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Id, Ego, and Superego



Sigmund Freud divided mental life into three agencies or ‘provinces’ that is, id, ego, and superego. The id is the oldest and the most primitive psychic agency, representing the biological foundations of personality. It is a reservoir of basic instinctual drives, particularly sexual (libidinal) drives, which motivate the organism to seek pleasure. The ego is a modification of the id that emerges as a result of the direct influence of the external world. It is the ‘executive’ of the personality in the sense that it regulates libidinal drive energies so that satisfaction accords with the demands of reality. It is the center of reason, reality testing, and commonsense, and has at its command, a range of defensive stratagems that can deflect, repress, or transform the expression of unrealistic or forbidden drive energies. The superego is a further differentiation of the ego, which represents its ‘ideal.’ The superego emerges as a consequence of the Oedipal drama, whereby the child takes on the authority and magnificence of parental figures through introjection or identification. Whereas the id operates in pursuit of pleasure and the ego is governed by the reality principle, the superego bids the psychic apparatus to pursue idealistic goals and perfection. It is the source of moral censorship and conscience.
Id, Ego, and Superego
Daniel K. Lapsley and Paul C. Stey
University of Notre Dame
To appear in V.S. Ramachandran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Human Behavior, 2nd Ed.
Elsevier. Publication date: 2011
Eros One of the two classes of instincts that motivate behavior. It is described
as “life” instinct, the “preserver of all things,” incorporating the elements of
sexuality and self-preservation. This is in contrast to the opposing tendency to
reduce life to an inanimate state, or the “death instinct,” which is revealed by
aggression and sadism.
Erotogenic zones The zones of the body (oral, anal, phallic) that are
sequentially invested with sexualized energy (libido), and are hence the source
of autoerotic pleasure. The sexual instinct is thus a composite instinct, only to
become organized in the service of reproductive, genital sexuality upon
Libido The name reserved for the sexual instincts.
Oedipus complex The libidinal cathexis of phallic erotogenic zone leads to a
desire for union and contact with the opposite-sex parent, and a concomitant
desire to displace the same-sex rival parent. The competition for the opposite-
sex parent engenders anxiety, insofar as the retaliation of the rival is feared
(“castration complex”). This is resolved by repressing incestuous desires, and
identifying with the same-sex parent, which is the foundation of superego
formation. Freud once suggested that the course of Oedipal development
between boys and girls was exactly analogous, but later formulations
postponed the resolution of the Oedipal conflict for girls until marriage and
Pleasure principle The motivating principle of behavior is the pursuit of
tension reduction, which is experienced as pleasure.
Primary process The workings of unconscious (id) processes. Instinctual
energy is freely mobile, and capable of displacement and condensation. In
contrast, secondary process, attributed to ego functioning, attempts to
postpone, revise, or otherwise deflect instinctual motivations.
Transference In the therapeutic situation, the (unconscious) incorporation of
the analyst in the internal conflicts of the patient.
Sigmund Freud divided mental life into three agencies or
“provinces,” id, ego, superego. The id is the oldest and most primitive psychic
agency, representing the biological foundations of personality. It is the
reservoir of basic instinctual drives, particularly sexual (libidinal) drives, which
motivate the organism to seek pleasure. The ego is a modification of the id
that emerges as a result of the direct influence of the external world. It is the
“executive” of the personality in the sense that it regulates libidinal drive
energies so that satisfaction accords with the demands of reality. It is the
center of reason, reality-testing, and commonsense, and has at its command a
range of defensive stratagems that can deflect, repress, or transform the
expression of unrealistic or forbidden drive energies. The superego is a further
differentiation within the ego which represents its “ideal.” The superego
emerges as a consequence of the Oedipal drama, whereby the child takes on
the authority and magnificence of parental figures through introjection or
identification. Whereas the id operates in pursuit of pleasure, and whereas the
ego is governed by the reality principle, the superego bids the psychic
apparatus to pursue idealistic goals and perfection. It is the source of moral
censorship and of conscience.
(I.) Freud in Context
Psychoanalysis is one of those rare intellectual achievements that had
the effect of radically transforming human self-understanding. Indeed,
Freudian notions have so thoroughly permeated human culture that the jargon
(if not the substance) of psychoanalysis is accessible to even the most
untutored observers of human behavior, so much so that the poet W. H.
Auden could write that for us Freud is not so much a person but rather “a
whole climate of opinion under whom we conduct our different lives.” By Freud’s own
estimation psychoanalysis effectively completed the intellectual revolution
begun by Copernicus, and advanced by Darwin, a revolution that undermined
human conceit regarding its putatively special and privileged position in the
cosmos and in nature. Whereas Copernicus displaced mankind’s planet from
the center of the heavens, and whereas Darwin showed that no comfort can be
taken in the idea that we are nonetheless above the forces of nature, Freud
completed the assault on human pretence by showing that even human reason
is not what it has been supposed, that human psychology is, in fact, besieged
and driven by irrational, unconscious motivations. Indeed, Freud’s discovery
of a hidden psychic reality that is beyond the pale of sensible consciousness
was thought (by Freud) to be an application of the same Newtonian dualism
that accepted the distinction between human sensory abilities (percepts) and a
hidden physical reality that could only be apprehended by mathematics and the
armamentum of physical science. The Newtonian scheme was invoked by
psychoanalysis to advance an understanding of psychic life, an application that
hinges on the distinction between conscious and unconscious mental life. Just
as physics develops scientific techniques to apprehend a physical universe that
is beyond immediate human sensibility, so too does psychoanalysis attempt to
pierce hidden unconscious realities with its special clinical techniques.
