When I consider where to begin with psycho-emotive optimization of oneself, I tend to gravitate towards self-hate and self-judgment. Why you ask? Because this is the most constrictive force in our lives. Furthermore, working through the critical aspects of ourselves can be one of the most rapid and rewarding piece to this.
Gunny sums this subject up pretty well...
Mention of the inner judge always warrants some mentioning of Freud. In Freud’s model of the id, ego, and superego (or more correctly: es, Ich, und Uber Ich) the superego develops lastly, when the child internalizes the dictates of the family environment.
The one link to evolutionary thinking I could find was an interesting paper by Pulcu (2014) who ties the evolutionary history of the superego to the “primal horde” or the most primitive of human and pre human families and how guilt formed around the killing of the dominant father by the sons. So then, how does this explain the evolutionary significance of the superego in women?
Psychoanalysis can be quite abstract and theoretical, and highly entertaining (although some of my favorite thinkers were non-traditional analysts). I’m a bit more practical and I live by the law of parsimony: the less convoluted the explanation, the more likelihood it is true.
Do you suffer from a sense of unworthiness? Weakness? Self-hate, judgment, or feeling like there is a version of yourself that you must become to be happy or to please others, and you just cannot stand it that you are not this way?
The superego, or judge, or inner critic can be a painful force to live under. It also has a twin that I mentioned in the last paragraph: the ego idea, another highly valid psychoanalytic idea. This is simply the ideal that we have learned to internalize and strive towards. It is usually an internalization of a parental or society ideal. Such as looking a certain way, or being a high achiever.
I have a theory that the majority of my clients who do not have a major mental illness could be cured of their problems in only a few sessions, if they could completely undo their critic. It just simply wreaks havoc on our lives.
Yes we may need self talk to motivate us at times, but the vast majority of us have soaked up a sense of self when we didn't have the cognitive capacity to truly reflect and understand the situation. Children have a tendency to personalize their early environments. They also learn to soak up the beliefs and dictates of their parents and peers, and turn those inwards. Some people do not personalize so much and judge outwardly to deflect their own rocky sense of self.
There are other aspects to and developmental origins for the inner judge and this is just a basic brushing over. Long story short: YOU CAN BE FREE FROM THIS WORLD OF SELF HATE!
On the other side of this world of inner attacks and self-micromanaging are qualities such as compassion and a felt-sense of value and space.
There are two superb books on working with the critic:
Soul without shame is a bit long winded but goes into much depth of the psychodynamics of the superego drama. Self-Therapy is based off of Internal Family Systems therapy, a type of therapy that works with inner parts or subpersonalities. More on this concept in the future.
There are a few ways that anyone can begin the path of liberation from the critic.
One is to examine self talk. What do you say to yourself on a consistent basis about who you are not and how you should be? What are your judgments and beliefs of yourself? Where did they come from in your past?
The next step is to separate from the critical part (s). In Internal Family Systems this is called “unblending from the part.” It’s something you would have to experience to understand. It’s like a separation from that part. It’s like saying “give me space. You’re just a part of me, and I don’t need to believe you.”
The next deepest step is to feel the low sense of self that results from this self-hate and criticism. Or it may be preverbal: There’s some deep sense of unworthiness, weakness, incompetence, and so on. In many people, the self-talk comes after these negative sensations of the self.
True resolution or working through of the superego would take the methods outlined in the books I’ve linked, or work with a good therapist.
I can attest. Once resolved, the sense of that critical part is never the same again. It can take years but the life space that opens for growth is immense. The superego or critic is actually the part of us that keeps us from growing as mature, integrated human beings. It is there to keep us in the status quo.
Beneath this status quo of us tends to lay great fear, doubt, guilt, shame, and anxieties that plague modern man/woman.
Pulcu E (2014) An evolutionary perspective on gradual formation of superego in the primal horde. Front. Psychol. 5:8. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00008