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Ego Superego Id Essay Definition

Sigmund Freud believed that our mind always have conflicts with itself. Anxiety and unhappiness is the main symptoms for this situation. Bertha Pappenhein alias Anna O case is one of the classic case study by Freud (Stevenson, 1996). Anna O is a young girl in her early twenties; she was a patient of Dr. Breuer. She showed some physiological and psychological disturbance like nervous cough, rigid paralysis, eye movement disturbed, power of speech reduces and others (Stevenson, 1996). After doing some hypnosis, Freud noticed that these disturbances are actually parts of her memories while she was nursing her dying father.

There was once where her neighbour played a wonderful music, she was so excited and she started dancing; soon she had an urge to be at her neighbour’s house and thus leaving her father’s bedside. At that moment, she felt guilt and sadness for leaving her father’s bedside. After some time, she covers the internal conflict by coughing (Stevenson, 1996). This case had brought Freud to believe that our mind is divided into three parts- unconscious, conscious and preconscious minds which more commonly known as the id, ego and superego (Ciccarelli & White, 2012). The id or it is the primary personality found in an infant.

The ids are usually demanding, immoral, illogical, irrational and selfish. It ignores about other’s desire or the reality and place it’s satisfaction at the first place (Ciccarelli & White, 2012). This is because id only functions to seek and maximize it’s pleasure and avoid pain, we say that id serves the pleasure principle (Schultz & Schultz, 2009). For example, a newborn baby; one who cries when the need is not reached but does not have the knowledge to satisfy the pleasure. Hence, the only way for the hungry infant to bring satisfaction is through reflex action.

Freud has proposed this as the primary principle process (Schultz & Schultz, 2009). The only part in our mind which is in contact with reality is the ego (Feist & Feist, 2009). The ego is influenced by the “reality principle”. Ego will become more rational and logic. Besides, the ego is able to make the right decisions on each level. Ego does not ignore id’s demands but it will try to delay the action to bring satisfaction. As a child is growing up, they tend to receive punishments and gain rewards from their parents. Thus, they will learn how to avoid pain and gain pleasure at the same time (Feist & Feist, 2009).

For instance, a child may want to steal some cookies from the kitchen, but will not when the parent is around (King, 2010). In short, ego can be explained as “if it feels good, do it, but only if you can get away with it” (Ciccarelli & White, 2012). The superego has the meaning of “above I” in Latin. Superego usually includes the moral values that obtained from the parents or society (McLeod, 2008). This is mainly guided by the idealistic principle where it convinces the ego to turn into moralistic goals rather than simply realistic ones. Freud suggested that around the age of 5, the superego starts to develop.

According to Freud, superego consists of two parts, the conscience and ideal self. The conscience punishes the ego by creating feelings of guilt (McLeod, 2008). For example, a child steal some cookies from the kitchen, he or she will feel guilty. While for the ideal self develops from the experiences with reward for telling us how to behave and treat other people. Freud’s theory had attracted many followers due to the theory was new and creative (Plotnik, 2002). Vienna Psychoanalytic Society had formed to commence meetings with the supporters. However, some of the group members disagree with Freud’s theory and assumptions.

One of the members who disagreed with Freud’s theory is Carl Jung. He was the first president of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. At the beginning he supported Freud fully; however Jung and Freud not only ended their personal relationship but also professional relationship after four years. Jung disagree that Freud emphasis too much on the sex drive, he believes that the collective unconscious is the main force in developing personality (Plotnik, 2002). The collective, universal human memories are called the archetypes (Boreree, 2006). Another member who disagrees with Freud is Alfred Adler (Plotnik, 2002).

He was another contemporary of Freud who later became the president of the society. He was criticized badly by other members after he voiced out his disagreement on Freud’s theory, not long later he reigned. Alder believed that child-rearing practices and sibling influence are the main force for the development of personality. He had mentioned that the driving force behind all human endeavors is not seeking for pleasure but for superiority. Other than that, he suggested that the order of a child is born also affects the personality development (Plotnik, 2002). For instance, firstborn feel inferior when a younger child gets all the attention.

Thus, they tend to be a little more competitive (Boreree, 2006). Although Freud’s theory had attracted so many followers, however there are some flaws in this theory. The main reason for this is because most of Freud’s researches are based on case study. Due to the inherent subjectivity, case study is difficult to generalize (Achilleos, 2012). The data are not gathered systematically and they are mainly based on the qualitative subjective data. In Freud’s case study, he did not keep any records of the therapy session. Besides, the validity of Freud’s data may be one of the weaknesses of this theory.

He believes that taking notes during a therapy session may distract the patient, thus he discourages the analyst to take notes during the therapy session. As a result, Freud only gathers and records data based on his memory, and this might cause the data to be incomplete (Achilleos, 2012). I believed that many of us may be familiar with these three personalities. These personalities are frequently shown in the animated form (Ciccarelli & White, 2012). The little devil as the id, the superego is the little angel while the ego is the individual that is caught in the middle struggling to decide which action is right.

Normally the id will demand for an act; the superego put restrictions on how the demand can be reached while the ego will negotiate between id’s demand and superego’s restrictions. Anxiety and unhappiness will form when the id or superego does not get things done according to it’s way. The constant id-superego inner conflict is Freud’s view on how the personality works (Ciccarelli & White, 2012). Although there are some flaws and lack of evidence to prove this theory, but certain parts of the theory does explain the personality of an individual.