Psychoanalysis, then, according to Freud, is to be counted among the natural
sciences; it is a specialized branch of medicine (with the caveat that medical
training gives no necessary expertise in psychical affairs), with mental life the
object of inquiry.
Although psychoanalysis shocked Victorian sensibilities, particularly
with its claims regarding unconscious mental dynamics and infantile sexuality,
it was grounded nonetheless in themes common to 19th century science. The
Freudian theory of instincts seemed at home in a culture that was getting used
to the ideas of Darwinian biology. Freud’s use of spatial models to locate
psychic structures was in keeping with efforts in neurology to localize brain
functions. And the mechanistic Freudian image of the psychological
architecture as an apparatus for channeling instinctual drive energies was not
out of step with the energy mechanics of 19th century physics. Yet, for all the
trappings of scientific positivism that Freud was wont to claim for
psychoanalysis, the Freudian project was met with considerable resistance, and
the history of the psychoanalytic movement is a history of a struggle for
academic, clinical, and popular respectability, a respectability that is still not
completely won. Freud himself was at pains to recount this struggle in a
number of histories, outlines, and encyclopedia articles. Although one aim was
to popularize the new science of mental life,
Freud was also keen to demarcate psychoanalysis from rival depth
psychologies (e.g., Jung, Adler), and to show that controversial psychoanalytic
claims were the result of careful scientific investigation of the positivist, natural
science kind. He would claim, for example, that the hypothetical entities and
forces of psychoanalysis were not different in kind from the hypothetical
entities and forces claimed in the ostensibly harder, more respectable sciences.
It will be of interest for our purposes to recount the early development of
psychoanalysis in order to set the proper context for considering Freud’s
account of the tripartite personality. The structural notions of id, ego, and
superego were rather late theoretical developments that can be understood
properly only in the context of prior theoretical revisions — revisions that
Freud would claim were forced upon psychoanalysis by the evidential warrant.
II. The Cornerstone of Psychoanalysis
Freud was drawn initially to the dynamics of depth psychology by the
inability of the neurological community to come to grips with the problem of
hysteria. Hysterics appeared to suffer a host of somatic and physical maladies
(e.g., motor paralysis, glove anesthesia) that had no apparent neurological
basis. One promising treatment was the use of hypnosis. Josef Breuer, a
medical colleague of Freud, claimed to have relieved the hysterical symptoms
of a female patient (“Anna O.”) by such means. In Studies on Hysteria (1895)
Breuer and Freud presented a series of case studies and theoretical articles on
the etiology of hysteria and the role of hypnosis in treating it. The authors
claimed that hysterical symptoms have a symbolic meaning of which the
patient had no conscious knowledge. Symptoms are substitutes for mental acts
that are diverted from normal discharge because the affect associated with the
mental processes becomes “strangulated” (as a result of trauma) and channeled
into physical symptoms (“conversion”). That is, a strong affect is prevented
from being consciously worked out in consciousness, and is diverted instead
into “the wrong path,” taking the form of somatic symptoms. Under hypnosis
this strangulated affect can be set free or purged (“abreacted”), allowed normal
discharge into consciousness, thereby leading to a removal of symptoms. This
treatment was called the cathartic method.
Moreover, patients, under hypnosis tended to recall “psychic
traumas” from a remote past, extending to early childhood, so that Breuer and
Freud could claim that hysterics “suffer from reminiscences.” When these
traumas are allowed expression in the hypnotic state, strangulated affect is
released and directed into normal consciousness. One sees in these studies,
and in the papers that followed the preliminary delineation of some of the
foundational notions of psychoanalysis. To observe that traumatic
“reminiscences” could be recalled only under hypnosis suggests that their
conscious expression is met with certain resistances (defensive repression).
These reminiscences, though resisted, continue to exert pathogenic effects (as
symptoms), which are suggestive of unconscious mental processes. [See
Freud was soon to abandon the hypnotic technique for the good
reason that not all of his patients were amenable to hypnotic induction. In
addition, Freud observed that the amelioration of symptoms seemed to
depend more on the nature of the patientanalyst relationship. If this
relationship was disturbed, symptoms reappeared. This clinical insight was
later reformalized as transference love. Transference describes a phenomenon
that emerges during the course of psychoanalytic treatment whereby the
patient comes to involve the analyst as a substitute for a past interpersonal
relationship, a finding that some consider being one of Freud’s great
The hypnotic technique was replaced by the method of free
association, a method that requires that patient to read off the content of
conscious experiences and memories without judgment or embarrassment.
The choice of this technique depends on the assumption of strict determinism
which holds that associated ideas and memories are not randomly yoked but
are instead determined by a dominant (and often pathogenically repressed)
trend of thought which is unconscious (but is causally active nonetheless).
Given the assumption that symptoms have sense and meaning, and are
substitutes for actions that are omitted or repressed, the task of the analyst was
to interpret the free associations in a way that successfully deciphered their
meaning, a meaning that was otherwise obscured by censorship. To distinguish
this technique from the cathartic method, Freud called this treatment
“psychoanalysis.” Freud claimed that the transition from catharsis to
psychoanalysis yielded two important novelties: the extension of
psychoanalytic insights to phenomena associated with normality, and the
discovery of the significance of infantile sexuality for understanding the
etiology of neuroses.
In The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) and in The Psychopathology of
Everyday Life (1901) Freud extended this notion of mental determinism to
include not just the symbolic character of neurotic free associations which of
necessity require analytic interpretation, but also the various parapraxes of
normal life (“Freudian slips,” accidental self-injury, and other putatively
“haphazard” acts) and dreams. These too are like neurotic symptoms in that
they express a meaning that can be deciphered by analytic interpretation. The
difference between normality and neurosis was not as great as had been
supposed. Indeed, the interpretation of dreams was to provide important clues
to the nature of the unconscious and the process of symptom formation.
