An Introduction to Freuds Personality Theory

Sigmund Freud is one of the most celebrated psychoanalysts of all time. His personality theory delved into the unconscious and produced revolutionary ideas that changed psychology forever. His work appears in scholarly research into modern times and contains a multi-faceted approach.

A major component of Freud’s personality theory is the presence of the id, ego and superego. He theorized that these were the building blocks of personality, combining to drive complex human behaviors.

At birth, the part of personality that is seen is the id. This can be represented by the words “I want.” The id is all about instant gratification. A baby wants something and immediately tries to get it. It may be food, his mommy or a toy. When this is not achieved, they become anxious, tense and frustrated. Infants will express this by crying, which will hopefully help them secure what it is that they want.

Of course, one cannot always satisfy every need or want immediately. An adult propelled by only the id would not fare well in society. Freud surmised that the id used the “primary process” to try to resolve the tension by creating a mental image of what they want. The id will remain as the new components of personality develop.

The ego is the component of personality that looks at the reality of the situation. It comes from the id and help to regulate to so that the needs and wants combine in a harmonious manner with reality. This is called the reality principle.

The ego tries to fulfill the wants, desires and needs of the ego, but in a way that is socially acceptable and fits in with the realities of the world and what is available. Oftentimes this is just a delay. For instance, if the id knows that you are hungry, the ego may know that you will be able to eat in fifteen minutes when the food is done cooking. The ego makes use of the secondary process to relax tension caused when the id is not quickly satisfied. In this process, it finds something in the real world to match the mental image. The conscious, preconscious, and unconscious mind are all locations where the ego functions.

The superego develops last at about the age of five. This is the personality component that contains internalized moral standards and ideals. These may come from your parents or society. Basically it allows you to decide what is just and what is not fair.

Freud broke the superego into two separate parts. The ego ideal is for good behaviors. Authority figures will concur that these are the right choices. If you follow these you will feel value, pride and accomplishment. “Bad” is considered by the conscience. These are forbidden and will be met with punishments or guilt.

These three components do not work independently. They interact, and this combination ranges greatly from individual to individual. If a person has good ego strength then the ego can function well even with contradicting feelings put forth by the different components. A healthy personality relies on a good balance of these components.

In Freud’s personality theory, much of what occurs in personality is not at the conscious level. He believed that many things occurred under this level. The superego and ego were considered to be both conscious and unconscious, but the id is only unconscious.

Defense mechanisms were another facet of Freud’s personality theory.  This term refers to unconscious strategies used to distort reality. The ego does this to protect the individual from anxiety from conflicts. Freud believed that repression was the most common of defense mechanisms, working by pushing id impulse that were unacceptable and could not be reasonably fulfilled to the unconscious. Other defense mechanisms stemmed from this one.

Freud’s theory also discussed libidinal and aggressive energies as related to personality. These are from the drives for sex and self-preservation (Eros) and death (Thanatos). Fixations during the beginning of life could affect a child’s personality for life.

Freud’s personality theory is a fascinating one. His research paved the way for modern psychology today.