Freud's Id, Ego, and Superego Explained (2024)

One of Sigmund Freud’s most well-known ideas was his theory of personality, which proposed that the human psyche is composed of three separate but interacting parts: the id, theego, and the superego. The three parts develop at different times and play different roles in personality, but work together to form a whole and contribute to an individuals’ behavior.While the id, ego, and superego are often referred to as structures, they are purely psychological and don’t exist physically in the brain.

Key Takeaways: Id, Ego, and Superego

  • Sigmund Freud originated the concepts of the id, the ego, and the superego, three separate but interacting parts of the human personality that work together to contribute to an individual's behavior.
  • While Freud’s ideas have often been critiqued and labeled unscientific, his work continues to be highly influential in the field of psychology.


Freud’s work wasn’t based on empirical research, but on his observations and case studies of his patients and others, so his ideas are often viewed with skepticism. Nonetheless, Freud was an enormously prolific thinker and his theories are still considered important. In fact, his concepts and theories are the foundation of psychoanalysis, an approach to psychology that's still studied today.

Freud’s personality theory was influenced by earlier ideas about the mind working at conscious and unconscious levels. Freud believed that early childhood experiences are filtered through the id, ego, and superego, and it is the way an individual handles these experiences, both consciously and unconsciously, that shapes personality in adulthood.


The earliest part of the personality to emerge is the id. The id is present at birth and runs on pure instinct, desire, and need. It is entirely unconscious and encompasses the most primitive part of the personality, including basic biological drives and reflexes.

The id is motivated by the pleasure principle, which wants to gratify all impulses immediately. If the id's needs aren’t met, it creates tension. However, because all desires can’t be fulfilled right away, those needs may be satisfied, at least temporarily, through primary process thinking in which the individual fantasizes about what they desire.

Newborns’ behavior is driven by the id—they are concerned only with meeting their needs. And the id never grows up. Throughout life, it remains infantile because, as an unconscious entity, it never considers reality. As a result, it remains illogical and selfish. The ego and the superego develop to keep the id in check.

Read MorePsychodynamic Theory: Approaches and ProponentsBy Cynthia Vinney


The second part of the personality, the ego, arises from the id. Its job is to acknowledge and deal with reality, ensuring that the id’s impulses are reigned in and expressed in ways that are socially acceptable.

The ego operates from the reality principle, which works to satisfy the id’s desires in the most reasonable and realistic ways. The ego may do this by delaying gratification, compromising, or anything else that will avoid the negative consequences of going against society’s norms and rules.

Such rational thinking is referred to as secondary process thinking. It’s geared towards problem-solving and reality-testing, enabling the person to maintain self-control. However, just like the id, the ego is interested in seeking pleasure, it just wants to do so in a realistic way. It’s not interested in right and wrong, but in how to maximize pleasure and minimize pain without getting into trouble.

The ego operates at conscious, preconscious, and unconscious levels. The ego’s consideration of reality is conscious. However, it may also keep forbidden desires hidden by unconsciously repressing them. Much of the ego’s functioning is also preconscious, meaning it happens below awareness but takes little effort to bring those thoughts into consciousness.

Freud initially used the term ego to reference one’s sense of self. Often, when the term is used in everyday conversation—such as when someone is said to have a “big ego”—it's still used in this sense. Yet, the term ego in Freud’s theory of personality is no longer referring to the self-concept but to functions like judgment, regulation, and control.


The superego is the final part of the personality, emerging between the ages of 3 and 5, the phallic stage in Freud’s stages of psychosexual development. The superego is the moral compass of the personality, upholding a sense of right and wrong. These values are initially learned from one’s parents. However, the superego continues to grow over time, enabling children to adopt moral standards from other people they admire, like teachers.

