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Psychoanalytic Theory of Self

Psychoanalytic Theory of Self

Author: Erick Taggart

Recognize Freud's view on the structure of personality through analysis of the id, ego, and superego.

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Hello, class. In today's lesson, we're going to be looking at psychoanalytic theory, in particular, Freud and psychoanalytical theorists views of ourselves. So remember that Freud said that the mental life is kind of like an iceberg, which is to say that there are different levels of awareness. There's the conscious mind, which is the stuff that we are aware of and we think about in our minds that we know about. And then there's the unconscious, which is much bigger, and it contains all those memories, emotions, instincts, and desires that we're not thinking of. They're outside of our awareness.

So psychoanalytic theory attempts to uncover how these unconscious forces can affect our conscious minds. And to do this, Freud originally proposed in the late 1800s this idea that our self, or this iceberg that we're talking about, is composed of three different parts, and who we are is the result of our the interaction between these three different parts. In other words, our personality is the result of this sort of iceberg.

Now, the first part of our unconscious mind, in particular, is what we call the id. And the id is the part of the unconscious that's primitive and animalistic. So a part of our personality that's entirely unconscious, and it provides the mental energy for us.

So the id operates on what's called the pleasure principle. The pleasure principle says that we need to immediately satisfy any kinds of needs or desires that we have. So if we're hungry, we eat. If we see something that we like, we take it. And so you can see where it kind of gets in that primitive sort of idea. This is what I must do to be satisfied as a person.

The id also generates what's called the libido, which is the mental energy for personality. It's the drive behind it. And the libido is divided into kinds of life energies, which are motivations to survive and for pleasure, as well as death energies like anger and destruction, so wanting to destroy things. So those two forces help to power essentially the rest of our minds.

The other part of our unconscious, as well as being a little bit of our conscious mind as well, is our superego. And the superego is the part of the personality that sort of judges and provide standards for our behaviors. It's the sort of opposite of the id. It balances out the impulsiveness of the id with values about what we should or should not be doing.

And there are two parts of a superego. The first is the ego ideal, which is to say, our standards of good behavior for ourselves, what we consider to be a good or bad person. And a lot of this comes from our parents when we're growing up. And the other part of the superego is the conscience, which is to say, the standards for bad behaviors, what we consider to be negative or unwanted. And these are things that we get from our parents as well as from our general society. So this is what we get from other people.

Now, there's a conflict that's constantly going on between the id and the superego, between wanting to do something and saying that that's not acceptable. And this conflict creates anxiety. Now, if the id wins, the anxiety manifests itself by the superego, creating feelings of guilt. For example, if you eat the whole cake because the id says eat, eat, eat, then the superego will make you feel guilty about the fact that you did that, and you might feel like you have to go to the gym to work it off. So that's one form of anxiety.

Now, if the superego wins, then the id needs to channel those energies that were created by that need into other activities. And this is either displacing or sublimating the energies through acceptable means. So instead of doing something that you're not supposed to do, you might instead try to channel that energy into sports or dance, or you might take cold shower as a way of getting rid of that excess energy.

The last part of the mind is the ego. And the ego is the central part of our personality. It's right here at the top. And it also helps to direct the actions and thoughts of our conscious minds.

Now, the ego is responsible for all of our thinking, planning, deciding, everything in our interactions with the external world. It also acts to moderate the superego and ego. It deals with the desires of the id in a realistic and socially acceptable kind of way, which is to say, our superego.

And this is what we call the reality principle. That's what operates the ego. And the ego helps to resolve any kind of anxiety that occurs as a result of conflicts between the id and the superego.

Terms to Know

Part of the personality that directs and controls conscious thoughts.

Ego Ideal

Standard for good behavior; when we meet this standard we fell pride.


Unconscious part of the personality that provides mental energy; driven by the desire for pleasure.


Life force.


The conscience; part of personality that judges and provides standards for behavior.