Freud distinguished between the manifest and latent content of
dreams. The manifest content was simply the recollected dream, often bizarre
and strange. The latent content is provided by analytic interpretation. Latent
dream thoughts are distorted and condensed “residues” of the previous day.
They are arranged so as to allow pictorial representation and, through
“secondary revision,” are given a sense of coherence. The motivation for
dream formation is a repressed unconscious wish that seeks satisfaction (“wish
fulfillment”) in the form of the latent material of the dream. Dreams represent,
then, a disguised attempt at fulfillment of an unconscious wish that was denied
satisfaction. The attempt is disguised, that is, the manifest content is strange
and bizarre, because of the efforts of a restrictive, disapproving agency in the
mind (e.g., the ego). Dream censorship, according to Freud, points to the same
mental process that kept the wish repressed during the day. So, on the one
hand, there is an unfulfilled, repressed wish that is striving for expression. On
the other, there is a disapproving, censoring ego that is striving to repress it.
The result is a compromise formation that takes the form of dreams, in
normality, and of symptoms, in the case of neurosis. Dream formation and
symptom formation, then, are expressions of identical mental dynamics. Both
are compromise formations that reflect the conflict between unconscious
impulses (wishes) and the censoring ego. [See DREAMING.]
The second novelty revealed by the psychoanalytic method was that
the search for pathogenically significant traumatic experiences typically took
one back to early childhood. And these experiences were invariably a reflection
of a disturbance of infantile sexual life. This remains one of the most
controversial aspects of Freud’s theory. Infantile sexuality refers to the
sensations of pleasure that accompany holding, maternal caressing, and oral
and anal satisfactions. Freud’s use of the term sexuality is thus much broader
and more general than common use of the term. Freud claimed that the
development of human sexuality was diphasic. There is, first of all, an infantile
period where the sexual instincts are sequentially invested in different zones of
the body (“erotogenic zones”), and then a more adult period when the
component sexual instincts (oral, anal, phallic) are organized in the service of
genital, reproductive sexuality. Intervening between the infantile period and
adult period is a latency period of childhood where the sexual motivations are
diverted to other purposes (e.g., skill building, school work).
The sexual instinct is thus an organization of component instincts
that takes the adult form only at puberty, and it is decisive for understanding
the etiology of neuroses. This is particularly true when libido becomes invested
in the phallic region, which gives rise to the Oedipus complex (ages 25). The
Oedipus complex is foundational for the emergence of the superego and more
will be said about it below. Suffice it to say here that this emotionally charged
complex of family relationships is the source of the neuroses. As Freud noted,
normal individuals survive and master their Oedipal feelings; neurotics
continue to be mastered by them.
To this point we have reviewed what Freud called the “cornerstones”
of psychoanalytic theory: the discovery of unconscious mental processes, the
theory of repression and of transference, and the importance of infantile
sexuality and the Oedipus complex for understanding neuroses. No one could
be called a psychoanalyst unless one accepted these tenets. Yet we are still far
from articulating the structural features of the personality (id, ego, superego).
This is best done by further recounting the evolution of his thinking on these
important constructs.
(III.) Evolution of Theory and the Emergence of the Tripartite
The division of mental life into that which is conscious and
unconscious suggests a topographical hypothesis, viz., that mental life can be
demarcated into psychic portions or regions. Unconsciousness is at once a
quality that can be attributed to a repressed idea or impulse, and also a region
or “province” (the “system Ucs”) to where the idea is banished. Consciousness
and its precursor (“preconsciousness”) too, was formulated as a psychic
province (“system Cs, Pcs”), and attributed to the workings of the ego. Psychic
conflict, then, was a matter of unconscious ideas, emanating from the system
Ucs, struggling against the repressive forces of the conscious ego. Furthermore,
unconscious and conscious processes are seen to follow different laws. The
Ucs consists of “instinctual representatives” or impulses that seek discharge.
These impulses are illogical (not subject to contradiction) and timeless (not
ordered temporally) and not oriented to reality. They are driven by the
pleasure principle. They are also characterized as primary process. This means
that wishful instinctual impulses are undirected and freely mobile, and
therefore could be displaced or connected to various objects. This is in
contrast to the Cs (Pcs), where secondary process is dominant. Secondary
process is a later developmental achievement associated with the ego. As a
reality oriented process it revises, censors or binds the discharge of instinctual
Although Freud never abandoned the notion of primary and
secondary process, he did come to revise the provisional topographical model of
the psychic architecture as one involving “systems,” and also the dynamic
hypothesis that the unconscious was in conflict with the conscious ego. These
notions were revised in light of Freud’s clinical observation that his patients
were often unaware of the fact that they were employing certain resistances. If
the ego is responsible for repression but is also the seat of consciousness, then
it was inexplicable how one could not be conscious of one’s own resistances
and one’s own act of repression. Freud concluded that much of the ego, too,
must be unconscious. In other words, the unconscious does not consist
entirely of that which is repressed (although all that is repressed is
unconscious), a fact that makes the division of the psychic architecture into
systems Ucs and Cs (Pcs) less compelling.
The ego concept was further clarified as a result of revisions to the
instinct theory. Instincts arise from internal sources, and exert a constant force
or pressure demanding satisfaction. The relentless pressure of instinctual drive
energies makes it possible for the nervous system to remain in an unstimulated
condition (“principle of constancy”), and hence motivates psychic adaptations
so as to effect the satisfaction of internal needs. The pressure of an instinct is a
“motor” factor, that is, a demand for psychic work. The aim of an instinct is
gratification through tension reduction. The object of an instinct is anything
through which satisfaction can be achieved. The source of an instinct is a
somatic process experienced as a kind of “hunger” or “need.” Indeed, Freud
often described instincts as the “psychic representatives” of somatic processes.
