How Studying the Id Helps Us Understand Our Dark Side (2024)

According to Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory of personality, the id is the personality component made up of unconscious psychic energy that works to satisfy basic urges, needs, and desires.

Overview of the Id

The id operates based on the pleasure principle, which demands immediate gratification of needs.The id is one of the three major components of personality postulated by Freud: theid,ego,and superego.

An understanding of Freud'spsychodynamic perspectiveis important in learning about the history of psychology. You may also often see references to the id, ego, and superego in popular culture and philosophy.

How Studying the Id Helps Us Understand Our Dark Side (1)

Id, Ego, and Superego: Freud's Elements of Personality

When Does the Id Emerge?

Freud compared personality to an iceberg. What you see above the water is actually just a tiny piece of the entire iceberg, most of which is hidden under the water. The tip of the iceberg above the water represents conscious awareness.

The bulk of the iceberg below the water symbolizes the unconscious mind where all of the hidden desires, thoughts, and memories exist. It is in the unconscious mind that the id resides.

The id is the only part of thepersonality that is present at birth, according to Freud. He also suggested that this primitive component of personality existed wholly within the unconscious. The id acts as the driving force of personality. It not only strives to fulfill the most basic urges that people have, many of which are tied directly to survival, it also provides all of the energy necessary to drive personality.

During infancy, before the other components of personality begin to form, children are ruled entirely by the id. Satisfying basic needs for food, drink, and comfort is of the utmost importance.

As people grow older, it would obviously be quite problematic if they acted out to satisfy the needs of the id whenever they felt an urge, need, or desire. The id contains all of the life and death instincts, which Freud believed help compel behavior.

This aspect of personality does not change as people grow older. It continues to be infantile, instinctive, and primal. It isn't in touch with reality or logic or social norms. It strives only to satisfy an individual's most basic urges and needs.

The Id and Personality

Fortunately, the other components of personality develop as we age, allowing us to control the demands of the id and behave in socially acceptable ways.

The ego eventually emerges to moderate between the urges of the id and the demands of reality.

The superego, or the aspect of personality that encompasses internalized values and morals, emerges to try to push the ego to act in a more virtuous way. The ego must then cope with the competing demands presented by the id, the superego, and reality.

How the Id Operates

The id acts according to the pleasure principle, which is the idea that needs should be met immediately. When you are hungry, the pleasure principle directs you to eat. When you are thirsty, it motivates you to drink.

But of course, you can't always satisfy your urges right away. Sometimes you need to wait until the right moment or until you have access to the things that will fulfill your needs.

When you are unable to satisfy a need immediately, tension results. The id relies on the primary process to temporarily relieve the tension. The primary process involves creating a mental image through daydreaming, fantasizing, hallucinating, or some other process.

For example, when you are thirsty, you might start fantasizing about a tall, cold glass of ice water. When you are hungry, you might start thinking about ordering your favorite dish from your favorite restaurant.

By doing this, you are able to cope with the tension created by the id's urges until you are realistically able to satisfy those needs.

Observations About the Id

In his 1933 book New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, Freud described the id as the "dark, inaccessible part of our personality." The only real way to observe the id, he suggested, was to study the content of dreams and neurotic behavioral clues.

Freud's conception of the id was that it was a reservoir of instinctual energy driven by the pleasure principle that works toward fulfilling our most basic needs.

Freud also compared it to a "cauldron of seething excitations" and described the id as having no real organization. So, how do the id and ego interact?

Freud compared their relationship to that of a horse and rider. The horse provides the energy that drives them forward, but it is the rider to guides these powerful movements to determine direction. However, sometimes the rider may lose control and find himself simply along for the ride. In other words, sometimes the ego may simply have to direct the id in the direction it wants to go.

A Word From Verywell

Freud's views of personality remain controversial, but a basic knowledge of them is important when discussing psychoanalysis and the practice of psychology.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the id vs. the ego?

    The id is the primitive, basic, and fully unconscious part of personality. It contains all of the unconscious energy that is directed toward fulfilling a person's most basic needs. The ego, on the other hand, is the conscious and realistic part of personality. It acts as a director, managing the needs of id along with desires of the superego and reality.

  • 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.

  • Is the id real in psychology?

    Freud's concept of the id has been criticized as being too simplistic. While Freud's model of personality can be a helpful way to think about how the mind is structured, it is difficult to empirically test his ideas. Ultimately, the id is a theoretical concept that has an important role in Freudian theory, but that remains a matter of debate and criticism among researchers.

An Overview of Freud's Theories


Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  • Carducci, B. The Psychology of Personality: Viewpoints, Research, and Applications. John Wiley & Sons; 2009.
  • Engler, B. Personality Theories. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing; 2009.

How Studying the Id Helps Us Understand Our Dark Side (2)

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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