Sigmund Freud’s Theory of Personality

Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory of personality argued that human behavior was the result of the interaction of three component parts of the mind: the id, ego, and superego. His structural theory placed great importance on the role of unconscious psychological conflicts in shaping behavior and personality. 

Dynamic interactions among these basic parts of the mind were thought to carry human beings through five psychosexual stages of development: oralanalphalliclatency, and genital. Each stage required mastery for a human to develop properly and move on to the next stage successfully. Freud's ideas have since been met with criticism, mostly because of his singular focus on sexuality as the main driver of human personality development.

Freud's Structure of the Human Mind

According to Freud, the human personality was structured into three separate parts: the id, ego, and superego . The id was the most primitive structure, functioned unconsciously, operated on the pleasure principle, and sought instant gratification. The ego was less primitive, functioned in partial consciousness, operated with reason on the reality principle, and regulated the id by satisfying urges only when appropriate. The superego was the most modern structure, functioned consciously, operated on the moral principle, and regulated the id based on social learning and issues of morality. Freud believed that these three basic structures were in constant conflict. The results of these internal struggles throughout childhood were thought to influence the development of adult personality and behavior.

See Also: Kohlberg's stages of Moral Development

According to Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory of personality, personality is composed of three elements. These three elements of personality - known as the id, the ego and the superego - work together to create complex human behaviors.

Sigmund Freud’s Theory of Personality,Freud's Structure of the Human Mind-the id, ego, and superego, The Interaction of the Id, Ego and Superego, CDP Notes, CTET Exam Notes, Child Development & Pedagogy Study Material

The Id

  • The id is the only component of personality that is present from birth.
  • This aspect of personality is entirely unconscious and includes of the instinctive and primitive behaviors.
  • According to Freud, the id is the source of all psychic energy, making it the primary component of personality.
The id is driven by the pleasure principle, which strives for immediate gratification of all desires, wants, and needs. If these needs are not satisfied immediately, the result is a state 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, he or she will cry until the demands of the id are met.

However, immediately satisfying these needs is not always realistic or even possible. If we were ruled entirely by the pleasure principle, we might find ourselves grabbing things we want out of other people's hands to satisfy our own cravings. This sort of 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 primary process, which involves forming a mental image of the desired object as a way of satisfying the need.

The Ego

  • The ego is the component of personality that is responsible for dealing with reality.
  • 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 both the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious mind.
The ego operates based on the reality 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 of delayed gratification--the ego will eventually allow the behavior, but only in the appropriate time and place.

The ego also discharges tension created by unmet impulses through the secondary process, 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.

The Superego

The last component of personality to develop is the superego.
  • The superego is the aspect of personality that holds all of our internalized moral standards and ideals that we acquire from both parents and society - our sense of right and wrong.
  • The superego provides guidelines for making judgments.
  • According to Freud, the superego begins to emerge at around age five.
There are two parts of the superego:
  1. The ego ideal includes the rules and standards for good behaviors. These behaviors include those which are approved of by parental and other authority figures. Obeying these rules leads to feelings of pride, value and accomplishment.
  1. The conscience includes 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.
The superego acts to perfect and civilize our behavior. It works to suppress all unacceptable urges of the id and struggles to make the ego act upon idealistic standards rather that upon realistic principles. The superego is present in the conscious, preconscious and unconscious.

The Interaction of the Id, Ego and Superego

With so many competing forces, it is easy to see how conflict might arise between the id, ego and superego. Freud used the term ego strength to refer to the ego's ability to function despite these dueling forces. A person with good ego strength is able to effectively manage these pressures, while those with too much or too little ego strength can become too unyielding or too disrupting.

According to Freud, the key to a healthy personality is a balance between the id, the ego, and the superego.

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