Freud’s Structure of Personality: ID, EGO, SUPEREGO Essay

Freud’s Structure of Personality: ID, EGO, SUPEREGO

            Freud’s theory of identity is based on a radical notion of the conflict model.  The conflict model views the self as unified.  It is not a coherent, singular identity.  The self is composed of several competing elements, which for Freud is the Id, Ego and Superego (Misencik, 2004).  Just as we often say, “One part of me wants to do one thing, and another part of me wants to do something else,” so did Freud conceive of the personality as made up of parts often not at peace with one another (Burger, 2000, p.

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            In considering the human personality as a whole, Freud divided it into three functional parts: id, ego, and superego. He saw the id as the deepest level of the unconscious, dominated by the pleasure principle, with its object the immediate gratification of instinctual drives. The superego, originating in the child through an identification with parents, and in response to social pressures, functions as an internal censor to repress the urges of the id.

The ego, on the other hand, is seen as a part of the id modified by contact with the external world. It is a mental agent mediating among three contending forces: the outside demands of social pressure or reality, libidinal demands for immediate satisfaction arising from the id, and the moral demands of the superego. Although considered only partly conscious, the ego constitutes the major part of what is commonly referred to as consciousness. Freud asserted that conflicts between these often-opposing components of the human mind are crucial factors in the development of neurosis (The Book of Threes, No Date).

Id: I want therefore I am

The id is the oldest of the psychical elements. It is everything that humans have inherited at birth. It is the part of the mind that has to deal with our instincts.

It is the initial structural component and first character in Freud’s drama of personality.  It is where the urge to desire for something comes from.   According to Freud, desire comes from the part of your personality called the id, located in the expanses of our mind.

The id contains all of our most basic animal and primitive impulses that demand satisfaction.  It’s that little devil that sits on your shoulder, whispering temptations and spurring you on. “Id” does not stand for “identity,” it stands for “it.”  It is irrational, emotional, demanding and strong.

The id is a type of “container” that holds our desires. Relentlessly driven by a force Freud called the libido, the collective energy of life’s instincts and will to survive, the id must be satisfied. We’re all born with the id in full force. It’s unregulated and untouched by the constraints of the world outside of our minds (Psychology for Dummies, No Date).

As the baby emerges from the womb into the reality of life, he wants only to eat, drink, urinate, defecate, be warm, and gain sexual pleasure. These urges are the demands of the id, the most primitive motivational force. In pursuit of these ends, the id demands immediate gratification: it is ruled by the pleasure principle, demanding satisfaction now, regardless of circumstances and possible undesirable effects (Stevenson, 1996).

The id is the selfish part of you, concerned only with satisfying your personal desires.  Actions taken by the id are based on the pleasure principle.  In other words, the id is concerned only with what brings immediate personal satisfaction, regardless of any physical or social limitations. If the desired object is not available, the id will imagine what it wants.  If a baby is hungry and does not see food nearby, the id imagines the food and thereby at least temporarily satisfies the need (Burger, 2000, p. 48).

The Id contains our primitive drives and operates largely according to the pleasure principle, whereby its two main goals are the seeking of pleasure and the avoidance of pain.

It has no real perception of reality and seeks to satisfy its needs through what Freud called the primary processes that dominate the existence of infants, including hunger and self-protection.

The energy for the Id’s actions come from libido, which is the energy storehouse.

The id has 2 major instincts:

·       Eros: the life instinct that motivates people to focus on pleasure-seeking tendencies (e.g., sexual urges).

·       Thanatos: the death instinct that motivates people to use aggressive urges to destroy (, No Date).

The id, being the initial structural component of human personality, it is not difficult to identify this in every single person.  Every person, regardless of age, has an urge to desire for something.  It is the urge to get what we desire.  A 3-month old baby who continuously cries from his crib tries to get the attention from the people around to feed in order to satisfy his hunger is a manifestation of his id at work.  The crime of rape is also a manifestation of id at work for the rapist.  The primal reason why the criminal raped the victim was in order to satisfy his sexual desires.  Since the Id is governed by the Pleasure Principle, it only cares about immediate self-gratification without consideration of others.

