Id, Ego, & Superego


In the early 1920s, Freud posited that personality is composed of three separate components: id, ego, and superego (Friedman & Schustack, 2012).  The id was characterized as the unsocialized, instinctual part of personality driven primarily by the pleasure principle, perpetually seeking to fulfill basic drives and impulses.  The superego was characterized as the internalized, socialized, moral, ethical part of personality developed in response to cultural and social norms, internalized to guide behavior towards an ideal (Trevithick, 2011).  The id and superego often function unconsciously, with incomplete awareness of the individual.  The ego, however, was characterized as the conscious decision-making aspect of personality, the mediator between the id and the superego.  The ego is driven by the reality principle focusing on actual possibilities and/or problems, often finding balance between instant self-gratification and delayed satisfaction, selfishness and selflessness.

Freud’s perspective regarding the id, ego, and superego has had long reaching influence in psychology.  Psychotherapy continues to utilize tools such as free association to allow patients opportunity to reveal unconscious desires, patterns, feelings, or ideas they may not be consciously aware are negatively influencing their day-to-day functioning.  In addition, Freud’s conceptions of defensive mechanisms arising out of struggles between unconscious and conscious mechanisms to protect the mind are referred to and utilized in both social work and psychotherapy treatments (Trevithick, 2011).  Such defense mechanisms include, but are not limited to denial, repression, sublimation, anxiety, resistance, and projection (Friedman & Schustack, 2012; Trevithick, 2011).  Identification of the unconscious or conscious mechanism at work is significantly important in treating individuals seeking help.

Freud’s influence has had long-reaching influence within social cognition as well.  Unconscious influences on feelings and behavior, attitude formation, judgment, and decision-making represent huge research lines of inquiry within psychology.  One particular theory, which reminds me of the id, ego, and superego concept, is self-discrepancy theory.  According to self-discrepancy theory, we maintain three domains of self: actual self, ideal self, and ought self.  The actual self represents traits we actually possess, the ideal self represents traits we would like to possess, and the ought self represents traits others believe we should possess (Higgins, 1987).  Inconsistency between our behaviors and our perceptions of self results in negative psychological discomfort, creating negative outcomes such as anxiety, depression, or anger.



Friedman, H. S., & Schustack, M. W. (2012).  Personality: Classic theories and modern research (5th ed.).  Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Higgins, E. T. (1987).  Self-discrepancy: A theory relating self and affect.  Psychological Review, 94(3), 319-340.  Retrieved from

Trevithick, P. (2011).  Understanding defences and defensiveness in social work.  Journal of Social Work Practice: Psychotherapeutic approaches in health, welfare and the community, 25(4), 389-412.


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