Freud began his professional career as a neurologist working with mentally ill patients. It was from his observations and studies of individuals with mental health problems that psychoanalysis was born. Many of his findings relied heavily on evidence obtained from people with emotional problems, rather than members of the population who could be considered emotionally well balanced and healthy. Despite this, Freud's work helped psychologists understand how human beings on a universal level function, and operate mentally.
There are three basic concepts which Freud identified as main players in the way humans behave and think. These he labelled the id, ego and superego.
The id is associated with primitive urges and a lack of moral consciousness. Freud's personality theory suggests that it's the id which is at the heart of pleasure seeking and selfish acts. As the id relies on basic instinctual drives, and can't tell what’s right from wrong, it propels people to fulfil their needs.
Babies display prime id related behaviour, when they scream and cry until they get what they need in order to survive. Adults are also driven by their id, but have the benefit of an ego and superego to prevent them from behaving in morally unacceptable ways and help them integrate with society.
The ego, unlike the id, lives in human consciousness. While the id is buried in the human unconscious, the ego understands reality, and helps people to make decisions and behave reasonably. The main job of the ego is to control the id, and stop it from making people behave badly. People still need their id so that they consider their basic needs, such as eating and drinking, but it's necessary for their ego to keep it under control.
The superego is in charge of personal morality. It pops up and reminds people about what's correct behaviour or not, and prevents them from carrying out actions they may feel guilty about. The superego gives people the ability to conform and behave in a moral fashion.
Defence mechanisms act by helping people push experiences and feelings which are painful back down into their subconscious, where they're less likely to damage them. Freud identified seven defence mechanisms, all of which play a unique part in protecting, what Freud believed, was the fragility of the human mind and consciousness.
Children are great at denial, but adults practice the art also, when they can't handle reality. Thus a bereaved individual may still make breakfast for their spouse who has just passed away, not because they have forgotten that their spouse is dead, but because dealing with reality and grief is too much for their consciousness to bear just yet.
Repression is similar to denial, in that an aspect of reality is shoved out of conscious view of an individual. Someone may repress an unpleasant experience, and so not feel it consciously in a complete manner, until they're ready to deal with it.
Projection occurs as the result of a person reflecting an aspect of themselves onto another person. Thus, someone who's highly critical, may not want to recognize this personality trait in themselves, as their superego tells them it's not moral to behave this way. They then repress the knowledge about themselves being critical, and project it onto someone else, leading them to inform another person that they see them being over zealous when it comes to criticism.
When people describe someone as having a large ego, they're usually referring to an individual who has identified themselves with someone else who has great attributes, and imagine that they share them. Thus a person with a big ego may imagine themselves to be especially attractive, rich or skilful.
People sometimes are described as living in a fantasy world when they've emotionally escaped from a reality they couldn't live with. Freud believed that fantasy protects people from harsh reality which can be painful.
People who rationalize are thought to do so because it gives them a reasonable excuse for failure, or explanation for a negative occurrence. Thus, someone who can't cope with the fact that they broke a favourite china cup belonging to their mother, may tell her that the cleaner placed it far too close to the edge of the table, and that's why it fell to the ground. Their thoughts on the subject seem highly logical, and so their theory will probably be accepted and the underlying cause of the event overlooked.
# Reaction formation
A persons desires, which stem from their id, may be unacceptable according to their superego. This results in them being suppressed. However, if the primitive desires are very strong they may seek to rise back into consciousness. As they can't fully emerge conflict is experienced, thus they may behave in a reactive manner to their conflicting experience.
Freud's personality theory helps to explain why people behave as they do. It can also help individuals grow emotionally and learn more about themselves.