Id, ego and superego are the three structural elements of the human mind defined by Sigmund Freud. According to Freud’s theory, our personality is composed of these three elements.
The id consists of all the biological components of personality, including the sexual and aggressive instincts. This is the only component of our personality which is present in our life since we are born. The other two elements are developed during our life. The id works unconsciously, it responds directly to our instincts.
The id is like a fountain full of primary instincts. It is also known as the “seething cauldron”. According to the Freudian theory, the id is guided by the pleasure principle which has a unique purpose – to get immediate satisfaction for all desires and needs.
It seems to be impossible to satisfy all needs and desires in our lives. Sometimes a need may be left unsatisfied. Those who did not satisfy their needs will experiment a state of anxiety or tension. As I already said, the Id is present in our life since we are born. For example a hungry baby will cry until his need is satisfied. The Id is extremely important in our live because it guides us to satisfy our primary needs in order to survive.
When our needs are satisfied we feel pleasure. The id is not affected by reality or logic. It does not care about consequences.
The ego is responsible for dealing with reality. This component of personality has the purpose to ensure that the impulses of the id can be expressed in an acceptable manner for the society we live in. The ego develops several defense mechanisms in order to cope with anxiety and tensions.
The ego is driven by the reality principle which tries to satisfy the impulses of the id in an acceptable manner. The reality principle weighs the costs and benefits of an action and after that it decides to act upon or abandon impulses.
The ego is the mediator between the unrealistic id desires and the external real world. The ego seeks pleasure just like the id does. But there is a difference. The id seeks for pleasure and does not care at all about consequences. The ego seeks to avoid pain and find pleasure in a realistic manner.
Freud made the analogy of the id being the horse while the ego is the rider. The rider tries to control the superior strength of the horse.
Often it is used the metaphor of the iceberg to explain the relation between the three parts of the human psyche. According to this metaphor, the ego represents half of the consciousness and a quarter of the preconscious. The other quarter lies in the unconscious.
The last component of our personality is the superego. It incorporates moral norms and values of the society we live in. We learn these norms and values especially from our parents but also from other people around us such as friends, grandparents and teachers. Freud suggested that the superego develops around the age of 4 – 5 during the phallic stage of psychosexual development.
The superego controls the impulses of the id, especially those unaccepted by the society we live in. Usually, sexual and aggressive instincts are not accepted by people around us.
The superego has two main parts: the ideal self and the conscience.
The ideal self, also known as the ego ideal, is the imaginary picture of how we ought to be in order to behave according to the rules of the society we live in. The behavior we try to achieve is strongly influenced by our parents and other authorities in our life. Respecting these norms and rules brings us feelings of pride and accomplishment.
The conscience contains information about things and behavior unacceptable by our parents or our society. Forbidden behaviors can lead to punishment and feelings of guilt. For example, if the ego tries to satisfy the aggressive impulses of the id, the superego will make the person feel guilty.
So the human beings are a battleground where two powerful fighters, the id and the superego fight each other. The ego has the hard mission to mediate the conflicts between the id and the superego. The id demands the satisfaction of the primary instincts. The superego is focused on the moral norms of our society and it can make the ego feel guilty.
According to Freud, a healthy personality is characterized by the balance between the id, ego and superego.