Individual Differences


Structure of Mind:
Freud's Id, Ego, & Superego

Last updated:
28 Jul 2004


Freud came to see personality as having three aspects, which work together to produce all of our complex behaviours: the Id, the Ego and the Superego.  All 3 components need to be well-balanced in order to have good amount of psychological energy available and to have reasonable mental health.

However, the Ego has a difficult time dealing with the competing demands of the Superego and the Id.  According to the psychoanalytic view, this psychological conflict is an intrinsic and pervasive part of human experience.  The conflict between the Id and Superego, negotiated by the Ego, is one of the fundamental psychological battles all people face.  The way in which a person characteristically resolves the instant gratification vs. longer-term reward dilemma in many ways comes to reflect on their "character".

THE ID (“It”): functions in the irrational and emotional part of the mind. At birth a baby’s mind is all Id - want want want.  The Id is the primitive mind. It contains all the basic needs and feelings. It is the source for libido (psychic energy). And it has only one rule --> the “pleasure principle”: “I want it and I want it all now”.  In transactional analysis, Id equates to "Child". 

Id too strong = bound up in self-gratification and uncaring to others

THE EGO: (“I”): functions with the rational part of the mind. The Ego develops out of growing awareness that you can’t always get what you want. The Ego relates to the real world and operates via the “reality principle”.  The Ego realises the need for compromise and negotiates between the Id and the Superego.  The Ego's job is to get the Id's pleasures but to be reasonable and bear the long-term consequences in mind.  The Ego denies both instant gratification and pious delaying of gratification.  The term ego-strength is the term used to refer to how well the ego copes with these conflicting forces.  To undertake its work of planning,  thinking and controlling the Id, the Ego uses some of the Id's libidinal energy.  In transactional analysis, Ego equates to "Adult". 

Ego too strong = extremely rational and efficient, but cold, boring and distant

THE SUPEREGO (“Over-I”): The Superego is the last part of the mind to develop.  It might be called the moral part of the mind. The Superego becomes an embodiment of parental and societal values. It stores and enforces rules. It constantly strives for perfection, even though this perfection ideal may be quite far from reality or possibility.  Its power to enforce rules comes from its ability to create anxiety.

The Superego has two subsystems: Ego Ideal and Conscience. The Ego Ideal provides rules for good behaviour, and standards of excellence towards which the Ego must strive. The Ego ideal is basically what the child’s parents approve of or value. The Conscience is the rules about what constitutes bad behaviour. The Conscience is basically all those things that the child feels mum or dad will disapprove of or punish.

Superego too strong = feels guilty all the time, may even have an insufferably saintly personality

The Id, Ego, Superego structure of mind complements Freud’s structural or topographical ("iceberg") model of the unconscious, pre-conscious, & conscious (see below).  Note that the Ego and Superego play roles in each of the three levels of consciousness, but the Id is entirely played out in the Unconscious.

Freud's Structure of the Mind

Related link: Freud's Division of Mind