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Freud's Theory of Personality

By: Elizabeth Grace - Updated: 24 Jan 2013 | comments*Discuss
Freud's Theory Of Personality

Those vaguely familiar with Freud's theories would say that he believed all aspects of personality development are somehow related to sex. Those who are well-studied about Freud would likely agree. Freud's theory of developmental phases works in tandem with his belief that several driving forces also develop during those same years. Together these developments will determine a person's adult personality and explain how they are either able to interact with the world in a healthy manner or will have ongoing difficulties.

The Id
Freud believed that the Id, present at birth, is what allows us to see that our basic needs are met, and he further believed that the Id is based on the "pleasure principle." Simply put the Id wants (demands) whatever feels good at the time with no regard to anything or anyone else. Babies display their Id well, crying out when they are hungry, wet, soiled, uncomfortable, or simply in need of attention. Typically, they will continue to express their discontent until their desires are satisfied. They don't consider whether or not it's a convenient time for mum and dad to feed, change, or cuddle them -- they simply focus on what they want.

The Ego
Within three years, children begin to develop a part of the personality that Freud called the Ego. Unlike the Id, the Ego is based on the "reality principle," meaning that the Ego understands the reality of the circumstances. Because of this expansion of their viewpoints, children of three can understand that impulsiveness and self-centred behaviours often have unpleasant consequences. The Ego's job is to see that the Id's needs are met while being realistic about the manner in which these needs are tended.

The Superego
According to Freud, the Superego develops by the age of five, completing the basic three factors determining a balanced personality. The Superego is what some people would call the conscience, since it helps to dictate our sense of right and wrong. Moral and ethical lessons taught by our parents and other caregivers really take hold at this age, with children being able to internalise the messages, making them a part of the long term personality.

Finding Healthy Balance
In emotionally healthy people, Freud saw the Ego as the strongest component, able to satisfy the needs of the Id while operating within the parameters of the Superego. A good balance provides a "comfortable" personality in people, making them able to meet their own needs without taking advantage of others in the process.

Of course, not all people fall into this pleasant, medium ground, as Freud acknowledged. He felt that if the Id was unnaturally strong and in control, a person would be impulsive and focused excessively on themselves and their own desires. Alternately, if the Superego were to be too strong, a person could be inclined to have such rigid morals that they would be harshly judgmental and inflexible, making their interactions with the world quite difficult.

What Drives Us?
According to Freud, the Id, Ego, and Superego are driven by two basic forces: sex and aggression. He believed that all of our actions are motivated by one of these drives. Sex, also referred to as Eros or the Life Force, represents our need to live and reproduce, while aggression (also called Thanatos or the Death Force) is representative of our need to protect our lives, power, and wealth. In other words, we must be able to manage our lives to look out for ourselves, find mates, reproduce, build wealth, and protect what is ours while working with the personality traits that our Id, Ego, and Superego allow us.

Defence Mechanisms
Our Ego, if you believe Freud's hypothesis, has a fairly complicated task before it. In order to live happy and successful lives, we have to find ways to keep everything in balance, seek out things that we need, and take the needs of our loved ones into consideration, all while dealing with the very real stresses and complications of daily life. Freud believed that we are able to manage because our Egos can employ Ego Defence Mechanisms (Defences) when necessary. As long as these defence mechanisms are not used at inappropriate times or overused, they can be quite helpful.

  • Denial: Pretending that an anxiety provoking problem doesn't exist.
  • Displacement: Redirecting anger or aggression on less threatening targets.
  • Intellectualisation: Avoiding unpleasant emotions by focusing on the facts of the situation.
  • Projection: Placing the traits that you find unacceptable in yourself onto someone else.
  • Rationalisation: Inventing a seemingly reasonable explanation rather than owning up to the truth.
  • Reaction Formation: Pretending to have beliefs in opposition to your true opinions because it is less stressful.
  • Regression: Returning to an earlier developmental stage.
  • Repression: Keeping anxiety provoking thoughts at an unconscious level, rather than facing them.
  • Sublimation: Acting out undesirable impulses in a socially acceptable way.
  • Suppression: Purposefully pushing anxiety provoking thoughts or memories into the unconscious.

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