Legendary and groundbreaking psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud changed the way scholars and doctors alike thought about the nature of the brain. Freud’s insight created a new paradigm that focused future inquiries onto the functional aspects of the mind, rather than cerebral and somatic physicality. With this essay, I will begin by describing and defining the id, ego and superego while also discussing how they interact. I will conclude by examining the essential differences of the ego and superego and the implications these distinctions imply.
According to Dr. Freud, the id is the part of the human mind that we are born with and it is primarily responsible for the instinctual drives of the individual (Sigmund). For Freud, the id is mainly motivated by libido, or the sexual instinct in its quest for pleasure and satisfaction. Further, the libido is divided into two parts: eros and thanatos. Eros is the drive to fulfill pleasure seeking actions and sexual desires while thanatos is an oppositional drive toward death that causes the aggression and destructive tendencies of humans (Freud’s).
This is an important distinction that creates the impression and theory that the id belongs to the tension filled domain of the unconscious. It is the part of us that we can scarcely control, but can incite intense pleasure or aggressive destruction when these desires are fulfilled or denied. In opposition to the basic instinctual need to achieve pleasure or enact destruction lies the part of the brain shaped and defined by social and cultural influences.
Freud defines this part of the brain as the superego.
The superego in practical terms can be defined as the conscious mind that develops and manifests over time, beginning with inputs from parents and siblings, to schools, relationships and work. This part of the mind internalizes all of these inputs in its creation of consciousness while also being responsible for critiquing consciousness and counterbalancing the instinctual desires of the id in order to successfully navigate through society based on learned values and moral judgments. In between the id and the superego is the ego.
The ego can be thought of as the part of the brain that mediates the tensions between the conscious and the unconscious; the id and the superego (Freud’s). In this capacity, the ego contains all objects of consciousness without the moralizing and criticism of the superego. In other words, the ego is the part of our minds that is aware of consciousness and the reality of other people’s consciousness. In this model then, the ego still wants to fulfill the id’s pleasure principle but it also realizes that in trying to accomplish this, the person may hurt other people in the process and must take this fact into consideration (Sigmund).
The ego is also responsible for covering the impulses of the id through the development of what he called defense mechanisms. These are forms of repression and rationalization that lessen anxiety or cover troubling thoughts and memories. In addition to his personality theory, Freud also studied the psychosexual stages of development. His stages are organized chronologically beginning with the oral stage and moving through to the anal, phallic, latency, and genital stages. They all focus on the sexual pleasure drive on the psyche.
Stage development can only be achieved through the resolution of the previous stage (Stevenson). The resolution or lack thereof, affects the psyche throughout life, especially when one becomes fixated at a particular stage. Each of these stages and the developing person’s id, ego, and superego are constantly mediating the latent pleasures of the psychosexual drive against societal norms. The Structural Theory proposed by Dr. Sigmund Freud has far reaching implications for the way we account for the actions and impulses of our minds.
With this model, divided into the id, ego, and superego, we can explain how we can simultaneously harbor uninhibited desires in the unconscious pleasure and destructive tendencies developed by the id, but we can also mediate these instinctive drives through the self-conscious functions performed by the ego’s defense mechanisms, while in addition re-appropriating this tension through the role of the superego in order to live a morally responsible and hopefully well-balanced life.