Freud’s Famous Theory

In 1930, psychologist Sigmund Freud published one of the most radical and influential books of the time about human psychology:  The Introduction to Psychoanalysis. The book described his ideas about the human mind, which completely changed the way psychiatrists treated their patients. Freud’s revolutionary new theory argued that human beings are completely controlled by their unconscious mind.

The unconscious mind consists of the processes in the mind that occur automatically and are not available to introspection[1], and include thought processes, memory, affect[2], and motivation. Unconscious phenomena include repressed[3] feelings, automatic skills, subliminal[4] perceptions, thoughts, habits, and automatic reactions, and possibly also complexes[5], hidden phobias[6] and desires. Even though these processes exist well under the surface of conscious awareness, Freud theorized that they exert an impact on a person’s behavior. In other words, he believed that all human behavior could be explained by what kinds of fears and desires are stored below the surface of our consciousness.

According to Freud, humans are not in control of the everyday decisions they make, but that they are completely controlled by three sections of the unconscious mind: the id, the ego, and the superego. Although the three components are purely symbolic concepts about the mind and do not correspond to actual structures of the brain, Freud believed they are all constantly working against each other in order to push ideas into our conscious or “awake” mind.Q1

The Id

The most primitive part of the human mind, the id is the source of our bodily needs, wants, desires, and impulses. Freud believed that the id acts according to the “pleasure principle” – the psychic force that motivates the tendency to seek immediate gratification of any impulse.  The id is the only component of personality that is present from birth, and for good reason. Infants depend on others to provide them with food, to change their diaper, and to avoid pain or discomfort. The id is the part of the mind that compels a baby to cry when he or she is in need of something, ensuring a healthy and happy upbringing.

The id, according to Freud, is the most selfish part of our mind. It is only concerned with the immediate satisfaction of whatever want or need the body is experiencing at the moment. Freud stated that the id “knows no judgements of value: no good and evil, no morality” – only the fulfillment of immediate desires. Infants, for example, do not consider the needs of their parents when they cry. The id simply demands what it wants, without regard for the reality of the situation, ethics, or the convenience of others.

The Ego

The second part of the human subconscious is what Freud called the ego: the rational part of our mind. Freud said that “The ego represents what may be called reason and common sense, in contrast to the id, which contains the passions.” The ego acts according to the reality principle; i.e. it seeks to please the id’s drive in realistic ways that will benefit in the long term rather than bring grief. Freud considered it a mediator “between id and reality.” It is concerned with our interactions and relationships with others, understanding that other people are also driven by their own ids, and that indulging in our selfish impulses can sometimes be problematic.  With the ego in place, a thirsty child can now not only identify water as the satisfaction of his urge, but can form a plan to obtain water, perhaps by finding a drinking fountain. Another example of the ego’s function would be the choice to resist the urge to grab other people’s belongings, and instead to purchase those items.Q2

The Superego

The superego is the moral part of us, reflecting the internalization of cultural rules, mainly taught by parents applying their guidance and influence. For example, the superego would tell a child not to hit another child because that would be morally wrong. According to Freud, “The Super-ego can be thought of as a type of conscience that punishes misbehavior with feelings of guilt,” working in contradiction to the id. The superego strives to act in a socially appropriate manner, whereas the id just wants instant self-gratification. It controls our sense of right and wrong, and helps us fit into society by getting us to act in socially acceptable ways.

Freud believed that this part of human beings is not inborn, and that human beings do not develop the superego part of their mind until the age of five. In other words, he believed that human beings are not born with a moral sense, but that they can develop it through the rules and expectations of our caregivers.Q3

Balancing Act

According to Freud, most people should be able to balance the three parts of the unconscious mind in a way that keeps them happy and healthy. A successful person, he believed, would have a strong ego in order to satisfy its id and its superego. Freud believed that when the three components become too out of balance, a person can suffer physical or emotional repercussions. If a person’s id is too dominant, he or she may indulge in harmful impulses without considering the consequences. Conversely, if a person has an overly dominant superego, he or she may live an overly ordered, rigid life, may ignore their own wants and needs, or may be too judgmental of others.  In other words, Freud’s theory of the human mind is that it is in a constant battle with itself – a conflict between the id, ego, and superego.Q4

Freud’s Legacy

Freud’s idea that “we are not who we think we are” and that the majority of what creates our identity lies under our conscious awareness was extremely radical and influential. He believed that most of what drives us is buried in our subconscious brains, and that the only way to access this part is through intense psychotherapy with a trained psychiatrist. Freud’s psychotherapy techniques attempted to effect behavioral change such as overcoming irrational phobias, anxieties, or bad habits through having patients talk about their experiences, memories and dreams. Today, Freud’s methods are still widely used by psychologists and psychotherapists around the world.Q5

© 2015. Freud's Theory of the Id, Ego, and Superego by CommonLit is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

  1. Introspection(noun):

    the examination of one’s own conscious thoughts and feelings

  2. Affect(noun):

    in psychology, this refers to emotion or desire

  3. Repress(verb): to restrain or subdue (someone or something)
  4. Subliminal(adjective):

    perceived by or affecting someone’s mind without their being aware of it

  5. Complex(noun):

    in psychology, this refers to a related group of emotionally significant ideas that are completely or partly repressed and that cause psychic conflict leading to abnormal mental states or behavior

  6. Phobia(noun):

    a type of anxiety disorder, usually defined as a persistent, often irrational fear of an object or situation