In The Three Essays on Sexuality (1905) Freud identified the sexual
instincts as “libido.” Libido is both a quantitative and qualitative variable—
quantitative in the sense that it serves as a measure of the forces of sexual
excitation, qualitative in the sense that it can be distinguished from other kinds
of psychic energy. Psychoneurotic conflict could then be described as a clash
between sexuality and the various functions of the ego (e.g., reality-testing,
resistance, repression). However, in addition to libidinal (sexual) instincts,
Freud later identified a second group of primal instincts, called ego instincts. Ego
instincts subsumed the functions of self-preservation, repression, and all other
impulses that could be distinguished from sexual (libidinal) instincts. By
identifying a second group of primal instincts Freud could now characterize
psychoneurotic conflict as a clash between libidinal (sexual) and the self-
preservative (ego) instincts.
Matters are further complicated, however, by the pivotal paper On
Narcissism (1914). Here Freud argues that the sexual instincts are attached
originally to self-preservation, which is an ego instinct. The sexual instincts
detach from self-preservation only later when libido seeks external objects
(e.g., mother). Libido that cathects with external objects was called object
libido. Yet Freud observed that libidinal attachment towards objects (such as
mother) could be derailed. Instead of seeking an external object it was possible
to libidinally cathect one self. That is, rather than choose mother as a love
object, one chooses oneself. Libido could be apportioned, then, depending on
the kind of object choice one made. Libido apportioned to oneself was called
“narcissistic” (or ego) libido, to distinguish it from the libidinal cathexis of
external objects (object libido). In Freud’s view the narcissistic libidinal
cathexis of the ego is the original state of things, and therefore the initial phase
of libidinal development was one of primary narcissism. It is from the stance of
primary narcissism that one seeks out interpersonal relations.
By 1920, however, in Beyond the Pleasure Principle Freud rejected the
dualism between libidinal instincts and ego instincts. In his view this
distinction is no longer tenable because narcissistic self-preservative instincts
were also libidinal. It would thus seem that all of instinctual mental life could
be reduced to the sexual instincts after all, a conclusion that would either
justify Jung’s monistic use of “libido” as a term denoting a generalized psychic
drive or vindicate those critics who accused Freud of pan-sexualism.
One solution to this theoretical problem was to group the libidinal
instincts as Eros, or the life instincts, the “preserver of all things,” and to
contrapose to the life instincts (Eros) a contrary instinctual impulse that seeks
to restore organic life to an inanimate state, which Freud called the death
instincts. Freud was led to postulate the existence of death instincts by his
observation that those who suffer from traumatic neuroses tend to repeat
traumatic dreams. The dreams of war neurotics, for example, seemed contrary
to the general case that dreams represent symbolic wish fulfillment. The
compulsion to repeat traumatic experiences appeared, then, to operate
“beyond the pleasure principle,” and to point toward an instinctual tendency at
odds with libidinal self-preservation.
The struggle of Eros and the death instincts can be observed at every
level of biology, in every particle of substance, even in molecular organisms.
Eros attempts to preserve life through combinations, and this to neutralize the
instinctual striving toward death. The two instincts can also fuse together
which results, at the psychic level, in sexual sadism. De-fusion can result in the
discharge of death instincts toward objects, which then takes the form of
aggression, destructiveness, or sadism. Masochistic tendencies result if the ego
is the object of discharge. Indeed, if it is possible for erotic libido to cathect
the ego and to result in a phase of primary narcissism, it must correspondingly
be possible for the death instinct to cathect the ego and result in a phase of
primary masochism, a possibility that Freud did not reject outright.
Freud’s account of the two classes of instincts, Eros (sexuality and
self-preservation) and death (aggression), allowed him to preserve a dualistic
classification of the instincts. The question now loomed as to how these twin
instincts interacted with topographical features of the mind, now that the
notions of “consciousness” and unconsciousness” no longer had any
straightforward implications for a structural depiction of mental life. This issue
would be taken up in Freud’s seminal work, The Ego and the Id (1923). In this
work Freud amends the structural theory to include three psychic provinces,
id, ego, and superego. He also describes how instinctual drive energies can be
transmuted economically among these structures, and how certain neurotic
conditions can be explained as a result of this hydraulic model of the mind.
(IV.) Id, Ego, and Superego
The mature structural theory largely replaces the ill-defined notions
of unconsciousness and the system Ucs with the “id.” The id becomes a
psychical province that incorporates instinctual drive energies, and everything
else that is part of our phylogenetic inheritance. The id operates unconsciously,
accords with primary process, and impels the organism to engage in need-
satisfying, tension-reducing activities, which are experienced as pleasure.
Within the id are undifferentiated elements that would later emerge
as the “ego.” Freud’s conceptualization of the ego and its functions show clear
lines of theoretical development. In early formulations it was identified with
the system Cs (Pcs), and known largely in terms of its repressive and self-
preservative functions, and for its putative opposition to things unconscious.
As noted above a clear change became evident in the paper On Narcissism,
where Freud argued not only that ego instincts were libidinal, but also that ego
functions were largely unconscious. Two further developments are evident in
this paper. First, the ego begins to be described not only as an impersonal
“apparatus” whose function is to de-tension the biological strivings of the
organism, or as a “device” for mastering excitations, but rather as a personal
self. A second development is Freud’s tentative hypothesis that ego
development entails the renunciation of narcissistic self-love in favour of the
idealization or aggrandizement of cultural and ethical ideals, which is
represented to the child by the influence of parents. This “ego ideal” becomes
a substitute for lost infantile narcissism at which time the child was his or her
own ideal. Freud goes on to suggest that perhaps a special psychical agency
emerges to observe the ego and to measure it by its ideal. This self-observing
agency, and the ego ideal, will later take the form of a third psychical province,
the superego.