The superego consists of two components: the conscious and the ego ideal. The conscious is the part of the superego that forbids unacceptable behaviors and punishes with feelings of guilt when a person does something they shouldn’t. The ego ideal, or ideal self, includes the rules and standards of good behavior one should adhere to. If one is successful in doing so, it leads to feelings of pride. However, if the standards of the ego ideal are too high, the person will feel like a failure and experience guilt.

The superego not only controls the id and its impulses towards societal taboos, like sex and aggression, it also attempts to get the ego to go beyond realistic standards and aspire to moralistic ones. The superego works at both conscious and unconscious levels. People are often aware of their ideas of right and wrong but sometimes these ideals impact us unconsciously.

The Mediating Ego

The id, ego, and superego interact constantly. Ultimately, though, it’s the ego that serves as the mediator between the id, the superego, and reality. The ego must determine how to meet the needs of the id, while upholding social reality and the moral standards of the superego.

A healthy personality is the result of a balance between the id, ego, and superego. A lack of balance leads to difficulties. If a person’s id dominates their personality, they may act on their impulses without considering the rules of society. This can cause them to spin out of control and even lead to legal troubles. If the superego dominates, the person can become rigidly moralistic, negatively judging anyone who doesn’t meet their standards. Finally if the ego becomes dominant, it can lead to an individual who is so tied to the rules and norms of society that they become inflexible, unable to deal with change, and incapable of coming to a personal concept of right and wrong.


Many critiques have been leveled at Freud’s theory of personality. For example, the idea that the id is the dominant component of personality is considered problematic, especially Freud’s emphasis on unconscious drives and reflexes, like the sexual drive. This perspective minimizes and oversimplifies the intricacies of human nature.

In addition, Freud believed that the superego emerges in childhood because children fear harm and punishment. However, research has shown that children whose greatest fear is punishment only appear to develop morals—their real motivation is to avoid getting caught and prevent harm. A sense of morality actually develops when a child experiences love and wants to keep it. To do so, they engage in behavior that exemplifies their parents’ morals and, therefore, will gain their approval.

Despite these criticisms, Freud’s ideas about the id, the ego, and the superego have been, and continue to be, highly influential in the field of psychology.


Freud's Id, Ego, and Superego Explained (2024)


Freud's Id, Ego, and Superego Explained? ›

Remember, the id is the impulsive part of your personality that is driven by pleasure and repulsed by pain, the superego is the judgmental and morally correct part of your personality, and the ego is the conscious part of your personality that mediates between the id and the superego and makes decisions.

What is an example of ID ego and superego in one situation? ›

Examples of the Id, Ego, and Superego

The id: I want to skip my workout because I feel lazy and just want to relax. The superego: I shouldn't skip the workout because it's essential for my health and discipline. The ego: I can do a shorter workout today and make up for it with a longer session tomorrow.

What is the id ego superego for dummies? ›

While the ego negotiates with the id, trying to prevent another tantrum, the superego judges the performance. Superego is another name for your conscience. It expects your ego to be strong and effective in its struggles against the libido's force. Usually, our conscience comes from our parents or a parental figure.

What is the id ego superego in a nutshell? ›

According to Freud, we all have three voices in our heads: the id, ego and superego. Each of these voices has a different mission. The id seeks pleasure, the superego tries to uphold our highest values, and the ego has to deal with both to find a way to operate in reality.

What is the most important between ID ego and superego? ›

Answer and Explanation:

Freud believed that a healthy person should have the ego as the strongest component of his or her mind. This is because the ego needs to moderate between the desires of the id and the superego, either of which can be destructive in the extreme.

What is an example of ego in real life? ›

For example, a person walking past an outdoor café would not sample food from the plates of the diners even if the person is very hungry. The person's ego would tell them that it is not acceptable to take the food from others and would also rationalize that the person's own dinner will be available soon.

What is an example of the id in real life? ›

What is an example of the id? An infant crying when it is hungry is an example of the id. Because a baby has yet to form the other parts of its personality, Freud suggested that it is controlled by the urges of the id, which seeks fulfillment of all basic needs and urges such as hunger, thirst, and comfort.

