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"ego-ideal" (Fr. idéal du moi)

-- In Freud's writings it is difficult to discern any systematic distinction between the three related terms 'ego-ideal' (Ich-ideal), 'ideal ego' (Ideal Ich), and superego (Über-Ich), although neither are the terms simply used interchangeably.

Lacan, however, argues that these three 'formations of the ego' are each quite distinct concepts which must not be confused with one another.

-- In his pre-war writings Lacan is mainly concerned to establish a distinction between the ego-ideal and the superego, and does not refer to the ideal ego.

Although both the ego-ideal and the superego are linked with the decline of the Oedipus complex, and both are products of identification with the father, Lacan argues that they represent different aspects of the father's dual role.

The superego is an unconscious agency whose function is to repress sexual desire for the mother, whereas the ego-ideal exerts a conscious pressure towards sublimation and provides the coordinates which enable the subject to take up a sexual position as a man or woman.[1]


In his post-war writings Lacan pays more attention to distinguishing the ego-ideal from the ideal ego (Fr. moi idéal).

Thus in the 1953-4 seminar, he develops the optical model to distinguish between these two formations.

He argues that the ego-ideal is a symbolic introjection, whereas the ideal ego is the source of an imaginary projection.[2]

The ego-ideal is the signifier operating as ideal, an internalised plan of the law, the guide governing the subject's position in the symbolic order, and hence anticipates secondary (Oedipal) identification or is a product of that identification.[3]

The ideal ego, on the other hand, originates in the specular image of the mirror stage; it is a promise of future synthesis towards which the ego tends, the illusion of unity on which the ego is built.

The ideal ego always accompanies the ego, as an ever-present attempt to regain the omnipotence of the preoedipal dual relation.

Though formed in primary identification, the ideal ego continues to play a role as the source of all secondary identifications.[4].

The ideal ego is written i(a) in Lacanian algebra, and the ego ideal is written I(A).


  1. Lacan, Jacques. 1938: 59-62)
  2. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre VIII. Le transfert, 1960-61. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p.414)
  3. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book I. Freud's Papers on Technique, 1953-54. Trans. John Forrester. New York: Nortion; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988. p.141; Lacan, Jacques. 1957-8
  4. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p.2