15 Superego Examples (Freud’s Theory)

superego examples and definition, explained below

The superego is one of three parts of the mind according to Sigmund Freud. It is the part of the mind that attempts to impose morality, adherence to social norms, and a desire for perfection.

In Freud’s theory of personality, the mind has three components: the id, ego, and superego. The id represents base impulses, the ego represents realism and delayed gratification, and the superego represents idealism and morality.

The superego, being the most civilized of the three parts of the minds, emerges last, and tends to develop based upon standards imposed by society and parents. Below are a range of examples of the superego.

Superego Examples

1. Having High Personal Standards

The superego helps us to compare ourselves against our ideals and encourages us to aspire to meet our highest of standards. It resists the id’s drive to do whatever it wants in the very moment (instant gratification) as well as the ego’s drive to make compromises to achieve realistic results. Instead, the superego is the part of our mind that imposes a constant desire to do better, reach our personal best, and live up to the standards that we have internalized after learning them from our parents and society.

2. Adherence to Laws and Rules

The superego internalizes societal expectations in regards to laws, standards, and norms. As a result, it will compel us to always adhere to the laws and rules that are imposed by society and our cultures (Kernberg, 2016). In fact, the superego even works to pressure us into adhering to laws and rules when no one is looking, because it filters the world through a moral lens and a sense of social responsibility rather than a practical lens (ego) or selfish lens (id). As a result, a person with a well-developed superego will be inherently trustworthy, even when no one else is looking.

3. Feelings of Guilt that Make us Strive to do Better

The superego imposes guilt upon us because it is always asking us to do more and be better than we currently are. As a result, we tend to think our feelings of guilt or remorse come from the workings of the superego. This may happen in the case when we do something wrong – where our mind becomes overcome with guilt as the superego works to filter our behaviors through a judgmental lens. But it can also happen when we didn’t do anything wrong, but simply failed to stand up to our own standards, such as if we procrastinated a little too much throughout the day.

4. Worrying about Social Approval

The superego’s morality emerges through socialization and internalization of social mores. As a result, the superego tends to be highly concerned about how others perceive us. For people with a strong superego, we may find that they continually seek approval and validation from others, especially parents or authority figures from whom our values and morals are derived (Solms & Turnbull, 2002).

5. Self-Sacrifice

People who have a self-sacrificing personality, such as the desire to put others before them, can be an indication of a strongly developed superego. For example, if you have a sense of duty to your community, a spirit of volunteerism, or an obligation to help others (even if it comes at a personal cost), then you might have a healthy superego (Tyson, 2006).

6. Engagement in Charitable Activities

Similar to self-sacrifice, individuals who regularly engage in charitable activities or feel a strong compulsion to donate resources (time, money, etc.) could be expressing their superego. According to Freud, this comes form social norms and values, which tend to hold charitability in high regard. Internalization of this moral belief leads a person who has developed a functional superego to strive for charitability due to their moral correctness (and also desire for societal respectableness). It also provides an avenue to prevent guilt and anxiety associated with inaction or selfishness (Rothschild-Zecher, 2018).

7. Whistleblowing in Organizations

A whistleblower is exercising their superego when they stand up against the powerful forces in their organization and release information that they think people have a right to know about. Here, they’re putting that moral lens first. They’re putting others before themselves by risking their job and reputation in order to do what they think is morally right. Here, we can see that the superego functions as a moral compass (Miceli, Near & Dworkin, 2008).

8. Abstaining from Cheating

Whenever we have the chance to cheat and not get caught, but we choose not to cheat, our superego is working in our minds! The superego is at work filtering the world through that internalized moral lens, and reminding us that if we do cheat, we’ll certainly feel guilt afterwards – our superego will make sure of that. This behavior illustrates the conflict between the id, which does whatever is easy and pleasurable, and the superego, enforcing ethical standards (Freud, 1923/1961).

9. Volunteering for Community Service

Volunteering for community service, even when it brings no direct benefit to the individual, can be seen as a demonstration of the superego. This is particularly true when there is no apparent glorification involved in your volunteer work. Such actions reflect a strong adherence to societal norms, empathy, and a sense of responsibility towards the community. It also helps to alleviate feelings of guilt or anxiety that could be induced by the superego due to perceived social inaction (Omoto & Snyder, 2002).

10. Apologizing when you’re Wrong

A person who apologizes when they make mistakes is manifesting the superego. The superego doesn’t let us get away with things. It compels us to do the right thing, even if it might not be instantly most pleasurable to use, and makes us admit our errors. To Freud, this is a way that the superego attempts to maintain a clean mind as well as social justice and harmony. You may even feel guilty and anxious if you don’t apologize, indicating the superego’s function as the internal moral compass (Tavuchis, 1991).

11. Resisting Peer Pressure

When an individual resists peer pressure to engage in harmful or dangerous activities, this resistance can be attributed to the superego. The superego serves to uphold the person’s moral standards against the need for social acceptance, thus preventing the individual from yielding to peer pressure (Steinberg & Monahan, 2007).

12. A Strong Work Ethic

Individuals who consistently maintain high standards of professionalism, punctuality, and quality in their work are likely guided by their superego. The superego imparts an internal set of ideals and standards that they strive to uphold, often leading to exceptional performance and conduct in the workplace (Dahling, Whitaker, & Levy, 2009).