What is the superego best example? ›

Examples of the Superego

The superego may help you feel good about your behavior when you suppress your most primal urges. Other examples of the superego include: A woman feels an urge to steal office supplies from work. However, her superego counteracts this urge by focusing on the fact that such behaviors are wrong.

Is the id ego & superego still relevant? ›

The concept of the id, ego, and superego is still relevant in modern psychology and therapy, although it has been expanded and modified over time.

What is superego in simple terms? ›

The superego is the ethical component of the personality and provides the moral standards by which the ego operates. The superego's criticisms, prohibitions, and inhibitions form a person's conscience, and its positive aspirations and ideals represent one's idealized self-image, or “ego ideal.” Sigmund Freud.

Is Jack the id ego or superego? ›

Piggy and Simon represent the superego in their quest to form and follow the rules of law. Ralph represents the ego in his desire to fill his needs in a reasonably ethical way. Finally, Jack represents the id, as he has no desire to follow rules or laws while showing no remorse when resorting to violence and murder.

What is the main focus of the superego? ›

The superego is the last component of personality to develop. According to Freud, it begins to emerge around the age of five. The main concern of the superego is whether an action is right or wrong. The superego is not concerned with reality.

What is Freud's pleasure principle? ›

In Freud's psychoanalytic theory of personality, the pleasure principle is the driving force of the id that seeks immediate gratification of all needs, wants, and urges. In other words, the pleasure principle strives to fulfill our most basic and primitive urges, including hunger, thirst, anger, and sex.

What happens if the id is too strong? ›

But if one part of the mind is too dominant, then it can lead to problems. For example, if the id is too dominant, a person might act on their urges without thinking about whether it's right or wrong. This can lead to impulsive or even criminal behavior.

What is the connection between id, ego, and superego? ›

The id, ego and superego work together to create human behavior. The id creates the demands, the ego adds the needs of reality, and the superego adds morality to the action which is taken.

What are Freud's 3 theories? ›

According to Sigmund Freud, the human psyche consists of three components: the id, ego, and superego. The id represents our primitive, instinctual drives, including our desire for food, sex, and pleasure. The ego represents our rational, conscious self that mediates between the id and the external world.

What is a situational scenario wherein you can incorporate the id, ego, and superego? ›

You are in a difficult class, and you are struggling to understand the material. Your id wants you to give up and not study, but your superego tells you that you need to study hard in order to pass the class. Your ego mediates between the two, and you decide to study for an hour every day.

How do id, ego, and superego work together? ›

The ego is tasked with balancing reality with the demands of desire (id) and morality (superego)." Each component adds its own unique contribution to personality, and the three interact in ways that have a powerful influence on an individual. Each element of personality emerges at different points in life.

What is an example of id, ego, and superego in Lord of the Flies? ›

Piggy and Simon represent the superego in their quest to form and follow the rules of law. Ralph represents the ego in his desire to fill his needs in a reasonably ethical way. Finally, Jack represents the id, as he has no desire to follow rules or laws while showing no remorse when resorting to violence and murder.

What movies represent the id, ego, and superego? ›


Within the ring-bearing trio, we have Gollum as the id, Frodo as the ego, and Samwise as the superego. Within the hunters, we have Gimli as the id, Aragorn as the ego, and Legolas as the superego. And within the world of The Hobbit, we have a Freudian trio among the wizards.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Domingo Moore

Last Updated:

Views: 6491

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (53 voted)

Reviews: 92% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Domingo Moore

Birthday: 1997-05-20

Address: 6485 Kohler Route, Antonioton, VT 77375-0299

Phone: +3213869077934

Job: Sales Analyst

Hobby: Kayaking, Roller skating, Cabaret, Rugby, Homebrewing, Creative writing, amateur radio

Introduction: My name is Domingo Moore, I am a attractive, gorgeous, funny, jolly, spotless, nice, fantastic person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.