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The id, the self and the superego, according to Sigmund Freud

The id, the self and the superego, according to Sigmund Freud

May 6, 2021

Of all the theories developed by Sigmund Freud, that of It , the I and the Superego It is one of the most famous. According to its psychodynamic approach, each of these structures represents a psychic instance that, from our nervous system, leads us to pursue interests that clash with each other.

So, the It, the I and the Superego are the concepts that Freud used to refer to the conflict and the struggle of antagonistic forces that, according to him, govern our way of thinking and acting . The goal of psychoanalysis was, therefore, to bring out the true nature of the conflicts and blockades that according to Freud were at the base of psychopathology. Let's see in more detail what ideas were behind this theory.


The three psychic instances of Freud's theory

The psychodynamic approach, which was born with Freud's psychoanalysis, is based on the idea that the psychic processes that occur in each person are defined by the existence of a conflict . That is where the term "dynamic" comes from, which expresses that constant succession of events through which one party tries to impose itself on the other. The concepts of the id, the ego and the superego form the section of Freud's theories in which this idea of ​​a clash between different psychic structures is more evident.

But let's get away from such abstract terms. What is the basis for this struggle that, according to Freud, is fought in our head in a fundamentally unconscious way? What interests and objectives are at stake according to the father of psychoanalysis? To answer these questions it is first necessary to define what the id, the ego and the superego are, the three entities that for Freud explain the personality of human beings through the way in which they fight among themselves.


1. The It

Freud proposed that the Id or Id is the structure of the human psyche that appears first . Unlike what happens with the ego and the superego, it is present from birth, and therefore during the first two years of our lives is the one that commands throughout that period of time.

The Ello moves from the beginning of immediate pleasure , and that is why he struggles to make the primary impulses govern the behavior of the person, independently of the consequences in the medium or long term that this may entail. For this reason it is usually considered that the id is "the animal part" or "instinctual" of the human being.

2. The Self

This psychic instance would arise from two years and, unlike the id, would be governed by the principle of reality. That means that the Self is more focused towards the outside , and it leads us to think about the practical consequences of what we do and the problems that too uninhibited behavior can generate. This makes him face the id to placate the impulses emanating from him, for which he uses defense mechanisms.


In short, the I is, according to the theory of Sigmund Freud, the psychic agency that is responsible for making the strength of the It does not take control of the body leading to catastrophic situations in the short term, and that of the Superyo does not get to suffocate because of its restrictive nature. It is not simply an entity that limits the influence of the other two, but has its own agenda and interests and is governed by a different logic: that of the pragmatic and survival.

3. The superego

The superego would appear according to Freud from 3 years of life, and it is a consequence of socialization (basically learned through parents) and the internalization of socially agreed norms. It is the psychic instance that ensures compliance with moral rules. That is why the superego presses to make great sacrifices and efforts in order to make the personality of oneself as close as possible to the idea of ​​perfection and good.

As the It totally rejects the idea of ​​the submission to the moral and the I, in spite of trying to stop the impulses, it also moves by egoistic objectives focused on survival and the pragmatic of adapting to the environment, The Super-ego confronts both. For the father of psychoanalysis, Superyo makes sense in a context in which the influence of society forces us to adopt self-monitoring behavior to avoid confrontations with others, although in the long run this influence goes far beyond this logic oriented to socialization and becomes a fundamental element of the creation of the identity of the individual.

The balance between the forces

Freud believed that all these parts of the psyche exist in all people and, in their way, are an indispensable part of mental processes.However, he also believed that the struggle between the It, the Self and the Superego can sometimes generate decompensations that produce suffering and the appearance of psychopathologies, so that we should try to re-balance the correlation of forces through psychoanalysis . In fact, one of the characteristics of Freud's theories is that they create a concept of mental health in which disorders are not the exception, but the norm; the most common are the imbalances between these psychic instances, because the mental problems remain implicit and latent in the internal struggle that they maintain between them.

For example, if the superego becomes imposed, the repression of thoughts and emotions can become so excessive that periodic nervous breakdowns occur, something that he attributed for example to the cases of women with hysteria too attached to a rigid and deeply restrictive morality.

On the other hand, if the It predominated, this could give way to sociopathy , an impulsiveness that endangers both the person who experiences it and others, since the absolute priority is to satisfy needs with urgency.

This concept of balance between forces completely impregnated the work of Sigmund Freud, since he did not believe that there was a definitive solution to the confrontation between the three psychic instances: the healthiest people are not those in which the id, the ego and the superego have not to fight (impossible thing, according to him), but those in which this fight causes less misfortune.

It must be taken into account, however, that the impossibility of refuting Freud's theories turns these three concepts into theoretical constructs that are not very useful for current scientific psychology, partly because of the impact on Karl's work on the philosophy of science Popper and his criticisms of psychoanalysis.

Bibliographic references:

  • Carlson, N. R. (2010). Psychology, the science of behavior: The psychodynamic approach. Toronto: Pearson Canada.
  • Freud, S. (2016). The I and the It. Madrid: Amorrortu.
  • Rycroft, C. (1968). A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. New York: Basic Books.

Sigmund Freud: Id, Ego, Superego- Psychodynamic- Psychoanalytic Personality Theory Explained! (May 2021).


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