Id, Ego, and Superego Are Part of a Structural Model of Personality (2024)

According toSigmund Freud, human personality is complex and has more than a single component. In his famouspsychoanalytic theory, Freud states that personality is composed of three elements known as the id, the ego, and the superego. These elements work together to create complex human behaviors.

"The id is considered the basis of sexual and aggressive energy and is largely held in the unconscious, emerging as illogical or wishful thinking," explains Shannon Sauer-Zavala, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky. "The superego is one’s conscience and is established via identification with parental figures or social groups at large. 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.

According to Freud's theory, certain aspects of your personality are more primal and might pressure you to act upon your most basic urges. Other parts of your personality work to counteract these urges and strive to make you conform to the demands of reality.

Here's a closer look at each of these key parts of the personality, how they work individually, and how they interact.

Id, Ego, and Superego Are Part of a Structural Model of Personality (1)

The Id

  • According to Freud, the id is the source of all psychic energy, making it the primary component of personality.
  • The id is the only component of personality that is present from birth.
  • This aspect of personality is entirely unconscious and includes instinctive and primitive behaviors.

The id is driven by thepleasure principle, which strives for immediate gratification of all desires, wants, and needs. If these needs are not satisfied immediately, the result is a state of anxiety or tension. For example, an increase in hunger or thirst should produce an immediate attempt to eat or drink.

The id is very important early in life because it ensures that an infant's needs are met. If the infant is hungry or uncomfortable, they will cry until the demands of the id are satisfied. Young infants are ruled entirely by the id; there is no reasoning with them when these needs demand satisfaction.

Examples of the Id

Imagine trying to convince a baby to wait until lunchtime to eat their meal. The id requires immediate satisfaction, and because the other components of personality are not yet present, the infant will cry until these needs are fulfilled.

However, immediately fulfilling these needs is not always realistic or even possible. If we were ruled entirely by the pleasure principle, we might find ourselves grabbing the things that we want out of other people's hands to satisfy our cravings.

This behavior would be both disruptive and socially unacceptable. According to Freud, the id tries to resolve the tension created by the pleasure principle through the use ofprimary process thinking, which involves forming a mental image of the desired object to satisfy the need.

Although people eventually learn to control the id, this part of personality remains the same infantile, primal force throughout life. It is the development of the ego and the superego that allows people to control the id's basic instincts and act in ways that are both realistic and socially acceptable.

The Ego

  • According to Freud, the ego develops from the id and ensures that the impulses of the id can be expressed in a manner acceptable in the real world.
  • The ego functions in theconscious,preconscious, andunconsciousmind.
  • The ego is the personality component responsible for dealing with reality.

Everyone has an ego. The term ego is sometimes used to describe your cohesive awareness of your personality, but personality and ego are not the same. The ego represents just one component of your full personality.

The ego operates based on thereality principle, which strives to satisfy the id's desires in realistic and socially appropriate ways. The reality principle weighs the costs and benefits of an action before deciding to act upon or abandon impulses.

In many cases, the id's impulses can be satisfied through a process ofdelayed gratification—the ego will eventually allow the behavior, but only in the appropriate time and place.

The term ego is often used informally to suggest that someone has an inflated sense of self. However, the ego in personality has a positive effect. It is the part of your personality that keeps you grounded in reality and prevents the id and superego from pulling you too far toward your most basic urges or moralistic virtues. Having a strong ego means having a strong sense of self-awareness.

Freud compared the id to a horse and the ego to the horse's rider. The horse provides power and motion, while the rider provides direction and guidance. Without its rider, the horse would wander wherever it wished and do whatever it pleased. The rider gives the horse directions and commands to get it where it wants it to go.

The ego also discharges tension created by unmet impulses through secondary process thinking, in which the ego tries to find an object in the real world that matches the mental image created by the id's primary process.

Examples of the Ego

Imagine that you are stuck in a long meeting at work. You find yourself growing increasingly hungry as the meeting drags on. While the id might compel you to jump up from your seat and rush to the break room for a snack, the ego guides you to sit quietly and wait for the meeting to end.