13. Adherence to Cultural Traditions and Norms

When an individual participates in cultural traditions and norms, even those they may not personally agree with or find valuable, this could be the superego at work. The superego embodies societal values and norms, influencing individuals to adhere to cultural expectations to maintain harmony within the community and prevent feelings of guilt or exclusion (Kagitcibasi, 2005).

14. Empathy towards Others

An individual who displays strong empathy and sensitivity towards others’ feelings and needs is also demonstrating the influence of the superego. Empathy, as a societal virtue, is an internalized part of many individuals’ moral compass. It allows them to recognize and respond to others’ emotions and needs, satisfying the superego’s demand for moral and societal correctness (Decety & Moriguchi, 2007).

15. Care for the Environment

Individuals who go out of their way to protect and preserve the environment, such as by recycling, minimizing waste, or conserving energy, could be motivated by their superego. This aspect of the superego reflects the internalized societal value of environmental stewardship, and anxiety about environmental damage (Thøgersen, 2006).

Id vs Ego vs Superego

The id, ego, and superego interact with one another to shape an individual’s behavior, thoughts, and feelings. Each is explained below:

  1. Id: The id is the primal, instinctual part of our personality that is present at birth. It is driven by the pleasure principle, which seeks immediate gratification of all needs, wants, and desires. If these needs are not satisfied immediately, the result is a state of anxiety or tension. The id is not concerned with reality, logic, morality, or the safety and well-being of ourselves or others. It simply demands instant satisfaction. Examples of the id in action would be an infant crying when it’s hungry or a person aggressively lashing out when they’re angry.
  2. Ego: The ego is the reality-oriented part of our personality and is responsible for dealing with the demands of the real world. It operates on the reality principle, attempting to satisfy the id’s desires in a realistic and socially appropriate manner. The ego uses reasoning to make decisions and takes into account the consequences of actions. It functions to mediate between the desires of the id and the constraints of reality, sometimes requiring compromise or postponement of satisfaction.
  3. Superego: The superego, which develops last, represents the moral component of our personality. It encompasses our sense of right and wrong as well as societal rules. The superego attempts to control the impulses of the id and persuades the ego to act morally rather than realistically. It also encourages us to strive for perfection and can induce feelings of guilt or satisfaction based on how well our actions align with its standards.

Here’s a comparative table of all three:

FunctionSeeks pleasureMediates reality and desiresImposes moral standards on behavior
OperatesUnconsciousConscious, Preconscious, UnconsciousConscious, Preconscious, Unconscious
PrinciplesPleasure principleReality principleMorality principle
DevelopmentPresent from birthDevelops during infancy and uses strategies such as sublimationDevelops around the age of five


The superego is a powerful moral compass that Freud argues we develop later in childhood, after we have developed an id (which, he thinks, we’re born with) and an ego. The superego commands us to be good, moral, upstanding people aiming toward social ideals. But it’s often unrealistic in its commands and leaves us with internal conflict. That’s why we need our ego – the mediator and realist – to keep both the id and superego in check.

While Freud’s theory is widely debunked, it’s still a very interesting foundational theory on which a lot of subsequent psychology was built (even if, for much of it, it was developed as a rejection of Freud’s ideas).


Thøgersen, J. (2006). Norms for environmentally responsible behavior: An extended taxonomy. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 26(4), 247-261.

Rothschild-Zecher, B. (2018). Altruism as an indicator of good mental health. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 58(1), 76-89.

Miceli, M. P., Near, J. P., & Dworkin, T. M. (2008). Whistle-blowing in organizations. Psychology Press.

Freud, S. (1961). The Ego and the ID. In J. Strachey (Ed. and Trans.), The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud (Vol. 19, pp. 3-66). Hogarth Press. (Original work published 1923)

Omoto, A. M., & Snyder, M. (2002). Considerations of community: The context and process of volunteerism. American Behavioral Scientist, 45(5), 846-867.

Tavuchis, N. (1991). Mea culpa: A sociology of apology

Steinberg, L., & Monahan, K. C. (2007). Age differences in resistance to peer influence. Developmental Psychology, 43(6), 1531–1543.

Dahling, J. J., Whitaker, B. G., & Levy, P. E. (2009). The development and validation of a new Machiavellianism scale. Journal of Management, 35(2), 219–257.

Thøgersen, J. (2006). Norms for environmentally responsible behavior: An extended taxonomy. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 26(4), 247-261.

Kagitcibasi, C. (2005). Autonomy and relatedness in cultural context: Implications for self and family. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 36(4), 403-422.

Decety, J., & Moriguchi, Y. (2007). The empathic brain and its dysfunction in psychiatric populations: Implications for intervention across different clinical conditions. BioPsychoSocial Medicine, 1(1), 22.

Solms, M., & Turnbull, O. (2002). The brain and the inner world: An introduction to the neuroscience of the subjective experience. Karnac Books.

Kernberg, O. F. (2016). The Superego, the Ego, and the Id in the Psychoanalytic Conceptual System. Psychodynamic Psychiatry, 44(3), 523–534.

Freud, S. (1961). The Ego and the ID. In J. Strachey (Ed. and Trans.), The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud (Vol. 19, pp. 3-66). Hogarth Press. (Original work published 1923)

Tyson, P. (2006). Superego development, the emergence of the ethical mind, and altruistic behavior: A new theory. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 54(4), 1311-1335.

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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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