Human consciousness. Freud separated the human psyche (that which is us but not our physical bodies) into three sections: id, ego, and superego. Let’s make sure we’re all on the same page when we talk about these terms. So, for this blog site, I wanted to make sure these three parts of the psyche are well understood. Everything else (including the standard model, map of consciousness) follows.
Id, ego, and super-ego
The id, ego, and super-ego are the three parts of the psychic apparatus described by Sigmund Freud. The id is the set of uncoordinated instinctual trends; the super-ego plays the critical and moralizing role; and the ego is the organized, realistic part that mediates between the desires of the id and the super-ego. The super-ego can stop one from doing certain things that one’s id may want to do.
The id is the unorganized part of the psyche that contains a human’s basic, instinctual drives. Id is the only component of personality that is present from birth. It is the source of our bodily needs, wants, desires, and impulses, particularly our sexual and aggressive drives.
The id contains the libido, which is the primary source of instinctual force that is unresponsive to the demands of reality. The id acts according to the “pleasure principle”— the psychic force that motivates the tendency to seek immediate gratification of any impulse.
If the mind was solely guided by the id, individuals would find it difficult to wait patiently at a restaurant, while feeling hungry, and would most likely grab food from neighbouring tables.
According to Freud:
“It is the dark, inaccessible part of our personality, what little we know of it we have learned from our study of the Dreamwork and of the construction of neurotic symptoms, and most of that is of a negative character and can be described only as a contrast to the ego. We approach the id with analogies: we call it a chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations. … It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle.”
The ego seeks to please the id’s drive in realistic ways that will benefit in the long term rather than bring grief. At the same time, Freud concedes that as the ego “attempts to mediate between id and reality, it is often obliged to cloak the unconscious commands of the id with its own rationalizations, to conceal the id’s conflicts with reality.”
The reality principle that operates the ego is a regulating mechanism that enables the individual to delay gratifying immediate needs and function effectively in the real world. An example would be to resist the urge to grab other people’s belongings, but instead to purchase those items.
Conscious awareness resides in the ego, although not all of the operations of the ego are conscious. The ego separates out what is real. It helps us to organize our thoughts and make sense of them and the world around us. “The ego represents what may be called reason and common sense, in contrast to the id, which contains the passions … in its relation to the id it is like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse.”
“It serves three severe masters … the external world, the super-ego and the id.” Its task is to find a balance between primitive drives and reality while satisfying the id and super-ego. Its main concern is with the individual’s safety and allows some of the id’s desires to be expressed, but only when consequences of these actions are marginal. “Thus it has to do its best to suit all three, thus is constantly feeling hemmed by the danger of causing discontent on two other sides.”
It is said, however, that the ego seems to be more loyal to the id, preferring to gloss over the finer details of reality to minimize conflicts while pretending to have a regard for reality. But the super-ego is constantly watching every one of the ego’s moves and punishes it with feelings of guilt, anxiety, and inferiority.
The superego reflects the internalization of cultural rules, mainly taught by parents applying their guidance and influence. For Freud, the installation of the superego can be described as a successful instance of identification with the parental agency,” while as development proceeds “the superego also takes on the influence of those who have stepped into the place of parents — educators, teachers, people chosen as ideal models.”
The superego aims for perfection. It forms the organized part of the personality structure, mainly but not entirely unconscious, that includes the individual’s ego ideals, spiritual goals, and the “conscience” that criticizes and prohibits drives, fantasies, feelings, and actions.
The superego can be thought of as a type of conscience that punishes misbehavior with feelings of guilt. For example, for having extra-marital affairs.
The superego works in contradiction to the id. The superego strives to act in a socially appropriate manner, whereas the id just wants instant self-gratification. The superego controls our sense of right and wrong and guilt. It helps us fit into society by getting us to act in socially acceptable ways. The superego’s demands often oppose the id’s, so the ego sometimes has a hard time in reconciling the two.