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Theories of Personality by Freud

Sigmund Freud is one of the early contributors to psychoanalysis. Freud perceived personality structure in terms of the interactions of the id, the ego, and the superego. According to Freud, personality arises from our effort to resolve the conflict existing between our biological impulses and the social restraint against them. He came up with the theory that, the conflict revolves around; the id, which operates on the pleasure principle, the ego, which functions on the reality principle, and the superego, which is the internalized set of ideals (Slee, 2002). Furthermore, Sigmund theorized that consciousness is in three forms thus; the conscious, which is the part of the mind that is aware and composed of thoughts and actions, the unconscious, which is repressed memories that we cannot recall but directly influence our actions and, the pre-conscious, those memories that can be brought to mind when one chooses to. To Fraud, much of the personality is unconscious and cannot be called to consciousness on demand. In addition, we are driven by many wishes, beliefs, conflicts, fears, and memories which we are not aware of. Moreover, nothing in the psych happens by chance, and that all mental behavior is determined by a prior cause (Ewen, 1992). This essay will therefore discuss in detail Freud’s view of personality structure.

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Freud believed that personality is made up of three components: The id, the ego, and the superego. To start with, the id comes first, it is usually present at birth and operates on the pleasure principle. This principle can simply be stated as; “Get as much pleasure as possible, and as soon as possible regardless of anyone or anything else in the world”. Psychoanalysis paints a picture of a newborn baby as being all id. A newborn baby only seeks to satisfy his needs for food, warmth, drink, freedom from skin irritation, elimination of waste, and affection. The newborns are not aware of the conditions and the world but are only aware of discomfort or pain which is a signal of its needs that need attention. Throughout one’s life, the Id will tend to pressurize one to seek pleasure even when it is inappropriate. Furthermore, when the Id is not satisfied, aggressive behavior may begin to show (Slee, 2002).

The ego is part of the id that is developed by the influence of the world through conscious perception. Its gradual development is a result of the borrowed energy from the Id that is directed towards external reality. In simple terms, the ego is the executive of the personality. It is therefore that part of us that carries out; planning, decision making, and rational thinking. It is through the ego that, we distinguish between a wish and a reality and is therefore governed by the reality principle. What this means is that the ego recognizes the conditions and demands of the real world and seeks to find ways of satisfying the needs of the id in an acceptable way (Roeckelein, 1998).

The superego according to Freud is the moral branch of personality and therefore sets the ideal standards. The superego considers if something is right or wrong. To him, morality refers to the act of getting pleasure in such a way that, punishment and pain are avoided. Moral values are adopted from the environment and acquired through parents, society, and religion. In some cases, the influence of the superego is healthy in that, it gives a guide to one’s moral development. However in other cases, it can be rigid and punitive (Slee, 2002).

Freud argues that, when the superego imposes strong restrictions, there is bound to be a conflict since the Id will still be operating on the pleasure principle. Whenever there is a conflict between the demands of the id and the restriction imposed by the superego, the ego intervenes and manages the anxiety brought about by the conflict. At times the conflict is easily resolved but in some, the ego is forced to use other defense mechanisms like using psychological energy to keep the disturbing Id urges out of awareness (Roeckelein, 1998).

To sum it up, Freud likens personality to an iceberg because the better part of personality exists below our level of awareness. Therefore when we are analyzing people’s conscious thoughts about their behavior, reflections of the ego and the superego are seen as partly conscious and partly unconscious and the Id is primitive.


Ewen, R. (1992). An Introduction to Theories of Personality. Philadelphia: Psychology Press.

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Roeckelein, J. (1998). Dictionaries of Theories, Laws, and Concepts in Psychology. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Slee, P. (2002). Child, Adolescent, and Family Development. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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