Sigmund Freud, a famous psychologist back in the day (1856-1939, to be more exact), was a revolutionary. He developed several psychological theories, including the theory of the unconscious mind, psychosexual development and numerous complexes. In all of his theories, one that I find to be particularly interesting is his psychoanalytic theory of personality.
In this theory, Freud states that there exist three components of the personality: the id, ego, and superego.
The id is the most primal part of the personality; in fact, it’s the part we’re born with. It’s entirely unconscious and represents our most basic desires: food, drink, sex, and any other basic need that brings about happiness. In fact, the id is fueled by the pleasure principle. In other words, the id will try to get instant gratification of its needs, wants, and desires. Of course, the pleasure principle isn’t always practical, so what humans do is form a mental image of their desires to satisfy themselves.
The id is originally formed to ensure that we get our basic natal needs met. It’s the reason why children cry when they’re hungry or tired. In fact, when you’re a newborn, you care naught for anything other than your own satisfaction. This is also due to the influence of the id and the absence of the ego.
The ego is what grounds you. It’s first developed at around the ages of two to four. It helps you to satisfy your desires in a socially acceptable manner. It operates on the reality principle, as opposed to the pleasure principle.
Imagine that you’re in your school’s cafeteria, and you see a really good-looking pie a few tables over. Your stomach’s grumbling because you forgot your lunch money at home, and that dessert is getting more attractive by the second. A way of dealing with the situation using the pleasure principle would be to walk over to the table and snatch up the pie. What’s the matter with this? It’s barbaric. A way to handle the situation using the reality principle would be to walk over and politely ask for a slice.
A function of the ego is also to weigh actions with consequences and decide on appropriate behavior. Using the same example, your ego would examine the options and choose the best route depending on the circumstances. Remember, the ego often uses the process of delayed gratification, and convinces the id to go along with it if it receives pleasure later. Maybe you can get your pie later.
One difference between the id and ego is that the ego will use the secondary principle to relieve tension caused by unmet impulses. Basically, the ego will try and find an object in the real world that matches the id’s expectations.
The superego is the final component of the personality. It’s comprised of morals and standards that you develop from your parents and society. It first emerges at about age five, and continues to help make judgments. There are two components of the superego: the ego ideal and the conscience.
The ego ideal contains information about good behaviors. It also contains the knowledge that doing these activities will result in pride, accomplishment, and praise. So, then, why does everyone have different views on what’s right and what’s wrong? Simple. Your ideas of right and wrong are passed down from parents and society. For example, a child of liberal parents will have very different values from someone of conservative parents.
The conscience is the opposite: it actually details information about bad behaviors, and reminds us that with them come punishments: guilt, remorse, and consequences. Our concepts of bad behavior are also ruled by our influences.
The superego’s purpose, essentially, is to civilize our behavior. It keeps control of the id’s unreasonable urges and makes sure that the ego’s urges aren’t only realistic, but also idealistic. In other words, it’s our moral compass.
So why don’t we go insane? With three completely different forces in our brains, it’s easy to see why it would get hard to function. Freud detailed a concept called ego strength that referred to the personality's ability to stay sane despite the imposing forces of the id, ego, and superego. He also claimed that the key to a healthy personality was a balance between the three, which is a free-floating ego not overshadowed by the superego, but still powerful enough to dominate the id.
If you have an over-dominant superego, you’ll look out on the world in a rigid, unbending way that sticks to your own morals.
With an over-dominant id, impulses and gratification take over your mind.