Psychoanalytic theory suggests that behavior is largely determined by irrational forces, unconscious motivations, and biological, or instinctual, drives (Bush, 1978). Humans are conceptualized largely in terms of biology, and maladaptive behaviors are symptomatic of a subconscious response to social interactions that the mind interprets as unsafe, thereby threatening the stability of the human personality structure. The mind interprets social interactions within a framework shaped largely by early life experiences, and subsequent functioning is dependent on humans' capacity to cope healthfully on a subconscious level (Mitrani, 1993).
Id, Ego, and Superego
One of the most well-known constructs of psychoanalytic theory is that of an interactive system comprising the human personality. The instinctual and biological drives of the psyche are referred to as the id; the critical, moralizing function is the superego; and the organized, realistic part that mediates and seeks a balance between the former two is known as the ego (Lampl-De Groot, 1947). The id, the ego, and the superego are used to describe the structural model of the personality that drives and guides one's functions and behavior. This concept is also the foundation for many other major constructs in psychoanalysis.
The id comprises the unorganized part of the personality structure that contains the basic drives, and it is the only component of personality that is present from birth. This aspect of personality is entirely unconscious and includes the individual's instinctive drives and primitive behaviors. According to Freud, the id is the source of all psychic energy, making it the primary component of personality. The id functions on the pleasure principle, which emphasizes wants and desires and instant self-gratification, and if not satisfied immediately, the result is a state of anxiety or tension (Lampl-De Groot, 1947). For example, should an infant be hungry or uncomfortable, he or she will cry until the demands of the id are met.
The superego, which strives to act in a moral, socially appropriate manner, directly contradicts the id, which demands instant self-gratification. The superego works to suppress the urges of the id and strives for morality, regardless of contextual circumstances. This component of personality consists of one's internalized ideals, morals, and ethics acquired from one's parents and from society (Gabbard, 2000). This helps a person fit into society by encouraging him or her to act in socially acceptable ways, and it constantly works to perfect and civilize the person's behavior. The superego is present in the conscious, pre- conscious, and unconscious. This is the last component of personality to develop, emerging around age 5.
There are two parts to the superego: The first is the ego-ideal, which includes the rules and standards for good behaviors. These behaviors include those that are approved of by parental and other authority figures. Obeying these rules leads to feelings of pride, value, and accomplishment. The second part is the conscience, which includes information about things that are viewed as bad by parents and society. These behaviors are often forbidden and lead to bad consequences, punishments, or feelings of guilt and remorse (Gabbard, 2000).
The ego is the largely unconscious part of personality that mediates the demands of the id and the superego. The ego prevents individuals from acting on their basic urges (created by the id) but also works to achieve a balance with their moral and idealistic standards (created by the superego). The ego is the component of personality that is responsible for helping an individual cope with reality. According to Freud, the ego develops from the id and ensures that the impulses of the id can be expressed in a manner acceptable in the real world. Like the superego, the ego functions in the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious mind. The ego functions on the reality principle, which strives to satisfy the id's desires in realistic and socially appropriate ways (Weissman, 1969). The reality principle weighs the costs and benefits of an action before deciding to act on or abandon impulses. In many cases, the id's impulses can be satisfied through a process of delayed gratification, in which the ego will eventually allow the behavior, but only in the appropriate time and place.