Id, ego, and super-ego are the three parts of the psychic apparatus defined in Sigmund Freud’s structural model of the psyche; they are the three theoretical constructs in terms of whose activity and interaction mental life is described. According to this model of the psyche, the id is the set of uncoordinated instinctual (instinctive, accustomed, inherent, involuntary, spontaneous) trends; the ego is the organised, realistic part; and the super-ego plays the critical and moralising role.
Even though the model is “structural” and makes reference to an “apparatus”, the id, ego, and super-ego are functions of the mind rather than parts of the brain and do not necessarily correspond one-to-one with actual somatic (physical, corporeal) structures of the kind dealt with by neuroscience.
The concepts themselves arose at a late stage in the development of Freud’s thought: the structural model was first discussed in his 1920 essay “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” and was formalised and elaborated upon three years later in his “The Ego and the Id”.
Freud’s proposal was influenced by the ambiguity of the term “unconscious” and its many conflicting uses. The id comprises the unorganised part of the personality structure that contains the basic drives. The id acts according to the “pleasure principle”, seeking to avoid pain or unpleasure aroused by increases in instinctual tension. The pleasure principle is a psychoanalytic concept, originated by Sigmund Freud.
The pleasure principle states that people seekpleasure and avoid pain, i. e. , people seek to satisfy biological and psychological needs. The counterpart is the reality principle, which defers gratification (satisfaction, fulfillment, indulgence) when necessary. An individual’s id follows the pleasure principle and rules in early life, but, as one matures, one learns the need to endure pain and defer gratification, because of the exigencies and obstacles of reality.
In Freud’s words, “an ego thus educated has become reasonable; it no longer lets itself be governed by the pleasure principle, but obeys the reality principle, which also at bottom seeks to obtain pleasure, but pleasure which is assured through taking account of reality, even though it is pleasure postponed and diminished”. Developmentally, the id is anterior to the ego; i. e. the psychic apparatus begins, at birth, as an undifferentiated id, part of which then develops into a structured ego.
Thus, the id “contains everything that is inherited, that is present at birth, is laid down in the constitution — above all, therefore, the instincts, which originate from the somatic organisation, and which find a first psychical expression here (in the id) in forms unknown to us” The mind of a newborn child is regarded as completely “id-ridden”, in the sense that it is a mass of instinctive drives and impulses, and needs immediate satisfaction. This view equates a newborn child with an id-ridden individual—often humorously—with this analogy: an alimentary tract with no sense of responsibility at either end.
The id is responsible for our basic drives such as food, water, sex, and basic impulses. It is amoral and selfish, ruled by the pleasure–pain principle; it is without a sense of time, completely illogical, primarily sexual, infantile in its emotional development, and is not able to take “no” for an answer. It is regarded as the reservoir of the libido or “instinctive drive to create”. Freud divided the id’s drives and instincts into two categories: life and death instincts—the latter not so usually regarded because Freud thought of it later in his lifetime.
Life instincts (Eros) are those that are crucial to pleasurable survival, such as eating and copulation. Death instincts, (Thanatos) as stated by Freud, is our unconscious wish to die, as death puts an end to the everyday struggles for happiness and survival. Freud noticed the death instinct in our desire for peace and attempts to escape reality through fiction, media, and drugs. It also indirectly represents itself through aggression. The Ego acts according to the reality principle; i. . it seeks to please the id’s drive in realistic ways that will benefit in the long term rather than bringing grief. The Ego comprises that organised part of the personality structure that includes defensive, perceptual, intellectual-cognitive, and executive functions. Conscious awareness resides in the ego, although not all of the operations of the ego are conscious. The ego separates what is real. It helps us to organise our thoughts and make sense of them and the world around us.
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