What is the nature, then, of ego and superego formation, as outlined
in The Ego and the Id? At the outset the psychic system is described as an
undifferentiated id-ego matrix. Topographically, a portion of the id lies in
proximity to the boundaries of preconsciousness and external perceptual
systems (system Pcpt), which brings the influence of the external world upon it.
The resulting modification results in the formation of the ego. Hence, the ego
is that part of the id that is modified as result of the perceptual system and by
its proximity and access to consciousness, although the ego itself, like the id, is
The ego takes on a a number functions. It commands voluntary
movement. It has the task of self-preservation, and must therefore master both
internal (id) and external stimuli. The ego masters external stimuli by becoming
“aware,” by storing up memories, by avoidance through flight, and by active
adaptation. Regarding internal drive stimuli, it attempts to control the demands
of the instincts by judiciously deciding the mode of satisfaction, or if
satisfaction is to be had at all. Indeed, the ego attempts to harness instinctual
libidinal drives so that they submit to the reality principle. If the id is a
cauldron of passions, the ego is the agent of reason, commonsense, and
defense. Yet the ego is never sharply differentiated from the id. Freud argues
that the “lower portion” of the ego extends throughout the id, and it is by
means of the id that repressed material communicates with (presses “up”
against the resistances of) the ego.
The nature of ego functioning is further clarified, and complicated,
by superego formation. One clue to understanding superego formation was
provided by Freud’s analysis of melancholia. He suggested that when a
personal (or “object”) relationship is “lost,” the lost object can be regained
nonetheless by “identification,” that is, the lost object is “set up again inside
the ego.” When the sexual object is given up, the ego is altered, insofar as the
abandoned libidinal object is now set up inside the ego. The ego incorporates
the object within itself (as an introjection), “identifies” with it, and thereby
builds up its structure or “character.” In this way an object cathexis is
substituted by an introjection. Freud suggests that perhaps the id can give up
its objects only by identifications of this sort, and that the ego can
consequently be considered a precipitate of abandoned object cathexes.
It was from this analysis of how the ego can be built up and altered
by identification that Freud found the theoretical foundation of superego
formation. He argued that the first identifications in early childhood would be
those that would have lasting and momentous significance in the sense that
here would be found the origins of the “ego ideal.” Moreover, the necessity for
making these identifications would be found in the triangular character of the
Oedipus complex.
For illustrative purposes consider the simple oedipal situation for
boys. The boy develops a libidinal attachment to mother while identifying with
father. Eventually, the erotic investment in mother intensifies and father now
comes to be seen as an obstacle or as a jealous rival. The boy desires to
possess mother but also to displace his rival, who is now viewed with some
ambivalence. Yet this engenders considerable anxiety insofar as the powerful
rival is capable of significant retaliation through the threat of castration.
Hence, the oedipal situation is untenable for the boy given the surge of
castration anxiety. The libidinal cathexis must be given up. Although many
complications are possible, some with pathological consequences, the standard
maneuver is for the boy to repress his oedipal desires for mother.
Yet the infantile ego is still too feeble to carry this out effectively.
Since the expression of oedipal desires is met with an obstacle in the person of
the boy’s father, one way of repressing these desires suggests itself: set up the
obstacle within oneself by intensifying one’s identification with father. In this
way the boy musters the wherewithal to carry out the required act of
repression, insofar as this identification is a way of borrowing the strength of
the powerful father. But, as we have seen, identification typically results in an
alteration of the ego. Indeed, the incorporation of father as a solution to the
Oedipus complex is so momentous that a new psychical agency emerges from
within the ego, the superego, which will thereafter retain the character of the
father. Furthermore, every act of identification results in a sublimation of
libido. Libido is “desexualized.” But this sublimation also means that the
aggressive (death) instincts are no longer bound to erotic libidoit is now
“defused,” set free, and no longer neutralized. Freud suggested that herein lies
the source of the cruel harshness of the dictatorial injunctions (“Thou shalt”)
of the superegoit lies in the pool of aggressive energies set free by the act of
identification and libidinal diffusion.
The superego is thus a precipitate of family life. It is an agency that
seeks to enforce the striving for perfection, as it holds out to the ego ideal
standards and moralistic goals. As a consequence the superego is the
“conscience” of the personality, and it can retaliate against the imperfections
of the ego by inducing guilt. Insofar as the superego is derived from the id’s
first object cathexis (in the oedipal situation), the superego remains close to the
id “and can act as its representative” (in contrast to the ego, which represents
reality). And because the origin of conscience is tied to the Oedipus complex,
which is unconscious, the corresponding sense of guilt, too, must be
unconscious. Indeed, Freud asserts that the superego reaches down into the id,
and is consequently “farther from consciousness than the ego is.” This leads to
an interesting paradox that was noted by Freud. Because one is unconscious of
having irrational libidinal and aggressive desires, one is far more “immoral”
than one believes. But because the superego (and the guilt that it imposes as
punishment) is also unconscious, one is also more moral than one knows.
Superego formation, then and the ideals that it represents, allows one
to master the Oedipus complex. And because it emerged at a time when the
ego was still vulnerable, it retains a dominant position with respect to the ego.
Freud was keen to point out that the superego is that part of his theory that
expresses the “higher nature” of man. He argued that as children we knew
these higher natures in the person of our parents, “we admired and feared
them; and later we took them into ourselves” as introjections. And if religion,
morality, and sociality are held to be what is higher in mankind, these too find
their psychological origin in the workings of the superego. The religious
longing for a protective and nurturing God finds its origin in the fact that the
superego is a precipitate of our infantile longing for father. Our religious
humility in the face of a judgmental God is a projection of the self-criticism of
an ego that has fallen short of the ideals held out by the superego. With
development the injunctions of the father (which are introjected as the
superego) are supplemented by other moral authorities, which then fortifies
the workings of conscience and thereby intensifies the feelings of moral guilt.