The id could be identified not only through these cases but in our day to day life.  Everyone in this world desires for something.  The desire to achieve a goal such as a work promotion, a good grade in an examination, etc is inherent in every individual.


Unlike the Id, the Ego is aware of reality and hence operates via the reality principle, whereby it recognizes what is real and understands that behaviors have consequences. This includes the effects of social rules that are necessary in order to live and socialize with other people. It uses secondary processes (perception, recognition, judgment and memory) that are developed during childhood.

The dilemma of the Ego is that it has to somehow balance the demands of the Id and Super ego with the constraints of reality.

The Ego controls higher mental processes such as reasoning and problem-solving, which it uses to solve the Id-Super ego dilemma, creatively finding ways to safely satisfy the Id’s basic urges within the constraints of the Super ego (Freud’s Personality Factor, No Date).

            The ego is the mediator between the outside world and the id. The ego was originally part of the id, and through the influence of the outer world, has formed into a separate psychical element. The principal task of the ego is self-preservation. The ego commands a wide variety of voluntary movements. It is the part that is responsible for our memory, and also the human self-defense mechanisms (fight or flight). The ego can adapt to new situations through adapting. The ego is also responsible for reducing the amount stress (displeasure). The ego is also responsible for making the body rest through the process of sleep (Echeat, No Date).

.           As children interact with their environment during the first two years of life, the second part of the personality structure gradually develops.  The actions of the ego are based on the reality principle.  That is, the primary job of the ego is to satisfy id impulses – but in a manner that takes into consideration the realities of the situation.  Because id impulses tend to be socially unacceptable, they are threatening to us.  The ego’s job is to keep these impulses in the unconscious.  Unlike the id, the ego moves freely among the conscious, preconscious and unconscious parts of the mind.

            The ego’s function is not simply to frustrate the aims of the id.  Freud maintained that human behavior is motivated by instincts and directed toward tension reduction.  If you are hungry, your id impulse may be to grab whatever food is around.  But your ego understands that this action is unacceptable.  The ego tries to satisfy the wants of the id, but in a way that considers the consequences of the action.

The eventual understanding that immediate gratification is usually impossible (and often unwise) comes with the formation of the ego, which is ruled by the reality principle. The ego acts as a go-between in the id’s relations with reality, often suppressing the id’s urges until an appropriate situation arises. This repression of inappropriate desires and urges represents the greatest strain on, and the most important function of, the mind. The ego often utilizes defense mechanisms to achieve and aid this repression. Where the id may have an urge and form a picture which satisfies this urge, the ego engages in a strategy to actually fulfill the urge. The thirsty five-year-old now not only identifies water as the satisfaction of his urge, but forms a plan to obtain water, perhaps by finding a drinking fountain. While the ego is still in the service of the id, it borrows some of its psychic energy in an effort to control the urge until it is feasibly satisfied. The ego’s efforts at pragmatic satisfaction of urges eventually build a great number of skills and memories and becomes aware of itself as an entity. With the formation of the ego, the individual becomes a self, instead of an amalgamation of urges and needs (Stevenson, 1996).

            Like the id, the ego can be easily identified in every individual.  As one starts to interact with the community around him, he is able to learn of different means how to obtain what he wants.

            Going back to the example given earlier, the 3 month old baby who cries to get the attention of someone around to feed him would, would eventually learn of certain means how to feed himself.  He first learns to identify what is edible and not, then he learns how to reach for the food on the table, and finally he learns how to use his spoon and fork.

            Although the ego may only seem as a mechanism in order for the id to be achieved, with the guidance of the superego, it is also important because it serves as the direct manifestation of the id and superego.  The ego at work is the summary of the three structures of personality.  For example, a less fortunate person who sells matches during a cold night would reflect his desire to earn some money for survival, and his superego told him that he should work no matter how cold it is in the streets because stealing is bad.