Instead of acting upon the primal urges of the id, you spend the rest of the meeting imagining yourself eating a cheeseburger. Once the meeting is finally over, you can seek out the object you were imagining and satisfy the demands of the id realistically and appropriately.

The Superego

The last component of personality to develop is the superego.

  • According to Freud, the superego begins to emerge at around age 5.
  • The superego holds the internalized moral standards and ideals that we acquire from our parents and society (our sense of right and wrong).
  • The superego provides guidelines for making judgments.

The superego has two parts:

  1. The conscienceincludes information about things that are viewed as bad by parents and society. These behaviors are often forbidden and lead to bad consequences, punishments, or feelings of guilt and remorse.
  2. The ego idealincludes the rules and standards for behaviors that the ego aspires to.

The superego tries to perfect and civilize our behavior. It suppresses all the id's unacceptable urges and struggles to make the ego act upon idealistic standards rather than on realistic principles. The superego is present in the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious.

Examples of the Superego

For example, if you give in to the urges of the id, the superego is what will cause you to feel a sense of guilt or even shame about your actions. 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.
  • A man realizes that the cashier at the store forgot to charge him for one of the items he had in his cart. He returns to the store to pay for the item because his internalized sense of right and wrong urges him to do so.
  • A student forgets to study for a history test and feels an urge to cheat off of a student sitting nearby. Even though he feels like his chances of getting caught are low, he knows that cheating is wrong, so he suppresses the urge.

The Interaction of the Id, Ego, and Superego

When talking about the id, the ego, and the superego, it is important to remember that these are not three separate entities with clearly defined boundaries. These aspects are dynamic and always interacting to influence an individual's overall personality and behavior.

With many competing forces, it is easy to see how conflict might arise between the id, ego, and superego. "A central theme of Freud’s work is that id, ego, and superego are always in conflict and the specific nature of these discrepancies determines one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (or personality)," says Sauer-Zavala.

Freud further assumed that it takes a lot of mental energy to keep the id’s desires in the unconscious; however, unconscious thoughts must go somewhere and are likely to be expressed in another form that may not be under one’s control (e.g., as symptom, dream, joke, slip of the tongue, or behavior).

Freud used the termego strengthto refer to the ego's ability to function despite these dueling forces. A person who has good ego strength can effectively manage these pressures, while a person with too much or too little ego strength can be unyielding or disruptive.

What Happens If There Is an Imbalance?

According to Freud, the key to a healthy personality is a balance between the id, the ego, and the superego. If the ego is able to adequately moderate between the demands of reality, the id, and the superego, a healthy and well-adjusted personality emerges. Freud believed that an imbalance between these elements would lead to a maladaptive personality.

"Freud believed that mental health difficulties (anxiety, depression) arise when 'the egohas lost the capacity to allocate the [id] in some way' (Freud, 1920), adds Sauer-Zavala. "Freud noted that, in many cases, the symptoms experienced are as bad or worse than the conflict they were designed to replace. Though thesymptomis asubstitutefor theinstinctualimpulse, it has been so reduced,displaced, and distorted that it looks more like a compulsion or even an illness than a gratification of the id’s desire."

For example, an individual with an overly dominant id might become impulsive, uncontrollable, or even criminal. Such an individual acts upon their most basic urges with no concern for whether their behavior is appropriate, acceptable, or legal.

On the other hand, an overly dominant superego might lead to a personality that is extremely moralistic and judgmental. A person ruled by the superego might not be able to accept anything or anyone that they perceive to be "bad" or "immoral."

Final Thoughts

Freud's theory provides one conceptualization of how personality is structured and how the elements of personality function. In Freud's view, a balance in the dynamic interaction of the id, ego, and superego is necessary for a healthy personality.

