscience is intimately associated with the existence of love, the force of connectedness between all living things. Of note is that the superego operates via fear and conscience specifically operates via respect and love. Conscience is the language of love, stability, peace, awareness, and upward transcendence. Without a conscience, these ideals cannot exist and transcendence is usually limited to a downward orientation.
The superego is a feature of subjective experience that most people recognize easily. “Don’t do that.” “You shouldn’t feel that way.” “Be careful; you’ll hurt yourself.” “Be nice to your sister.” “Clean up the mess you made.” “Yo can’t afford to buy that.” “Well that wasn’t very smart, was it?” “You’ve just got to deal with it.” “Stop wasting time.” Superego yammers at us inside our minds every day of our lives. And some people’s superegos are rather more insulting than others.
Still, the superego is not the same thing as conscience. It may feel like conscience subjectively, and it may be one small part of what conscience is, but superego by itself is not conscience. This is because Freud, as he conceptualized the superego, threw out the baby with the bathwater, in a manner of speaking. In ejecting moral absolutism from psychological thought, he counted out something else too. Quite simply, Freud counted out love, and all the emotions related to love. Though he often stated that children love their parents in addition to fearing them, the superego he wrote about was entirely fear-based. In his view, just as we fear our parents’ stern criticisms when we are children, so do we fear the excoriating voice of the superego later on. And fear is all. There is no place in the Freudian superego for the conscience-building effects of love, compassion, tenderness, or any of the more positive feelings.
And conscience is an intervening sense of obligation based in our emotional attachments to others—all aspects of our emotional attachments—including most especially love, compassion, and tenderness. We have progressed, over the centuries, from faith in a God-directed synderesis, to a belief in a punitive parental superego, to an understanding that conscience is deeply and affectingly anchored in our ability to care about one another. This second progression—from a judge in the head to a mandate of the heart—involves less cynicism about human nature, more hope for us as a group, and also more personal responsibility and, at times, more personal pain.
The Sociopath Next Door
Martha Stout, ph.d. 2005