Superego

Klein's picture of the superego differs from Freud's in at least tlnee important respects. First, it emerges much earlier in life; second, it is not an outgrowth of the Oedipus complex; and third, it is much more harsh and cruel. Klein (1933) arrived at these differences through her analysis of young children, an experience Freud did not have.

There could be no doubt that a super-ego had been in full operation for some time in my small patients of between two-and-three-quarters and four years of age, whereas according to the accepted [Freudian] view the super-ego would not begin to be activated until the Oedipus complex had died down—i.e. until about the fifth year of life. Furthermore, my data showed that this early super-ego was immeasurably harsher and more cruel than that of the older child or adult, and that it literally crushed down the feeble ego of the small child, (p. 267)

Recall that Freud conceptualized the superego as consisting of two subsystems: an ego-ideal that produces inferiority feelings and a conscience that results hi guilt feelings. Klein would concur that the more mature superego produces feelings of inferiority and guilt, but her analysis of young children led her to believe that the early superego produces not guilt but terror.

To Klein, young children fear being devoured, cut up, and torn hito pieces— fears that are greatly out of proportion to any realistic dangers. Why are the children's superegos so drastically removed from any actual tlneats by their parents? Klein (1933) suggested that the answer resides with the infant's own destructive instinct, which is experienced as anxiety. To manage this anxiety, the child's ego mobilizes libido (life instinct) agahist the death instinct. However, the life and death instincts cannot be completely separated, so the ego is forced to defend itself against its own actions. This early ego defense lays the foundation for the development of the superego, whose extreme violence is a reaction to the ego's aggressive self-defense agahist its own destructive tendencies. Klein believed that this harsh, cruel superego is responsible for many antisocial and criminal tendencies in adults.

Klein would describe a 5-year-old child's superego hi much the same way Freud did. By the 5th or 6th year, the superego arouses little anxiety but a great measure of guilt. It has lost most of its severity while gradually behig transformed into a realistic conscience. However, Klein rejected Freud's notion that the superego is a consequence of the Oedipus complex. Instead, she insisted that it grows along with the Oedipus complex and finally emerges as realistic guilt after the Oedipus complex is resolved.

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