And social feelings of all kinds are rooted in the kind of object identification of
which superego formation is the model.
In addition to representing that which is higher in human nature, the
superego is also implicated in a variety of pathological conditions. It is
implicated in a “resistance to therapeutic recovery,” since the prolongation of
neurotic suffering is a kind of punishment for failing to meet the exacting
demands of the superego. Melancholia results when the superego appropriates
the violence of aggressive instincts and directs them against the ego. Certain
kinds of obsessional neuroses (“tormenting” the object, as opposed to the
self), too, can be linked to the harsh reproaches of the superego.
It should be clear that the ego is besieged from two directions. It
must cope with the libidinal and aggressive drives of the id, from “below,” and
also the harsh moralistic and perfectionistic demands of the superego, from
“above.” The ego must further reconcile these contrary tendencies with the
demands of external reality. “Whenever possible,” Freud writes, “it [the ego]
clothes the id’s Ucs. commands with Pcs. rationalizations; it pretends that the id
is showing obedience to the admonitions of reality, even when in fact it is
remaining obstinate and unyielding; it disguises the id’s conflicts with reality
and, if possible, its conflicts with the superego, too.” Freud also likened the
ego to a man who struggles to check the superior power of a horse, to a
constitutional monarch who is ultimately powerless to frustrate the will of
parliament, and to a politician who too often “yields to the temptation to
become sycophantic, opportunist and lying.” One has recourse to
psychoanalysis when such a struggle batters the personality into neurosis.
V. Summary
One way to summarize Freud’s account of the tripartite personality is
to make explicit the metapsychological assumptions that have until now
remained only implicit. Freud’s topographical perspective is that the critical
determinants of human behavior are unconscious; emanating from a biological
province which he calls the “id.” The dynamic point of view is that these critical
determinants are instinctual drives, of which two classes can be identified:
Eros (sex, self-preservation) and the death instinct (aggression, sadism). The
economic point of view is that the “hydraulic” dispositions of these drive
energies among the psychic regions is a regulator of behavior.
VI. Selected Post-Freudian Developments
Although there are still many adherents of Freud’s classical theory, a
palpable development since Freud has been the proliferation of competing
psychoanalytic theories, all of which claim some support or other from the
many searching insight to be found in the vast Freudian corpus. The most
important post-Freudian development is a collection of related theories that is
denoted as the “object relational” school. Although these theories can be
cleanly distinguished on both obvious and subtle theoretical points, it is fair to
say that they share in common distaste for Freud’s emphasis on energy
dynamics as the foundation of human personality, and for his division of
personality into tripartite, evolutionary layers. They deny, for example, that the
human organism is at first asocial, convulsed by bestial instinctual passions,
embedded in primary narcissism, and only later to become social and
socialized. To picture the human person as one driven by libidinal and
aggressive energies is to liken it to a “centaur”the mythological creature with
a human head affixed to the body of a beast.
One objection to the “Centaur model” is that it is yoked to an
implausible notion of “instincts.” Freud suggested that human motivation can
be explained with reference to two instincts, sex and aggression. But sex is not
an instinctual impulse that exerts constant pressure but is rather like an
“appetite” that shows a measure of periodicity. Aggression is not even an
appetite, but is rather an ego reaction to a threat to the personality. And both
sex and aggression are aspects of personhood that are ineradicable from
interpersonal relationships. Furthermore, Freud’s notion that human
psychology is driven by the energies afforded by the struggle between life and
death instincts has been dismissed by some critics as mere “biological
mysticism.” [See AGGRESSION.]
A related criticism concerns Freud’s account of the ego. In Freud’s
theory the rational ego emerges from a portion of the irrational id, but only as
an impersonal apparatus or device for channeling drive energies and for
securing the de-tensioning of the organism. What Freud described is a control
system and not a personal self who is involved in motivated relationships from
the very beginning. When Freud describes the tripartite personality as
consisting of “provinces” that are “extended in space” he is describing a
material reality that is based on a biological model of localization, and not the
psychodynamic reality that whole human selves are formed in meaningful
relationships that begin at birth. Hence, object relations theory rejects the
Centaur model, rejects the instinct theory, rejects primary narcissism (and
masochism), and rejects the impersonal ego.
Yet the object relations approach is often thought of as a movement
that develops Freud’s own best object relational insights. The notion of
transference, for example, and the Oedipus complex of family relations, and
the account of the ego as an “agency” (as opposed to a “province”) would be
ready examples of object relational insights that counter Freud’s own
preoccupation with impersonal, biological energy mechanics. It is ironic that
the oedipal theory, which is generally considered to be that which is most
unpalatable about Freud’s theory, is actually the foundation of the keen object
relational insightthat personality is grounded in the nexus of family
relationships. Of all the psychic structures the superego is the only one to
emerge as consequence of interpersonal relationships. It comes to represent
the influence of family and societal institutions on the formation of
personality. Transference enshrines the view that the history of our experience
of interpersonal relationships provides us with a template by which we attempt
to manage our current relationships. Hence, the object relations approach
tends to focus on the agentic whole self (the “person ego”) whose personality
develops within the dynamics of complicated, meaningful relationshipsand
the warrant for this conceptualization, too, is often to be found in Freud’s own
We noted at the outset that psychoanalysis has revolutionized human
self-understanding in this century. Yet, for all that, the theory is still very much
a product of 19th century conceptions of science. While one has cause to
question Freud’s reliance on outdated biological and physical science
metaphors, his mechanistic conception of energy dynamics and his
preoccupation with brain physiology and with localization, what will survive
are the psychodynamic features of his theory, and the clinical insights about
human personality that have given everyone a new vocabulary. Defense
mechanisms, ego, insight therapy, unconscious processes, the symbolic nature
of symptoms, dreams, parapraxes, and transferencethese are notions that are
not far from even lay discourse. Indeed, some core Freudian notions such as
unconsciousness, and the localization of “psychic provinces” in the brain, are
being rehabilitated by recent developments in cognitive and social
neuroscience. Contemporary attachment theory has strong object relational
elements that bear resemblance to Freud’s theory.