The Super ego contains our values and social morals, which often come from the rules of right and wrong that we learned in childhood from our parents (this is Freud, remember) and are contained in the conscience.  It has a model of an ego ideal and which it uses as a prototype against which to compare the ego (and towards which it encourages the ego to move).  It  is a counterbalance to the Id, and seeks to inhibit the Id’s pleasure-seeking demands, particularly those for sex and aggression (, No Date).

The superego is the part of the personality that is formed while growing up under the care of parents and other role models. It constitutes all that is learned from these figures to be the right way to act. This includes knowing what is taboo in society and what behavior the society holds in high esteem (Echeat, No Date).

By the time a child is about five years old, the third part of the personality structure is formed.  The superego represents society’s – and, in particular, the parents’ – values and standards.  The superego places more restrictions on what we can and cannot do.

The superego does not merely punish us for moral violations.  It also provides the ideals the ego uses to determine if a behavior is virtuous and therefore worthy of praise.  Because of poor child-rearing practices, some children fail to fully develop their superegos.  As adults, these people have little inward restraint from stealing or being aggressive against others.

While the ego may temporarily repress certain urges of the id in fear of punishment, eventually these external sources of punishment are internalized, and the child will not steal the chocolate, even unwatched, because he has taken punishment, right, and wrong into himself. The superego uses guilt and self-reproach as its primary means of enforcement for these rules. But if a person does something which is acceptable to the superego, he experiences pride and self-satisfaction.

The superego is sub-dividable into two parts: conscience and ego ideal. Conscience tells what is right and wrong, and forces the ego to inhibit the id in pursuit of morally acceptable, not pleasurable or even realistic, goals. The ego ideal aims the individual’s path of life toward the ideal, perfect goals instilled by society. In the pursuit, the mind attempts to make up for the loss of the perfect life experienced as a baby (Stevenson, 1996).

In my perception, the superego is the most important among the three because it creates social order.  In the example of the rapist, the crime would not have been committed if the superego was able to counter the forces of his id and ego.  More than fear of the corresponding punishment of the laws in a country, one must act in accordance with his conscience.   Social balance could only be achieved if every individual banks on his superego more than his id and ego.

One could not easily justify his action by simply saying that “my id was at work and my superego was not that strong to counter its forces.”  The superego also serves as a reflection of the kind of environment the person grew up in.  If the person grew up in an environment where he lives with thieves and other kinds of criminals, then it could not be expected of him that his superego is strong enough to counter his negative urges such as stealing, killing, etc.  On the other hand, if the person lived in a community where the people around have respect for one another, one could assume that that person has a high sense of superego.

Like forces pulling at three corners to form a triangle, the desire of the id, ego and superego complement and contradict one another.  In the healthy individual, a strong ego does not allow the id or the superego too much control of the personality.  But the battle is never ending.  In each of us, somewhere below our awareness, there exists an eternal state of tension between a desire for self-indulgence, a concern for reality, and the enforcement of a strict moral code (Burger, 2000).


Burger, J. (2000). Personality 5/e. United States of America: Wadsworth, a division of Thompson Learning.

Misencik, K. (2004). Introduction to Freud. [online] [cited 18 April 2007]. Available from World Wide Web:

The Book of Threes. (No Date). Id, Ego, Superego [online] [cited 18 April 2007]. Available from World Wide Web:

Psychology for Dummies. (No Date). Understanding the Id, Ego, and Superego in Psychology. [online] [cited 18 April 2007]. Available from World Wide Web:,subcat-MATH.html

Stevenson, D. (1996). Freud’s Division of the Mind. [online] [cited 18 April 2007]. Available from World Wide Web:

Misencik, K. (2004). Freud’s Personality Factors. [online] [cited 20 April 2007]. Available from World Wide Web:

Echeat. (No Date). Sigmund Freud, Id, Ego, Superego, Biography. [online] [cited 20 April 2007]. Available from World Wide Web:


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