Id, Ego and Superego
The avoidance of anxiety
by Christopher Hahn
According to Freud, personality is divided into three basic components. Briefly discuss each and state five ways the Ego is able to avoid anxiety.
What makes a person different from every other? What makes a person unique? What is per- sonality? Over the course of the last centuries those questions led scientists to conduct re- search and develop partially contrary answers. Personality is a concept that is familiar to eve- ryone but difficult do define. Henry Murray once said that “all of us are in some ways like all other people, in some ways like some other people and in some ways like no other person” (Murrey in King 2008: p. 407). Fingerprints or irises of eyes are perfect examples of physical features, which makes a person unique. Not even twins with identical DNA have the same fingerprint, because a fingerprint is determined not simply by genes but also by prenatal envi- ronmental factors such as the health condition of the mother or other individual influences (King 2008: p. 407). According to that, personality could be seen as the fingerprint of mind, a collection of psychological attributes such as traits, abilities, beliefs or experiences that make us who we are. Personality is a pattern of emotions, behaviours and enduring, distinctive thoughts that form an individual´s unique character and accounts for its existence as the same person throughout its life (King 2008: p. 408; Oxford Dictionary 2013).
One of the most influential representatives of personality research and most revolutionary thinkers of the twentieth century was Sigmund Freud. In the 1900´s he practiced research fo- cused on the observation of patients with mental illness rather than experimentation which was later known as the founding of psychoanalysis. His research led him to the conclusion that his patients´ symptoms were always rooted in early childhood traumas and parental rela- tionships (Schriver 1998: p. 177). Based on this, Freud developed his theory of human per- sonality. It says that structure of mind is composed of three main parts which differ in terms of their respective functions: the unconscious, preconscious and conscious level of mind which set the scientific base for his future theory of id, ego and superego (Schriver 1998: p 179) .
The id (latinisation of the german term “das Es” which is translated as “the It”) is described as the reservoir of instincts and represents ones unconscious, elemental and most primitive urges. Its longings are amoral, dictatorial and do not know compromises or rationalisations. Out of all three components the id is most closely related to the physical body and has no con- tact with reality. Further more it functions as the “source of energy for all mental activities” and is the origin from which the other components, ego and superego, derive (Heimann 1952: p. 122; Schriver 1998: p. 179). The freudian concept assumes that the id always seeks pleas- ure and prevents pain. Subsequently the world would be an unpleasant environment if all hu- man personalities were all id-driven. So for example as children mature, they learn that it is socially unacceptable to defecate on public ground. Experiencing these guidelines of reality and rules of play, a new structure is formed in the child's personality: the ego (King 2008: pp. 409-410).
According to Freud the ego (latinisation of the german term “das Ich” which is translated as “the I”) develops out of the id and can be described as the ids surface part. Although not all of it is conscious the ego becomes the seat of consciousness, houses our higher mental functions (e.g. reasoning, problem solving) and makes the rational decisions that helps us succeed (King 2008: p. 410). The ego is the interpreter and mediator between inside happenings (various parts of the mind) and the given conditions in the outside world. It perceives impressions and judges their suitability by balancing between the satisfaction of the id´s needs and the com- mands and prohibitions constituted by the superego. Heimann (1952) describes the ego very appropriate as “the liaison officer between id, super-ego and outside world”. According to that the ego is the organ for disapproval and acceptance of stimuli which means that it admits en- try only to suitable stimuli and suspends those which are dangerous. By trying to consolidate individual pleasure and norms of society the ego helps us to test reality and see how far we can go within the boundaries set by the superego (Heimann 1952: pp. 124-125; King 2008: p. 410).
As already suggested the superego (latinisation of the german term “das Über-Ich” which is translated as “the above-I”) is the counterpart of the id and functions as the system of all mo- rality and what we call conscious. Just as the id, the superego does not attend to reality and considers only whether the id´s longings can be fulfilled in acceptable moral conditions or not (King 2008: p. 410). As little children, our parents or close reference persons are the most im- portant objects in our life. By growing up we observe their behaviour and interaction among each other and their environment, admire or fear them and later embrace them into ourselves.