Id, Ego, and Superego and their Influence on our Conscious and Unconscious Actions
How it works
Everyone has had words that they say they didn’t mean slip out of their mouths, and everyone has that little voice in their head that tells them what’s wrong and what’s right. Our actions are influenced by, according to Sigmund Freud, the id, ego, and superego. These three terms represent the way that our minds work. The id, ego, and superego are the building blocks of our personalities, and they are formed by the way people are raised and the society those people live in. The id, ego, and superego are all elements of the human psyche, and each of them influences our actions based on the circumstances present. They also act in unseen ways, such as through dreams and defense mechanisms.
According to Freud, the id is completely unconscious and contains our instincts and impulses. It is a part of humans as soon as they are born, and it will be until that human dies. It seeks to please or satisfy one’s needs immediately. This is the part of us that contains our animalistic side, meaning that everything it pertains to is purely instinctual, with no second thought as to who will be harmed. It is what tells us to find and consume food and water.
How it works
One example of this is when a baby cries until it is given food, which can annoy everyone around that baby until it gets what it wants. Social examples of the id are as follows: doing something to hurt someone’s feelings, lying, and having fun (Kasschau 380). After someone hurts someone’s feelings, sometimes they will claim that they didn’t mean to say it or that it wasn’t meant offensively. These scenarios are examples of something called a Freudian slip.
A Freudian slip is when the id takes matters into its own hands, saying something that the ego or superego would normally prohibit. This means that the person was true in saying they didn’t mean to say it, but it also means that that is how they really feel. Supposedly, they represent unconscious thoughts or wishes. Freud actually came up with a term that describes how the id thinks too. He first theorized that the id follows something called the pleasure principle.
The pleasure principle simply seeks the immediate gratification of every need and want of the person. The pleasure principle only has to do with primitive instincts located in the id. Cherry expands Freud’s concept of primitive urges to include anger, hunger, thirst, and sex. However, most of these instinctual parts of us are buried so deeply inside of us that they only come up as a last resort except for children. Children have not learned how they are supposed to act yet, so they tend to act in the moment, not caring if what they are doing is acceptable or not. However, as children grow older, another part of their personality will begin to develop that shapes their actions.
The ego is part of our psyche that will adapt to the environment around the person. It can develop based on the person’s available senses, creating a roadmap as to what is okay and what is not. Freud theorized that the ego would react according to the reality principle. The reality principle acts upon the pleasure principle. For example, very young children would do whatever they could to try to fulfill their desires, but as their ego forms, they begin to think about the consequences of their actions, invoking the reality principle.
The ego can realize that the body may need food at the moment from the id, but the ego is what says that your body may need food now, but you will also need it in the future (Kasschau). Using the reality principle allows a person to suppress their id’s desire for immediate gratification and instead search for a method that will result in the least amount of consequences. As noted before, it can also be used in survival situations to limit oneself. It helps keep the mind and body in regulation.
Freud created a metaphor to help explain how the ego and the id interact, saying that they act like a horse and a rider, the horse being the id, full of power and strength, and the rider being the ego, which attempts to guide the horse or the id, in the right direction (Hedgespeth 632). The ego is also responsible for defending its person.
The ego is responsible for what is known as defense mechanisms. Each defensive mechanism is unconsciously activated and is typically resorted to because the ego is not completely able to handle the job. These defense mechanisms prevent feelings of failure, conflict, and frustration by pretending as if nothing was ever wrong in the first place. These come up in order to prevent the ego from feeling anxiety about its failures (Kasschau 380). There are multiple types of defense mechanisms, each spawning for a different reason. These types are rationalization, repression, denial, projection, reaction formulation, regression, displacement, and sublimation. Below, there will be some scenarios and descriptions for each of these defense mechanisms.
Rationalization is the process of making up excuses for not doing well. An example of rationalization is if a person fails a math test and states that the teacher expected too much from them or that they just didn’t teach the material very well. Rationalization revolves around saying that it was not your fault for not performing well.
Repression is put into play when a person has very painful memories that harm the ego too much. The way repression deals with this is really by not dealing with it at all and sending it to the unconscious part of the mind. As Richard Kasschau stated in Understanding Psychology, “A grown woman whose father is meddling in her life may have the impulse to say, ‘I hate you, Dad.”
The woman may feel so anxious and afraid about having such an impulse that she unconsciously will come to believe that what she feels is not hatred. She replaces the feeling with apathy” (381). Repression is a very dangerous defense mechanism for the mind. It distorts reality in a way that can come back to bite. It never lets you heal from experience, which means those memories can pop back up in your mind at any given time. The only time these feelings could be accessed from the person’s unconscious mind is through Freudian slips.
Denial is another defense mechanism that doesn’t deal with the issue at all. It instead involves a person refusing to accept reality. For example, a person can lose someone that they are very close to, yet not be able to process it. Instead, they refuse to believe the impact that their loss actually has on their life.
Projection is putting your issues or anxiety onto another person in your mind. For example, a boy can be jealous of his girlfriend but not want to admit it, and he will say, “I’m not jealous – she’s the one who’s always asking where I’ve been, who that girl was I was talking to” (Kasschau 382). Instead of dealing with his issue of jealousy, he becomes convinced that his girlfriend is the one who is jealous of him.
Reaction formation is simply replacing an unwanted feeling with the opposite feeling. To put it into context, “a divorced father may resent having his child for the weekend. Unconsciously, he believes it is terribly wrong for a father to react that way, so he showers the child with expressions of love, toys, and exciting trips” (Kasschau 382). The father did not want to accept that he did not want to have his child over, so he instead began to treat the child in the opposite way that he thought. Another example could also just be being nervous but acting as if everything is okay and you’re confident.
Regression is the process of retreating to a previous method of behavior. An adult could have something stressful happen to him, and he could act out in a way that helped him before, such as a temper tantrum as a child (Kasschau 383). He could not deal with his current situation, so he instead resorted to something that worked in the past for him.
Displacement involves invoking emotions on someone else because you can’t invoke the emotion upon whom it is based. An example of this is having issues at home and being very angry, which results in you snapping at a coworker or peer. It could also be found in a woman who lost her husband but now takes that love for her husband and places it on her pets.
Sublimation is redirecting your emotions or energy into another activity. You could be angry that someone else was chosen over you, so you begin to channel that energy or anger into becoming better. Sublimation is a defense mechanism that is mature and healthy.
Ego does not go unchecked, though. There is another part of the human psyche known as the superego. The superego forms after both the id and the ego, and it acts as the more commonly known conscience. It is formulated based on the person’s parents or guardians’ superegos. Their ideals transfer onto their child’s. In a way, the superego takes over the role of the child’s parents or guardians, telling the ego of the child what is right and what is wrong.