Although it is not easy to divorce the clinical facts attributed to Freud
from the theories developed to explain them, especially when the probative
and epistemic status of the theory is at stake, it is fair to say that the
contemporary study of psychopathology and personality, the conduct of
clinical practice, and the way ordinary people confront themselves and others
would be very different were it not for Freud’s monumental, pioneering work.
When one adds to this the whole domain of “applied psychoanalysis”the
extension of psychoanalytic insights for understanding the artistic process,
group psychology, esthetics, religious experience, and other cultural products,
then the justice of W.H. Auden’s elegy is apparent. Freud lurks wherever one
considers the human condition: a “whole climate of opinion under whom we
conduct our different lives.”
Edelson, M. (1988). Psychoanalysis: a theory in crisis. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press.
Gay, P. (1989). Freud: A life for our times. New York: Anchor/Doubleday.
Greenberg, J. R., & Mitchell, S. A. (Eds.) (1983). Object relations in psychoanalytic
theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Grunbaum, A. (1984). The foundations of psychoanalysis: A philosophical critique.
Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Hassin, R. R., Uleman, J. S., & Bargh, J. A. (Eds.) (2005). The new unconscious.
New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Kurzweil, E., & Phillips, W. (Eds.) (1983). Literature and psychoanalysis. New
York, NY: Columbia University Press.
Reppen, J. (Ed.) (1985). Beyond Freud: A study of modern psychoanalytic theorists.
Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
... The dialogue above can be analyzed clearly if an Arthur Fleck can still hold the Ego that is in him. In Freud's psychoanalytic theory (Lapsley & Stey, 2012), the Ego is referred to as a way of dealing with reality. Reality-based on something that is considered right or wrong according to the views of others. ...
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This study examines a dissociative disorder in the film Joker, which aired in 2019 and was directed by Todd Philip. This study aims to show how Arthur Fleck's character becomes someone who suffers from dissociative identity disorder and what factors cause Arthur Fleck who initially looks fine but turns out to have a different side of him. This study uses Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory, which will explain how the conditions of the Id, Ego, and superego in Arthur Fleck are actually the main influences of Arthur's disorder. The results of this study conclude that Arthur Fleck's character immediately changes because of events in his dark past. His past makes Arthur Fleck suffer from disorders such as DID due to the instability of his unstable personality structure.
... That personality takes on layers is a familiar notion with a long history. It can be traced, for example, to Freud's "centaur model" of personality with its tripartite division of personality into id, ego, and Lapsley superego [Erikson, 1950;Guntrip, 1971;Lapsley & Stey, 2012]. Freud's model, too, begins with biological-instinctual processes that get layered over with rational and then moralistic ones. ...
The mainstream empirical research has always viewed gratitude in its triadic form involving a typical human giver, gift, and receiver. But it is not the same in the case of transpersonal gratitude. Instead, it is directed towards abstract entities beyond self like God, their own state of being, or the cosmos. The previous literature had affirmed that a selfless attitude and better mood could determine overall gratitude. But this relation is not mainly known in the context of this newer form of gratitude. Indian young adults (N = 456) completed scales on transpersonal gratitude, trait meta-mood, and ego-grasping orientation—a Taoist concept. The preliminary analysis revealed that the selfless nature was unrelated to transpersonal gratitude. Subsequently, the predictive effect of trait meta-mood on transpersonal gratitude is quantified. The findings explain the distinguishable features of the young adults' populace and positive transpersonal experiences. The need to identify groups, cultural differences, and the utility of interventions on transpersonal gratitude in the future gratitude research is emphasised.
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This essay is a critical response to the exhibition titled Playing with Fire: Ceramics of the Extraordinary in the Museum of Anthropology at UBC. It attempts to address the spatial configuration of this exhibition that resonates with the issues explored in the exhibition. It also analyses how the meaning of works stands out, both collectively and independently, due to the harmony between their aesthetics and spatial experiences.
The present study was designed to analyze association between problematic internet use and use of ego defense mechanisms in medical students. This cross-sectional study was undertaken at CMH Lahore Medical College (CMH LMC) in Lahore, Pakistan from 1st March, 2015 to 30th May, 2015. 522 medical and dental students were included in the study. The questionnaire consisted of three sections: a) demographic characteristics of respondent b) the Defense Style Questionnaire-40 (DSQ-40) and c) the Internet Addiction Test (IAT). All data were analyzed in SPSS v20. Chi square, Independent sample t test and One Way ANOVA were run to analyze association of different variables with scores on IAT. Multiple regression analysis was used to delineate ego defenses as predictors of problematic internet use. A total of 32 (6.1%) students reported severe problems with internet usage. Males had higher scores on IAT i.e had more problematic use of internet. Scores on internet addiction test (IAT) were negatively associated with sublimation and positively associated with projection, denial, autistic fantasy, passive aggression and displacement. There was a high prevalence of problematic use of internet among medical and dental students. It had significant associations with several defense mechanisms.
