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Life with High Superego

Imagine an angel on your shoulder

Imagine it arguing and talking over the devil every time

Imagine it becoming bigger and bigger every time it wins

Imagine it muzzling the devil one day

Imagine it taking over the devil, ousting him from your life.

Who’s the devil now?

The angel.

That is my life with a high superego. You see, like a lot of you, I was raised a good girl. This good girl does the right things, a good girl with good grades, a good girl who obeys, a good girl who’s not an inconvenience, a good girl who makes herself small to accommodate other people, a good girl who only listens to that bright not so little angel on her slumped shoulders.

Over time, the angel occupies enough space to crush my existence.

Now let's rewind a bit; what is the Superego?

Freud developed this concept. He believed our psyche has three parts: id, ego, and Superego. This isn’t the traditional definition or meaning of ego. 

To simplify, the Id is like a devil on our shoulders, the pleasure-focused part that urges us to focus on pleasure, the thing that will give us immediate gratification. This develops first when we are children.

Like an angel on our shoulder, the Superego urges us to focus on ethics and morals and consider others. This develops the second and is usually instilled by our elders—it models and morphs after them and, most probably, into them.

Lastly, it develops our ‘ego.’ This is the mediator; it listens to both the id and the superego and comes up with a path that suits both. But what happens when a person only functions on the Superego?

Spoiler alert: absolute chaos.

I come in the same category, and it’s not pretty. “But Rinaaz, isn’t that good? You always stick to your morals. You always want to do the right thing.” That is partly true; my superego urges me to do the “right” things, and I have done so for almost the entirety of my life now. But who gets to decide what is right and what is wrong? Sure, it’s easier to tell apart in a few things; however, in others, it's like trying to find a needle in a haystack, and on those days, I find myself with crippling anxiety.

My Superego insists that things be classified in black and white. There must be no space for them to bleed into each other. No grey hues are allowed. Greys are like sirens of uncertainties, which blare so loud that they keep me up at night.

This also means that on some days, I’m a “good person” and, on other days, the “worst person on this planet.” My love with myself becomes conditional. On days I do everything I plan, I’m successful. I’m an awful failure, a disgrace on days that I do not. I find myself dancing on the extremities of life, so much so my feet hurt. 

Deciding black from white leaves me feeling drained to the point of burnout. What am I, if not the ideal version of myself? “You’re a crippling failure then,” answers my Superego. “But failures are allowed to succeed, right?” I ask. “But they’ll still be failures who succeeded,” it answers. And I sit there, with borderline impostor syndrome, wondering which label fits me exactly. I have to decide, or the uncertainty will haunt me. 

Think about being sent back to the time when someone told you, “I did not expect this from you,” and to me, it felt like someone stabbed me in my gut and twisted the knife.

Looking back at my life, I think I’ve skipped so many things because I knew the cruel Superego wouldn’t let me hear the end of it. “Stand up to your teacher; she’s being sexist,” a part of me yelled, “Yes, sure, go disrespect her; you aren’t a good person anyway,” Superego would reply. And so I’d sit as my head fought itself; it fought itself to headaches. “Oh wow, guess you do like that person,” a part of my mind would blushingly admit. “Yeah, right, you’re distracted. Never let it become anything else. Relationships are bad, and feelings are wrong. How dare you let that happen to you? This will be the end of you,” and so I'd sit, stuck in time, shamefaced and guilty for being a human.

Life was always a chess board, and I’m always left with a lesser of me and a lesser of every good thing in life. People in my life are either on a pedestal, or the other half is falling from it. I’m not spared either; I climb to the pedestal and love myself. Then, one day, one mistake, one misstep, and I crushingly fell from it. My life is a quest to reach the pedestal, or it's not worth anything. Interpersonal relationships are about accepting and understanding the grey in people, but since that does not exist, my relationships suffer. You see, at times, “Never meet your heroes” becomes a little too true for me because I’m so perpetually disappointed and let down I isolate myself. And of course, the Superego insists that I do not treat myself any differently, so I try not to fall down that pedestal. Any greys are just panic-stricken territories.

Now, why does this happen? Where did it all begin?

I was told in therapy that it is all due to the hope and security it gives. You see, as a child, I always felt unsafe and invaded, so I held onto the hope of a perfect world. I hoped that one day I’d grow up, people would be wiser, and scales would be balanced. In an ideal world, I’d be safe and protected. When things are thrown into chaos, my Superego takes charge; it's the only one who can. But one mistake is all it takes, one mistake on my part or the other’s, and it's as if someone stole my dream like somebody threw stones at my glass castle on a rainy day. 

What happens when one hope that has kept you living so far turns out to be false?

And that’s my life with a high Superego, which I’ve lived with for so long, I do not know what my life would look like without it.

But slowly, I’m trying to fight it and take baby steps towards a kinder and more realistic perspective. 

I’m learning to be a human again. 

I’m learning to treat myself as a human.

-Rinaaz Nadaf

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