The same way the human body grows, so does the mind evolve. One of the earliest theories that explains this, is the concept of the Personality Structure – the Id, the Ego, and the Superego. Anybody remember the block-buster of an animation that came out last year, “Inside Out”? The one where humans had tiny people in their heads to represent the varying emotions they experienced – joy, sadness, anger, disgust, and fear. Well, let’s picture that only with just three characters. According to Australian Psychologist, Sigmund Freud (also known as the Father of Psychology), these three little people, in our how we perceive situations, make decisions for us and generally make up our personality as humans.
The Id is animalistic in nature, it is ignorant and irrational. The Id is after one thing – PLEASURE. It is primitive and instinctive, just like kids. Having that free will to do what they want, without a care in the world. Sort of the same way kids are not born potty trained. According to Freud, the id is the first personality structure that builds up in humans, it develops from birth. The id isn’t enduring at all, it expresses whatever it’s feeling at that exact moment in the most irrational way. If the id wants to use the toilet, it just goes, immediately, right there, at that exact moment. More often than not, it operates within the unconscious part of the mind. While the Id is not solely peculiar to kids, it just represents that spontaneity and child-like thought pattern.
As the individual grows, the next personality structure develops – The Ego. The Ego is in charge of rationalisation. It blocks or delays the expression of the id until it is ideal. It is the organized part of the personality structure that includes defensive, perceptual, intellectual-cognitive, and executive functions. While the Ego is not so rigid, it also wants part of what the Id wants – only with a little restraint. Freud explains that the ego is ‘that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world’. The Ego realises the need for compromise and negotiates between the Id and the Superego. It is the mediator between the id and the Super Ego.
The Super Ego is the final personality structure proposed by Freud. The Super Ego places demands based on ideals & societal values. The super ego has two parts; The Conscience and the Ego ideal. The Conscience deals with morals, while the Ego Ideal is a person’s internal view of perfection which the person strives to become. The super-ego aims for perfection and prohibits spontaneous actions, irrational behaviours, fantasies, and basically fills the mind with guilt.
An example of how the structures work is, say a person is hungry, all the id wants is for the person to eat anything at all to quench the hunger, the Ego delays the expression of the id and stops the id from making the person eat just anything (like grass) then the Super Ego further delays the expression by placing certain demands like nutritional value etc. Now, there’s a myriad of ways to look at these guys. Following our little analogy from before, we can picture these personalities as three people. The spontaneous, the cautious, and the uptight. The fantasy minded, the cynic, and the reality conscious. The good, the bad, and the ugly? Not quite.
So while we might have been able to paint our characters as the infants, youths, and oldies; the reality is that none of these characters are independent from the others. In other words, they never really go away and one or more are just dominant to the others. Being more flexible and child-like is great advice if you have been stuck up your whole life, but that could get irrational and plain stupid in a minute. In a similar realm, if you have been playful your whole life, you might want to think about your actions before you do them or you’ll eject the earth right from under you. You get the point.
In analysing people, understanding these concepts go a long way in knowing the true nature of people. Since the Id is highly ignorant and instinctual, it can be highly misconstrued as being evil. Like how a child throws tantrums or breaks valuables on purpose. The superego, being restrained, is also misconstrued as being moral since it has all the restraint in the world.
Also in analysing people, it can be used to understand why Africans are not as risk taking and adventurous as whites. Bungee jumping and sky diving are not essentially African activities as Africans tend to be more cautious. So maybe we could say the whites got a little more Id and the Africans got a little extra superego, no? Regardless, this is how we can use the concepts of the Id, the Ego, and the Superego to sort of read people and their social behavioural patterns.
When analysing ourselves, we might need to consciously float from the unconscious id, to the subconscious and slightly conscious Ego, and the overtly restrained and very conscious super ego. While there is no direct disadvantage of the Ego in this context because of how it sort of strikes a balance between two extremities, having a little bit of all three wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Even though his theory has been argued with over time, understanding these would help us create who we are as consciously as we do unconsciously.