Lent 1st Sunday – ID, EGO & SUPEREGO

Lent 1st Sunday

Is. 26: 4-10                               Rom. 10: 8-13                                       Lk. 4: 1-13



Focusing on wrong aspects of life can take the nerve out of us.


Freud speaks of three distinct, yet interacting agents in our psyche: id, ego and superego. Id is the pleasure principle. The id is the set of unco-ordinated instinctual trends. Superego is the internalized society. Ego is the balancing principle.

People of Id:

A person, who behaves according to one’s id, always seeks pleasure. For him, what one desires is the most important thing. Such a person is motivated and moved by one’s desires, likes and dislikes, expectations. People who are under the control of their instinctual drive, i.e. id, are all the time after the physical aspects of their life, namely food, sex, power, pleasure etc.. Satan was trying to trap Jesus in food and power. These were the first and second temptations of Jesus.

Quite many of us believe that by yielding to our desires and longings, our lives will turn out for the best and we will have a better harvest of happiness. However it is anything other than the truth. St. John of the Cross, who is considered to be the master of mysticism, gives this pertinent example in his book, The Ascent of Mount Carmel. He compares desire to fire. As fire consumes all wood and reduces them to nothing, people with desire exploit others for their own pleasure and reduce them to nothing. Next, after consuming all wood, fire itself extinguishes. Similarly, the person who yields to one’s desires, apart from exploiting others, succumbs to one’s own exploitation. Thirdly, desire is also more than fire, because fire may go down after consumption, whereas desire goes up and increases after consumption. In other words, when a person goes after one’s desires, what one gets is not more happiness, but more longing, more desire and more self-destruction.

People of Superego:

People in whom the superego is strong, are all the time motivated to fulfil the needs of the society around them. They are people-pleasers. They give undue importance to what their parents, friends want. For them social recognition is very important. For them, what others think of them is very essential. These are the people who want to show themselves highly in the eyes of the society. This was the temptation into which the Satan tried to trap Jesus when it asked him to jump from the Jerusalem temple.

We are living in a world in which people want to be popular at any cost and by any means. There was a person, named Mettur K. Padmarajan, who approached the Committee for the Guinness World Record with a strange request. Guinness Book of World Records lists world records both of human achievements and the extremes of the natural world. Padmarajan was a person who had lost in 70 elections without winning even once. He wanted to be recognized by the Guinness Committee for losing the most number of elections. However his request was turned down.

People of Ego:

The third group of people are the ones in whom the ego-strength is strong. According to Freud, the ego is the organized, realistic part that mediates between the desires of id and the compulsions of superego. These people are able to transcend what they want and what the society wants. (It is clear that Freud’s usage of the word ‘ego’ has nothing to do with our normal understanding of ego as synonym to pride, arrogance etc.. Freud’s usage of ego refers to the state of being rooted in one’s inner being/self.)  Jesus was a person who was firmly rooted in his self and that is why the Satan could not win over him.

As Christians, though we are supposed to follow Jesus, quite often we find ourselves to be the victims of id and superego. Besides instructing us not to be carried away by our physical and mental cravings, the readings of today enlighten us with two paths to achieve this goal.

a). Proper Perception of the Past: When the Israelites got settled in Canaan, after coming away from Egypt, they became affluent to certain extent. This affluence led to many problems among the Israelites, such as abandoning their God and going after other gods, the increase of gap between the rich and the poor, emergence of immorality and infidelity etc..

Sensing that all these things would creep into the Israelites in future, Moses, on his way to the promised land, instructed them what they should do in such a perilous situation. (Technically speaking, the redactors, who compiled the Bible much later, probably after Babylonian exile, put these words in the mouth of Moses). That is what we find in the first reading. The summary of Moses’ instruction is ‘Gratefully remember the past and shun away all evil.’ Moses invited the Israelites to remember how Yahweh, by being with them starting from Abraham, strengthened them, led them and liberated them. Moses was well aware that forgetting the role of God in one’s life would lead to all sorts of maladies and social evils. Remembering the past, without either worrying about it or feeling proud about it, can be a powerful weapon to rectify one’s life in the present.

b). Seeking God’s help:  There are moments in which the trials and temptations of our lives look to be beyond our ability. There are certain temptations which can be overcome by our human effort and perseverance. However there are also temptations which really put us into test. It is specially at these moments we need to realize that there is a God who is ready to support and redeem us. St. Paul, in the second reading, says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Being saved should not be merely understood in the context of the ‘other world’ but to a state of life in which we are able to overcome our lower nature and be in touch with our higher nature. In a way, we are ‘saved’ from the onslaught of our lower nature (id and superego).

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