I was thinking about a scene in a film version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In trying to get the detail right I came across this from Wikipedia that describes what I’m pondering:
‘Alice is then taken to the royal court where the Knave of Hearts is put on trial for apparently stealing the Queen’s jam tarts… Alice is then called to the stand but she uses some mushroom pieces to grow to great heights. She sees the jam tarts have been untouched and the trial is pointless. She openly criticizes the Queen, the King and Wonderland. The White Rabbit, who is present at the court, reveals he deliberately lured Alice into Wonderland to conquer her fears. He does so by first asking her if she is self-confident. Upon Alice answering yes, he simply states, “then you don’t need us anymore”.’
By ‘us’ the White Rabbit is referring to limiting beliefs that hold us back.
I think the Queen and her court represents our superego, the seat of our beliefs.
Like many children’s stories, the ideas contained in the Alice stories are better understood by adults. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland are about the absurdities of the human mind. Even if you haven’t read them you’re bound to know they happen in a dream. Alice is inside Alice’s mind, or more specifically, Lewis Carroll is inside Lewis Carroll’s mind. And that mind was no more eccentric or absurd than any other mind and the absurd characters and goings-on in the Alice stories are no less absurd than the characters and goings-on in the ‘real’ world.
I’ve been pondering the id, ego and superego relationship dynamics, which is what made me think of Alice’s adventures.
The needs of the id are pretty basic; they’re natural and mammalian, hard-wired concerns to do with survival. The id just wants to eat, drink, shit, piss, sleep and shag. Well, by golly, the superego certainly has an opinion on that lot! And its opinion is, to greater and lesser degrees, pretty negative. Generally, it is disgusted, appalled, horrified. The superego aspires to holiness, saintliness and goodness, but perceives itself as being held back by the beast that resides within that thwarts its lofty ambitions. However, the superego is powerless to prevent the corporation from indulging in its corporeal necessities (because survival depends upon them). The best it can do is interfere with our abilities to enjoy ourselves while indulging in our bestial behaviour. For many, the superego’s interference in their mind means they don’t enjoy very much about life at all.
Our superegos are programmed by our culture to despise our ids. The more our superego despises (aka fears) our id, the more it interferes with our enjoyment of ourselves by telling us negative thoughts. Is this a good idea for our mental health? I don’t think so.
The ego, as the emissary that links the inner and outer worlds, is caught in the middle of trying to satisfy two opposing sets of requirements. Our egos are usually weak. Its success in its endeavours depends on the strength of our superego. The ego is forced to be a creature not unlike a politician who does what it has to do to keep itself out of trouble, which means sometimes having to use nefarious means: manipulation, dishonesty, back-tracking, hypocrisy, etc. And, being narcissistic, the ego has its own agenda: protecting a public image, one which is largely influenced by superego aspirations of goodness. Juggling its own needs as well as the opposing needs of the other two entities it’s trapped with is a pretty mammoth task. Yikes, it’s a wonder we don’t all collapse with nervous breakdowns.
Our egos soon come to be despised by our superego, too, because the behaviour it is forced to exhibit, as described above, as a result is disapproved of by the superego (because it values honesty and integrity, etc). The superego controls the ego through fear: fear of the reprisals of breaking its rules, which usually takes the form of persecution with feelings of shame. One way or another, suffering is guaranteed, either through unmet id needs and/or persecution from the superego.
The extent to whether our ego behaviour is repressed or wanton depends on the strength our superego exerts over our beleaguered ego. I have learned in recent years that my superego is not as tyrannical and bullying as others’, which means it is proving relatively easy to overthrow. Nowadays I’m far more likely to say “Shut up” to my stupid superego and its idiotic morals. I attribute this to my being parented in a laissez-faire way, which means my superego didn’t become as developed as many others’. Yes, I have lamented my misfortune at being emotionally neglected, but now I’m thankful for the freedom I have within my mind compared with others who are enslaved by the unreasonable – often hysterical – beliefs of their superegos. (Want an example? People with fundamental religious or political beliefs.)
What can we do if we realise our superego is of the overbearing kind that tyrannises our mind and makes life miserable for us? I reckon we could give the Queen a taste of her own medicine and CHOP OFF HER HEAD!