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Hepburn, J.M. (2020). Dissecting the Superego: Moralities under the Psychoanalytic Microscope edited by Celia Harding. Published by Routledge, Abingdon, 2018; 216 pp, £29.99 paperback. Brit. J. Psychother., 36(2):350-353.

(2020). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 36(2):350-353

Dissecting the Superego: Moralities under the Psychoanalytic Microscope edited by Celia Harding. Published by Routledge, Abingdon, 2018; 216 pp, £29.99 paperback

Review by:
Jan McGregor Hepburn

At the outset, Harding notes that personally and professionally it has taken her a long time to truly investigate the superego. In the book's preface, she asserts that she is not alone; in the psychoanalytic world as a whole ‘the source of aggression and destructiveness with which we are all most personally and professionally familiar had not received sufficient attention’. In this collection of papers, Harding seeks to offer an understanding as to why this should be so, as well as to rectify some of this omission.

In her introduction, Harding begins to define the superego with Freud's ideas of its development and then integrates this with the implications of later knowledge about infantile development. As early infancy began to be systematically researched (for example, Stern, 1998; Trevarthen, 2010; Tronick, 1989), the interactivity and agency of even very young babies came to be known and understood. Harding notes that the primacy in early psychoanalysis of the ideas about the child being driven wholly by instinctual urges has been expanded, and this includes understanding more about the multi-layered nature and contextual nature of the superego. Centrally however for the purposes of the book she begins to deconstruct the concept of the superego into its various functions both internally and culturally. The reader is introduced to a benign superego, an ego ideal and a healthily integrated conscience as well as the familiar picture of a punitive and dysfunctional superego.

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