There are many theories regarding Ego and its role in human behavior. In studying defense mechanisms and identification, in particular, it is imperative to understand the observations and theories of Sigmund Freud as his Psychoanalytical approach remains influential in the field of Psychology.
Many of Sigmund Freud’s theories have shaped psychological understanding of human personality in nearly every aspect. In fact, he created a three part model of the adult mind: the id, the ego, and the superego. To comprehend defense mechanisms, his three part model should be clearly understood.
The id can be viewed as primal. It is instinctual; comprised of hunger, sex, and aggression. The id seeks immediate gratification and avoids anxiety. The id operates without our awareness-it is deep in the subconscious.The superego operates largely in the unconscious and is responsible for the conscience, values, and discernment between good and bad. The ego is like a mediator. It is the consciousness that regulates the id’s “Do it now”, and the superego’s “Never do it; that is bad!” (Derlega, Winstead, & Jones, 2005)
The Ego is responsible for developing solutions to satisfy the id’s primal nature to be socially acceptable. The ego is also charged with the irrational superego that longs for unrealistic ideals and encompasses the inhibitory function. (King, Viney, & Woody, 2009) While acting as the governor of the brain, the Ego faces yet another task: Anxiety.
Freud noted that anxieties are produced by different sources of pain and suffering. He lists three types of anxieties that the Ego faces and defends against: Objective Anxiety, Neurotic Anxiety, and Moral Anxiety.
Objective anxiety occurs from internal or external threats to our well being. This type of anxiety is unavoidable. It is a healthy and needed form of anxiety-only if the ego is stronger than the perceived power of the threat. This type of anxiety forces people to be strong and/or adapt.
Neurotic Anxiety occurs from one’s own personality. Since the perceived threat comes from within, this anxiety is not adaptive or healthy. Neurotic Anxiety takes place when the ego is overthrown by the id. There usually seems to be no noticeable cause. The sufferer may experience panic attacks and feel a sense of doom.
Last, Freud elaborates on Moral anxiety. The root of this anxiety is attributed to caregivers and the outside world but arises from the personality. It results from the superego overthrowing the ego. Moral anxiety is revealed when one feels extreme guilt over violations of internal values.
With the overwhelming tasks and battles of the ego, it is expected that the Ego develops a defense mechanism with an objective to defeat pain and suffering. There are healthy and unhealthy defense mechanisms the ego uses to cope.
Defense Mechanisms are invoked when and individual gains control over the impulses supplied by the id or superego. Because each part of Freud’s model tries to reject anxiety, an individual’s character structure is evidence of these defense mechanisms. Freud’s daughter, modeled four types of defense mechanisms. Within the major defense mechanisms noted, there are also additional defensive strategies that the ego could enact. One of these defenses is “Identification”.
Identification, according to A History Of Psychology, Ideas and contexts, is defined as “a defense mechanism of the ego marked by imitation of another person. The ego attempts to borrow from the success or adequacy of another individual”.(King, Viney, Woody p.87, 2009) An individual may try to conceal their perceived weaknesses and adopt the tendencies of another in a superior position to alleviate self-worthlessness. An example of this is the phenomenon of prisoners adopting the attitudes and beliefs of their captors. (Hoeksema, 2008)
Delusions can result in cases of extreme psychopathology. (King, Viney, & Woody, 2009) Identification may transcend into grandiose delusions, in which an individual believes that they are actually the role model that the ego attempted to borrow from. Delusions are usually associated with one or more psychotic/personality disorders.
Derlega, V, Winstead, B, & Jones, W. (2005). Personality: Contemporary Theory and Research, Third Edition. CA: Wadsworth.
King, B, Viney, W,& Woody, W. (2009) A History of Psychology: Ideas and Context. MA: Pearson Education
Nolen-Hoeksema, S (2008) Abnormal Psycholog. NY: McGraw-Hill