"Freud’s accounts of the nature of one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors have largely fallen out of favor," admits Sauer-Zavala. "People began to question whether differences in people’s personalities could accurately be reduced to sexual and aggressive impulses. In fact, there is limited research support for Freud’s theories."

While the ego has a tough job to do, it does not have to act alone. Anxiety also plays a role in helping the ego mediate between the demands of the basic urges, moral values, and the real world. When you experience different types of anxiety, defense mechanisms may kick in to help defend the ego and reduce the anxiety you are feeling.

Id, Ego, and Superego Are Part of a Structural Model of Personality (2024)


Id, Ego, and Superego Are Part of a Structural Model of Personality? ›

The Structural Model of Personality

What is the id, ego, and superego structural model of personality? ›

The id, ego, and superego are three agencies that make up your personality. The id is the inherited part of the personality; the ego is who you are, or self; and the superego is governed by morals and societal compasses.

What is the structure of the personality? ›

It encompasses three structural instances, id, ego and superego. Id is entirely unconscious, while the parts of ego and superego are conscious. Freud's model of three structural instances and their relationships constitute a paragon of psychodynamic paradigm in the conceptualization of personality.

Is id, ego, and superego part of psychoanalysis? ›

According to Freud's psychoanalytic theory, the id is the primitive and instinctual part of the mind that contains sexual and aggressive drives and hidden memories, the super-ego operates as a moral conscience, and the ego is the realistic part that mediates between the desires of the id and the super-ego.

Who described the personality structures of id, ego, and superego? ›

Freud proposed that the mind is divided into three components: id, ego, and superego, and that the interactions and conflicts among the components create personality (Freud, 1923/1949).

What are the three structure of personality? ›

According to Freud, the human personality consists of three components: Id, Ego, and Superego. While these are conceptualized as three distinct structures, they are constantly interacting with each other. The easiest way to envision the structures is to use the iceberg metaphor.

What is Freud's theory of the ID ego and superego about? ›

In the ego psychology model of the psyche, the id is the set of uncoordinated instinctual desires; the superego plays the critical and moralizing role; and the ego is the organized, realistic agent that mediates between the instinctual desires of the id and the critical superego; Freud compared the ego (in its relation ...

What is ego in structure of personality? ›

The ego is the psychological component of the personality that is represented by our conscious decision-making process. The id is the instinctual, biological component , and the superego is the social component of our personality and conscience . Our behavior is determined by the interaction of these three components.

What is superego in personality structure? ›

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.

What are the primary structural elements of personality? ›

According to Freud's theory, the primary structural elements of personality are three, i.e. id, ego, and superego. They reside in the unconscious as forces, and they can be inferred from the ways people behave (see Fig.

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 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 conflict between the id and the superego? ›

According to Freud, “The Super-ego can be thought of as a type of conscience that punishes misbehavior with feelings of guilt,” working in contradiction to the id. The superego strives to act in a socially appropriate manner, whereas the id just wants instant self-gratification.

What are the 5 psychosexual stages? ›

Freud's psychosexual theory states five stages of human development: oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital. These psychosexual stages capture the main growth points of a person from infancy to adulthood and focus on different facets of wants, needs, and desires.

What is the theory of personality? ›

Personality theories study how an individual develops their personality and can be utilized in studying personality disorders. These theories address whether personality is a biological trait or one that is developed through a person's interaction with their environment.

What are the big five traits of personality? ›

The five broad personality traits described by the theory are extraversion (also often spelled extroversion), agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism.

What is the superego structure of personality? ›

The superego takes two forms: an ego-ideal and a conscience. Freud considered the term ego-ideal as an alternative to the term superego, and it is not until we incorporate the development of conscience that we can recognize ego-ideal and conscience as different aspects of the superego.

What is the structure of the personality according to the psychodynamic approach? ›

The fundamental concept of the psychodynamic approach is that the personality is tripartite. The theory was originated by Freud, who stated that the personality could be divided into the id, ego and superego. The id is it is the biological part (instincts and drives) of the personality. It is present at birth.

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