In my understanding, Frankl’s differentiation between conscience and superego is that conscience is a truly human vehicle; a hallmark of meaning and free choice. Through conscience, we detect and evaluate the meaning of our behavior in any given life situation; we search and weigh options and alternatives, stretching outward and reaching inward to reach a place of resonance between our actions and our inner truth. Conscience is evolving, fluid, and alive just as we are; it is called to task in the common and not so common subtleties that challenge us in every life situation.
Comparatively, the superego seems much more static; it represents an internalized awareness of the norms of society and its existence depends greatly upon a person’s environment and upbringing. An individual may come from a disadvantaged background and thus find him/herself equipped with a weak or underactive superego. This underdevelopment was beyond their scope of choice or control. Yet despite this, by virtue of the fact that one is a human being, s/he has recourse to conscience. Thus, although the challenge could be considerably greater for one person than another, every person retains accountability for their actions.
I find that my own conscience speaks in a quiet, non-judgmental voice as wise mentor, peer or friend who engages me in dialogue and challenges me to choice. It does not coerce or resort to pressure tactics. It is clear to me that I retain full choice and full responsibility for the choices I make. My conscience often engages me in a series of questions — kind of an internal Socratic dialogue.
But when aroused and pressured, I may find the voice of my superego using manipulative language that tends to undermine my clear thinking and free choice. In such a situation it is likely to depend heavily upon ‘you ought’, ‘you should’, ‘it isn’t nice to . . . ‘ or other judgmental or critical forms of persuasion. It induces a feeling of being put-down and diminished. By comparison, the tactics expressed by my conscience encourage a sense of trust and confidence in my abilities to cope in a worthy manner although I may not yet have all the answers. It feels OK to admit my feelings and vulnerability and ask for Divine guidance.
On a regular basis, the superego demands I tend to experience most revolve around success and concrete accomplishment in career and home. This tends to interfere with the delicate equilibrium I really need in my life that helps me feel more grounded and balanced physically, spiritually and creatively. Definitely a challenge that I am working on, I am visualizing ‘turning up the volume’ to more easily hear the voice of my conscience which gives me the freedom to make more responsible choices taking my true goals and my self-care into account. (Sarah)