Id, Ego, and Superego
By Saul McLeod, updated 2021
Perhaps Freud's single most enduring and important idea was that the human psyche (personality) has more than one aspect.
Freud's personality theory (1923) saw the psyche structured into three parts (i.e., tripartite), the id, ego and superego, all developing at different stages in our lives. These are systems, not parts of the brain, or in any way physical.
According to Freud's psychoanalytic theory, the id is the primitive and instinctual part of the mind that contains sexual and aggressive drives and hidden memories, the super-ego operates as a moral conscience, and the ego is the realistic part that mediates between the desires of the id and the super-ego.
Although each part of the personality comprises unique features, they interact to form a whole, and each part makes a relative contribution to an individual's behavior.
What is the id?
The id is the primitive and instinctive component of personality. It consists of all the inherited (i.e., biological) components of personality present at birth, including the sex (life) instinct – Eros (which contains the libido), and the aggressive (death) instinct — Thanatos.
The id is the impulsive (and unconscious) part of our psyche which responds directly and immediately to basic urges, needs, and desires. The personality of the newborn child is all id and only later does it develop an ego and super-ego.
The id remains infantile in its function throughout a person's life and does not change with time or experience, as it is not in touch with the external world. The id is not affected by reality, logic or the everyday world, as it operates within the unconscious part of the mind.
The id operates on the pleasure principle (Freud, 1920) which is the idea that every wishful impulse should be satisfied immediately, regardless of the consequences.When the id achieves its demands, we experience pleasure when it is denied we experience ‘unpleasure’ or tension.
The id engages in primary process thinking, which is primitive, illogical, irrational, and fantasy oriented. This form of process thinking has no comprehension of objective reality, and is selfish and wishful in nature.
What is the Ego?
The ego is 'that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world.'
(Freud, 1923, p. 25)
The ego develops to mediate between the unrealistic id and the external real world. It is the decision-making component of personality. Ideally, the ego works by reason, whereas the id is chaotic and unreasonable.
The ego operates according to the reality principle, working out realistic ways of satisfying the id’s demands, often compromising or postponing satisfaction to avoid negative consequences of society. The ego considers social realities and norms, etiquette and rules in deciding how to behave.
the id, the ego seeks pleasure (i.e., tension reduction) and avoids pain, but un the id, the ego is concerned with devising a realistic strategy to obtain pleasure. The ego has no concept of right or wrong; something is good simply if it achieves its end of satisfying without causing harm to itself or the id.
Often the ego is weak relative to the headstrong id, and the best the ego can do is stay on, pointing the id in the right direction and claiming some credit at the end as if the action were its own.
Freud made the analogy of the id being a horse while the ego is the rider. The ego is ' a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superiour strength of the horse.'
(Freud, 1923, p. 15)
If the ego fails in its attempt to use the reality principle, and anxiety is experienced, unconscious defense mechanisms are employed, to help ward off unpleasant feelings (i.e., anxiety) or make good things feel better for the individual.
The ego engages in secondary process thinking, which is rational, realistic, and orientated towards problem-solving. If a plan of action does not work, then it is thought through again until a solution is found. This is known as reality testing and enables the person to control their impulses and demonstrate self-control, via mastery of the ego.
An important feature of clinical and social work is to enhance ego functioning and help the client test reality through assisting the client to think through their options.
What is the superego?
The superego incorporates the values and morals of society which are learned from one's parents and others.
It develops around the age of 3 – 5 years during the phallic stage of psychosexual development.
The superego is seen as the purveyor or rewards (feelings of pride and satisfaction) and punishments (feelings of shame and guilt) depending on which part (the ego-deal or conscious) is activated.
The superego's function is to control the id's impulses, especially those which society forbids, such as sex and aggression. It also has the function of persuading the ego to turn to moralistic goals rather than simply realistic ones and to strive for perfection.
The superego consists of two systems: The conscience and the ideal self.
The conscience is our 'inner voice' that tells us when we have done something wrong.The conscience can punish the ego through causing feelings of guilt. For example, if the ego gives in to the id's demands, the superego may make the person feel bad through guilt.
The ideal self (or ego-ideal) is an imaginary picture of how you ought to be, and represents career aspirations, how to treat other people, and how to behave as a member of society.
Behavior which falls short of the ideal self may be punished by the superego through guilt. The super-ego can also reward us through the ideal self when we behave ‘properly’ by making us feel proud.
If a person’s ideal self is too high a standard, then whatever the person does will represent failure. The ideal self and conscience are largely determined in childhood from parental values and how you were brought up. Download this article as a PDF
How to reference this article:
McLeod, S. A. (2019, September 25). Id, ego and superego. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/psyche.html
APA Style References
Freud, S. (1920). Beyond the pleasure principle. SE, 18: 1-64.
Freud, S. (1923). The ego and the id. SE, 19: 1-66.
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Antisocial personality disorder
Personality disorders are mental health conditions that affect how someone thinks, perceives, feels or relates to others.
Antisocial personality disorder is a particularly challenging type of personality disorder characterised by impulsive, irresponsible and often criminal behaviour.
