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quantumviewpointsFreud’s Structural and Topographical Models of Personality

According to Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory of Personality, personality is composed of three elements. These three elements of personality–known as the id, the ego and the superego–work together to create complex human behaviors.

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Sigmund Freud’s Theory is quite complex and although his writings on Psychosexual development set the groundwork for how our personalities developed, it was only one of part to his overall theory of personality. He also believed that different driving forces develop during these stages which play an important role in how we interact with the world.

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Structural Model (id, ego, superego)

The id is the only component of personality that is present from birth. This aspect of personality is entirely unconscious and includes of the instinctive and primitive behaviors. According to Freud, the id is the source of all psychic energy, making it the primary component of personality.

According to Freud, we are born with our Id.The id is an important part of our personality because as newborns, it allows us to get our basic needs met.

The id doesn’t care about reality, about the needs of anyone else, only its own satisfaction. 

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The id is driven by the pleasure principle, which strives for immediate gratification of all desires, wants, and needs. If these needs are not satisfied immediately, the result is a state anxiety or tension. For example, an increase in hunger or thirst should produce an immediate attempt to eat or drink. The id is very important early in life, because it ensures that an infant’s needs are met. If the infant is hungry or uncomfortable, he or she will cry until the demands of the id are met.

When the id wants something, nothing else is important.

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However, immediately satisfying these needs is not always realistic or even possible. If we were ruled entirely by the pleasure principle, we might find ourselves grabbing things we want out of other people’s hands to satisfy our own cravings. This sort of behavior would be both disruptive and socially unacceptable. According to Freud, the id tries to resolve the tension created by the pleasure principle through the primary process, which involves forming a mental image of the desired object as a way of satisfying the need.

 

Within the next three years, as the child interacts more and more with the world, the second part of the personality begins to develop. Freud called this part the Ego.

ego-structure

The ego is based on the reality principle. The ego understands that other people have needs and desires and that sometimes being impulsive or selfish can hurt us in the long run.  Its the ego’s job to meet the needs of the id, while taking into consideration the reality of the situation.  

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By the age of five, or the end of the phallic stage of development, the Superego develops.The Superego is the moral part of us and develops due to the moral and ethical restraints placed on us by our caregivers. Many equate the superego with the conscience as it dictates our belief of right and wrong.

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The ego is the component of personality that is responsible for dealing with reality. The ego also discharges tension created by unmet impulses through the secondary process, in which the ego tries to find an object in the real world that matches the mental image created by the id’s primary process.

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With so many competing forces, it is easy to see how conflict might arise between the id, ego and superego. Freud used the term ego strength to refer to the ego’s ability to function despite these dueling forces. A person with good ego strength is able to effectively manage these pressures, while those with too much or too little ego strength can become too unyielding or too disrupting.

In a healthy person, according to Freud, the ego is the strongest so that it can satisfy the needs of the id, not upset the superego, and still take into consideration the reality of every situation. Not an easy job by any means, but if the id gets too strong, impulses and self gratification take over the person’s life. If the superego becomes to strong, the person would be driven by rigid morals, would be judgmental and unbending in his or her interactions with the world.

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Topographical Model

Freud believed that the majority of what we experience in our lives, the underlying emotions, beliefs, feelings, and impulses are not available to us at a conscious level.  He believed that most of what drives us is buried in our unconscious.

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The Oedipus and Electra complex were both pushed down into the unconscious out of our awareness due to the extreme anxiety they caused. While buried there, however, they continue to impact us dramatically.

iceberg

The role of the unconscious is only one part of the model. Freud also believed that everything we are aware of is stored in our conscious

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Unfortunately, our conscious makes up a very small part of who we are. In other words, at any given time, we are only aware of a very small part of what makes up our personality; most of what we are is buried and inaccessible.

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The final part is the Preconscious or subconscious. This is the part of us that we can access if prompted, but is not in our active conscious. Its right below the surface, but still buried somewhat unless we search for it.  Information such as our telephone number, some childhood memories, or the name of your best childhood friend is stored in the preconscious.

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Because the unconscious is so large, and because we are only aware of the very small conscious at any given time, this theory has been likened to an iceberg, where the vast majority is buried beneath the water’s surface. The water, by the way, would represent everything that we are not aware of, have not experienced, and that has not been integrated into our personalities, referred to as the nonconscious.

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Ego Defense Mechanisms

We stated earlier that the ego’s job was to satisfy the id’s impulses, not offend the moralistic character of the superego, while still taking into consideration the reality of the situation.  We also stated that this was not an easy job. Think of the id as the ‘devil on your shoulder’ and the superego as the ‘angel of your shoulder.’ We don’t want either one to get too strong so we talk to both of them, hear their perspective and then make a decision. This decision is the ego talking, the one looking for that healthy balance.

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First we need to understand what drives the id, ego, and superego. According to Freud, we only have two drives; sex and aggression.  In other words, everything we do is motivated by one of these two drives.

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Sex, also called Eros or the Life force, represents our drive to live, prosper, and produce offspring.  Aggression, also called Thanatos or our Death force, represents our need to stay alive and stave off threats to our existence, our power, and our prosperity.

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The ego has a difficult time satisfying both the id and the superego, but it doesn’t have to do so without help. The ego has some tools it can use in its job as the mediator, tools that help defend the ego. These are called Ego Defense Mechanisms or Defenses.  When the ego has a difficult time making both the id and the superego happy, it will employ one or more of these defenses:

DEFENSE

DESCRIPTION

EXAMPLE

denial

arguing against an anxiety provoking stimuli by stating it doesn’t exist

denying that your physician’s diagnosis of cancer is correct and seeking a second opinion

displacement

taking out impulses on a less threatening target

slamming a door instead of hitting as person, yelling at your spouse after an argument with your boss

intellectualization

avoiding unacceptable emotions by focusing on the intellectual aspects

focusing on the details of a funeral as opposed to the sadness and grief

projection

placing unacceptable impulses in yourself onto someone else

when losing an argument, you state “You’re just Stupid;” homophobia

rationalization

supplying a logical or rational reason as opposed to the real reason

stating that you were fired because you didn’t kiss up the the boss, when the real reason was your poor performance

reaction formation

taking the opposite belief because the true belief causes anxiety

having a bias against a particular race or culture and then embracing that race or culture to the extreme

regression

returning to a previous stage of development

sitting in a corner and crying after hearing bad news; throwing a temper tantrum when you don’t get your way

repression

pulling into the unconscious

forgetting sexual abuse from your childhood due to the trauma and anxiety

sublimation

acting out unacceptable impulses in a socially acceptable way

sublimating your aggressive impulses toward a career as a boxer; becoming a surgeon because of your desire to cut; lifting weights to release ‘pent up’ energy

suppression

pushing into the unconscious

trying to forget something that causes you anxiety

Ego defenses are not necessarily unhealthy as you can see by the examples above.  In fact, the lack of these defenses, or the inability to use them effectively can often lead to problems in life.  However, we sometimes employ the defenses at the wrong time or overuse them, which can be equally destructive.

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Resources:

Psychosexual development

Freud’s 5 Stages of Psychosexual Development

Erikson’s Psychosocial Development

Ethics and Morality

KOHLBERG’S THEORY OF MORAL DEVELOPMENT

 

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