Psychoanalysis of the total personality

By Suhani Khandelwal

Published 4:45 PM EST, Sun July 11, 2021


Psychoanalytic theories explain human behavior in terms of the interaction of various components of personality. Sigmund Freud was the founder of this theory. While Freud’s ideas have often been critiqued and labeled unscientific, his work continues to be highly influential in the field of psychology even today.


The ID develops at birth and forms the primary and unconscious component of the personality. It controls the most primitive and instinctive behaviour of a person; thereby, requiring instant gratification. The id is essential early in life because it ensures that an infant’s needs are met. If the infant is hungry or uncomfortable, they will cry until the demands of the id are satisfied. Young infants are ruled entirely by the id, there is no reasoning with them when these needs demand satisfaction.

The Id, therefore, is also the source of bodily needs and wants, unconscious instincts, emotional impulses and desires, especially aggression and the libido (sex drive).

The Id also works on something called the pleasure principle. The pleasure principle is a term originally used by Sigmund Freud to define the tendency of people to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

In his book, Beyond the Pleasure Principle in 1920, Freud concluded that all instincts fall into one of two major classes: life instincts or death instincts. While we tend to think of life instincts in terms of sexual reproduction, these drives also include such things as thirst, hunger, and pain avoidance. The energy created by the life instincts is known as libido. Death instinct is generally channelled by people outwards in the form of aggression or violence. However, sometimes these instincts towards destruction can be directed inwards, however, which can result in self-harm or suicide.

Although people eventually learn to control the id, this part of personality remains the same infantile, primal force throughout life. It is only due to the development of the ego and the superego that people are able to control the id’s basic instincts and act in ways that are both realistic and socially acceptable.


The ego develops around the age of 3. Although it is majorly conscious, it has preconscious and unconscious life to it as well. The ego is an adjustment of the id that develops as a result of the direct influence of the external world. It is the “executive” of the personality as it is responsible for regulating libidinal drive energies so that satisfaction aligns with the demands of reality. It is the epitome of reason, reality-testing, and common sense, and has at its command a range of defensive devices that can repel, repress, or transform the expression of unrealistic or forbidden drive energies. 

The Id and the superego, which is explained later in the article are two very extreme parts of our personality seeking either pleasure or morality, both very contradictory fulfilments that must be met in the middle. In this way, the ego acts as a referee. 

The ego operates based on the reality principle, which strives to satisfy the id’s desires in realistic and socially appropriate ways. The reality principle weighs the ‘pros and cons’ of an action before deciding to act upon or reject impulses. The ego may do this by delaying gratification, compromising, or anything else that will avoid the undesirable consequences of going against society’s norms and rules.

However, like the id, the ego too is interested in seeking pleasure, it just wants to do so in a realistic way. It’s not entirely interested in right and wrong, but in how to maximize pleasure and minimize pain without getting into trouble.

While the ego has a tough job to do, it does not have to act alone. Anxiety also plays a role in helping the ego mediate between the demands of the basic urges, moral values, and the real world. When you experience different types of anxiety, defense mechanisms may kick in to help defend the ego and reduce the anxiety.


The superego is present in the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious state and develops at around 5 years of age.

It originates in the process of overcoming the Oedipus complex which is, in psychoanalytic theory, a desire for sexual involvement with the parent of the opposite sex and a consequent sense of rivalry with the parent of the same sex; a crucial stage in the normal developmental process. Sigmund Freud introduced this concept in his book, Interpretation of Dreams (1899).

Like the Id with the pleasure principle and the ego with the reality principle, the superego works on the morality principle. It holds the adopted moral standards and ideals that we acquire from our parents and society; our sense of right and wrong.

The superego is the ethical component of the personality and provides the moral standards by which the ego operates.

Superego has two parts

a) Ego Ideal (idealised self image)- Positive obligations. Like volunteer work or smiling or being polite. It includes the rules and standards of good behavior one should adhere to. If one is successful in doing so, it leads to a mental state of pride. However, if the standards of the ego ideal are too high, the person will feel like a failure and experience guilt.

b) Conscience- The consciousness is that part of the superego that prohibits unacceptable behaviors and punishes through feelings of guilt when a person does something they shouldn’t.


As Freud proposed in The Ego and the Id, three agencies of the mind fight for supremacy: the ego strives for dominance over both id and superego, an ongoing and often worthless task in the face of the id’s wild passions and demands for satisfaction, on the one hand, and the superego’s crushing demands for submission to its dictates, on the other. The work of psychoanalysis was “to strengthen the ego”; as Freud famously put it 10 years later, “where id was, there ego shall be.”

Freud’s text also supports a conceptualization of the ego as an experienced sense of self. In it, Freud had fascinatingly referred to the ego as “first and foremost a body-ego,” explaining that it “is ultimately derived from bodily sensations.”

In conclusion, the id, ego and superego are not three separate entities with clearly defined boundaries. These aspects are dynamic and continuously interacting in order to influence an individual’s whole personality and behavior.

Suhani Khandelwal, Youth Medical Journal 2021