The Id, Ego, and Super-Ego are the divisions of the psyche according to psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud's "structural theory". In 1923, Freud introduced new terms to describe the division between the conscious and unconscious: 'id,' 'ego,' and 'super-ego.' He thought these terms offered a more compelling description of the dynamic relations between the conscious and the unconscious. The “id” (fully unconscious) contains the drives and those things repressed by consciousness; the “ego” (mostly conscious) deals with external reality; and the “super ego” (partly conscious) is the conscience or the internal moral judge (The Freud Exhibit: L.O.C.).
Most place the theory's beginnings with Freud's 1923 writing The Ego and the Id, in which he firmly established his structural theory. However, the first traces of the theory appear in his essay Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), in which it was introduced due to his dissatisfaction with his topographic scheme (i.e. the conscious, preconscious and unconscious). The 'ego', the 'id', and the 'ideal of the ego' were previously used in Group Psychology and Ego Analysis (1922); Freud would later replace the "Ideal of the Ego" with the Super-Ego.
Freud's structural theory
The id, as previously stated, is the source of our drives and Freud considered it to be the reservoir of libido. 'The libido' or simply 'libido', is the form of energy cathected upon objects or an affect received from objects, predominantly sexual, which underlies all mental processes. Our drives (Freud had very theoretically specific "-drives" such as the death-drive, but drives can often be equated to 'instincts') surge forth from the id and apply libidinal energy to objects, which may result in aggressive or erotic attachments/actions upon chosen objects. The drives of the id are considered to be inborn, operating within the primary psychical processes (those of the unconscious) and are absolutely determined according to the pleasure principle. It is said that the id behaves as though it were unconscious, the reason thought to be is that our ego and our super-ego's ideals and pressures are often in conflict with the id's, causing repression, as the gratification of the id's drives would often be devastating in terms of social- and self-image. The word "id" is taken from the nominative single neuter Latin personal pronoun (is, ea, id) meaning "it" or "that thing."
In Freud's theory, the ego mediates among the id, the super-ego and the external world. Its task is to find a balance between primitive drives, morals, and reality while satisfying the id and superego. 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. Ego defense mechanisms are often used by the ego when id behaviour conflicts with reality and either society's morals, norms, and taboos or the individual's expectations as a result of the internalization of these morals, norms, and taboos.
Although in his early writings Freud equated the ego with the sense of self, he later began to portray it more as a set of psychic functions such as reality-testing, defence, synthesis of information, intellectual functioning, and memory. The word ego is taken directly from Latin where it is the nominative of the first person singular personal pronoun and is translated as "I myself" to express emphasis. Ego is the English translation for Freud's German term "Ich."
Freud's theory implies that the super-ego is a symbolic internalization of the father figure and cultural regulations. The super-ego tends to stand in opposition to the desires of the id because of their conflicting objectives, and its aggressiveness towards the ego. The super-ego acts as the conscience, maintaining our sense of morality and proscription from taboos. Its formation takes place during the dissolution of the Oedipus complex and is formed by an identification with and internalization of the father figure after the little boy cannot successfully hold the mother as a love-object out of fear of castration.
The super-ego retains the character of the father, while the more powerful the Oedipus complex was and the more rapidly it succumbed to repression (under the influence of authority, religious teaching, schooling and reading), the stricter will be the domination of the super-ego over the ego later on — in the form of conscience or perhaps of an unconscious sense of guilt (The Ego and the Id, 1923).In Sigmund Freud's work Civilization and Its Discontents (1930) he also discusses the concept of a "cultural super-ego". The concept of super-ego and the Oedipus complex is subject to criticism for its sexism. Women, who are considered to be already castrated, do not identify with the father, and therefore form a weak super-ego, leaving them susceptible to immorality and sexual identity complications.
References and further reading
- Freud, Sigmund (1910), "The Origin and Development of Psychoanalysis", American Journal of Psychology 21(2), 196–218.
- Freud, Sigmund (1920), Beyond the Pleasure Principle.
- Freud, Sigmund (1923), Das Ich und das Es, Internationaler Psycho-analytischer Verlag, Leipzig, Vienna, and Zurich. English translation, The Ego and the Id, Joan Riviere (trans.), Hogarth Press and Institute of Psycho-analysis, London, UK, 1927. Revised for The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, James Strachey (ed.), W.W. Norton and Company, New York, NY, 1961.
- Gay, Peter (ed., 1989), The Freud Reader. W.W. Norton.
- American Psychological Association
- Sigmund Freud and the Freud Archives
- Section 5: Freud's Structural and Topographical Model, Chapter 3: Personality Development Psychology 101.
- lacan dot com, Jacques Lacan in the US
- Sigmund Freud
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