Someone with antisocial personality disorder will typically be manipulative, deceitful and reckless, and will not care for other people's feelings.
other types of personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder is on a spectrum, which means it can range in severity from occasional bad behaviour to repeatedly breaking the law and committing serious crimes.
Psychopaths are considered to have a severe form of antisocial personality disorder.
Visit the Mind website for more information about signs of antisocial personality disorder.
A person with antisocial personality disorder may:
- exploit, manipulate or violate the rights of others
- lack concern, regret or remorse about other people's distress
- behave irresponsibly and show disregard for normal social behaviour
- have difficulty sustaining long-term relationships
- be unable to control their anger
- lack guilt, or not learn from their mistakes
- blame others for problems in their lives
- repeatedly break the law
A person with antisocial personality disorder will have a history of conduct disorder during childhood, such as truancy (not going to school), delinquency (for example, committing crimes or substance misuse), and other disruptive and aggressive behaviours.
Antisocial personality disorder affects more men than women.
It's not known why some people develop antisocial personality disorder, but both genetics and traumatic childhood experiences, such as child abuse or neglect, are thought to play a role.
A person with antisocial personality disorder will have often grown up in difficult family circumstances.
One or both parents may misuse alcohol, and parental conflict and harsh, inconsistent parenting are common.
As a result of these problems, social services may become involved with the child's care.
These types of difficulties in childhood will often lead to behavioural problems during adolescence and adulthood.
Criminal behaviour is a key feature of antisocial personality disorder, and there's a high risk that someone with the disorder will commit crimes and be imprisoned at some point in their life.
Men with antisocial personality disorder have been found to be 3 to 5 times more ly to misuse alcohol and drugs than those without the disorder, and have an increased risk of dying prematurely as a result of reckless behaviour or attempting suicide.
People with antisocial personality disorder are also more ly to have relationship problems during adulthood and be unemployed and homeless.
To be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, a person will usually have a history of conduct disorder before the age of 15.
Antisocial personality disorder is diagnosed after rigorous psychological assessment.
A diagnosis can only be made if the person is aged 18 years or older and at least 3 of the following criteria apply:
- repeatedly breaking the law
- repeatedly being deceitful
- being impulsive or incapable of planning ahead
- being irritable and aggressive
- having a reckless disregard for their safety or the safety of others
- being consistently irresponsible
- lack of remorse
These signs must not be part of a schizophrenic or manic episode – they must be part of the person's everyday personality.
This behaviour usually becomes most extreme and challenging during the late teens and early 20s. It may improve by the time the person reaches their 40s.
In the past, antisocial personality disorder was thought to be a lifelong disorder, but that's not always the case and it can sometimes be managed and treated.
Evidence suggests behaviour can improve over time with therapy, even if core characteristics such as lack of empathy remain.
But antisocial personality disorder is one of the most difficult types of personality disorders to treat.
A person with antisocial personality disorder may also be reluctant to seek treatment and may only start therapy when ordered to do so by a court.
The recommended treatment for someone with antisocial personality disorder will depend on their circumstances, taking into account factors such as age, offending history and whether there are any associated problems, such as alcohol or drug misuse.
The person's family and friends will often play an active role in making decisions about their treatment and care.
In some cases, substance misuse services and social care may also need to be involved.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has published guidelines about the management and prevention of antisocial personality disorder.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is sometimes used to treat antisocial personality disorder.
It's a talking therapy that aims to help a person manage their problems by changing the way they think and behave.
Mentalisation-based therapy (MBT) is another type of talking therapy that's becoming more popular in the treatment of antisocial personality disorder.
The therapist will encourage the person to consider the way they think and how their mental state affects their behaviour.
Democratic therapeutic communities (DTC)
Evidence suggests community-based programmes can be an effective long-term treatment method for people with antisocial personality disorder, and is becoming increasingly popular in prisons.
DTC is a type of social therapy that aims to address the person's risk of offending, as well as their emotional and psychological needs.
It's based around large and small therapy groups and focuses on community issues, creating an environment where both staff and prisoners contribute to the decisions of the community.
There may also be opportunities for educational and vocational work.
The recommended length of treatment is 18 months, as there needs to be enough time for a person to make changes and put new skills into practice.
Self-motivation is another important factor for acceptance on to this type of scheme. For example, the person must be willing to work as part of a community, participate in groups, and be subject to the democratic process.
The Ministry of Justice has more information about DTC in its guide to working with offenders with personality disorder.
There's little evidence to support the use of medicine for treating antisocial personality disorder, although certain antipsychotic and antidepressant medicines may be helpful in some instances.
Carbamazepine and lithium may help control symptoms such as aggression and impulsive behaviour, and a class of antidepressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may improve anger and general personality disorder symptoms.
Personality disorders affect how someone thinks, perceives, feels or relates to others. They range from mild to severe.
The signs typically emerge in adolescence and persist into adulthood. People with personality disorders often have other mental health problems, particularly depression and substance misuse.
Personality disorders may be associated with genetic and family factors, and experiences of distress or fear during childhood, such as neglect or abuse, are common.
Although personality disorders may run in families, psychopathy is thought to have a higher genetic component.
Treatment for personality disorders usually involves a course of psychological therapy.