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Background: Ego defense mechanisms are unconscious psychological processes that help an individual to prevent anxiety when exposed to a stressful situation. These mechanisms are important in psychiatric practice to assess an individual’s personality dynamics, psychopathologies, and modes of coping with stressful situations, and hence, to design appropriate individualized treatment. Our study delineates the relationship of ego defense mechanisms with anxiety, depression, and academic performance of Pakistani medical students. Methods: This cross-sectional study was done at CMH Lahore Medical College and Fatima Memorial Hospital Medical and Dental College, both in Lahore, Pakistan, from December 1, 2014 to January 15, 2015. Convenience sampling was used and only students who agreed to take part in this study were included. The questionnaire consisted of three sections: 1) Demographics, documenting demographic data and academic scores on participants’ most recent exams; 2) Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS); and 3) Defense Style Questionnaire-40 (DSQ-40). The data were analyzed with SPSS v. 20. Mean scores and frequencies were calculated for demographic variables and ego defense mechanisms. Bivariate correlations, one-way ANOVA, and multiple linear regression were used to identify associations between academic scores, demographics, ego defense mechanisms, anxiety, and depression. Results: A total of 409 medical students participated, of whom 286 (70%) were females and 123 (30%) were males. Mean percentage score on the most recent exams was 75.6% in medical students. Bivariate correlation revealed a direct association between mature and neurotic ego defense mechanisms and academic performance, and an indirect association between immature mechanisms and academic performance. One-way ANOVA showed that moderate levels of anxiety (P < .05) and low levels of depression (P < .05) were associated with higher academic performance. Conclusion: There was a significant association between academic performance and ego defense mechanisms, anxiety, and depression levels in our sample of Pakistani medical students.
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Over the past two decades, a new picture of the cognitive unconscious has emerged from a variety of disciplines that are broadly part of cognitive science. According to this picture, unconscious processes seem to be capable of doing many things that were thought to require intention, deliberation, and conscious awareness. Moreover, they accomplish these things without the conflict and drama of the psychoanalytic unconscious. These processes range from complex information processing, through goal pursuit and emotions, to cognitive control and self-regulation. This collection of twenty original chapters examines the cognitive unconscious from social, cognitive, and neuroscientific viewpoints, presenting some of the most important developments at the heart of this new picture of the unconscious.
This study is a philosophical critique of the foundations of Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis. As such, it also takes cognizance of his claim that psychoanalysis has the credentials of a natural science. It shows that the reasoning on which Freud rested the major hypotheses of his edifice was fundamentally flawed, even if the probity of the clinical observations he adduced were not in question. Moreover, far from deserving to be taken at face value, clinical data from the psychoanalytic treatment setting are themselves epistemically quite suspect.
Greenberg and Mitchell's study of object relations in psychoanalytic theory is a valuable and insightful discussion and synthesis of disparate theoretical perspectives. Their work is timely in that the forefront of psychoanalytic theory and technique today is in the area of object relations; Greenberg and Mitchell's analysis of the object relations perspective is the most thorough, detailed, and complete theoretical discussions that the reviewer has read. In the reviewer's view, the book might have been strengthened if evidence other than theoretical and clinical material had been introduced in support of the authors' arguments, but their aim clearly did not involve assessing empirical support for object relations models. Thus, it is concluded that the authors' approach is valuable, but lacks breadth and denies the existence of some evidence that is potentially valuable in comparing different theoretical perspectives. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
This book critically examines Freud's own detailed arguments for his major explanatory and therapeutic principles, the current neorevisionist versions of psychoanalysis, and the hermeneuticists' reconstruction of Freud's theory and therapy as an alternative to what they claim was a “scientistic” misconstrual of the psychoanalytic enterprise. The clinical case for Freud's cornerstone theory of repression – the claim that psychic conflict plays a causal role in producing neuroses, dreams, and bungled actions – turns out to be ill-founded for two main reasons: (a) Even if clinical data were valid, the method of free association has failed to support the psychoanalytic theory of unconscious motivation; (b) Clinical data tend in any case to be artifacts of the analyst's self-fulfilling expectations, thus losing much of their evidential value. The hypothesis that psychoanalytic treatment is in reality a placebo poses a serious challenge to the assumption that insight is a key causal factor when therapy is successful. This challenge has yet to be met by psychoanalysts. Similar conclusions undermine the neorevisionist versions of psychoanalysis. The most influential hermeneuticists, on the other hand, are shown to have imposed an alien philosophy on psychoanalysis, partly through their reliance on gross misconceptions of the natural sciences. Karl Popper's criticism of the Freudian corpus as empirically untestable has misjudged its evidential weaknesses, which are more subtle. If there exists empirical evidence for the principal psychoanalytic doctrines, it cannot be obtained without well-designed extraclinical studies of a kind that have for the most part yet to be attempted.
Marshall Edelson identifies the core theory of psychoanalysis and shows how free association and the case study method can provide rational grounds for believing its clinical inferences about the causal role of unconscious sexual fantasies. "Dr. Edelson has committed himself with gusto, persistence and intelligence [to] a spirited defense of psychoanalysis as science—not necessarily as it is, but as it can be in the best of hands as it should be. . . . It is a defense that I hope can resonate strongly in psychoanalytic ranks. It is also a message that I hope would receive a warm reception in that wider intellectual world where ideas matter and where enlightened social policy and cultural cachet are fostered."—Robert Wallerstein, New York Times Book Review
Beyond Freud: A study of modern psychoanalytic theorists
  • J Reppen
Reppen, J. (Ed.) (1985). Beyond Freud: A study of modern psychoanalytic theorists. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Literature and psychoanalysis
  • E Kurzweil
  • W Phillips
Kurzweil, E., & Phillips, W. (Eds.) (1983). Literature and psychoanalysis. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.