Sigmund Freud's Theories

Sigmund Freud's theories on the elements that compose an individual's personality.

In the early 1900s, Sigmund Freud developed the psychodynamic view of human behavior. This model relies on the premise that human behavior is brought about by inner forces over which the individual has little control. Dreams and slips of the tongue are clues to what the individual is really thinking.

We may have one point in our lives been caught speaking a Freudian slip, or slip of the tongue. For example we may have intentions of saying to a member of the opposite sex: "I believe we have not been properly introduced yet." Instead, we might accidentally say: "I believe that we have not been properly seduced yet." According to

Freud such events are not just random slip ups. Rather, such slips of the tongue may be an indication of deeply felt emotions and thoughts that reside in the unconscious, a part of the personality of which a person is not aware. The unconscious is the safe haven for our recollection of painful events and also it is where we store our instinctual drives. It is in this part of the personality that infantile desires and demands are hidden from the

conscious of one's personality because they would conflict with a person's day to day living.

To understand the conscious and unconscious forces guiding an individual's behavior, Freud developed a personality model. He divided the personality into three elements: the id, the ego and the superego. These elements are not physical structures found in the brain, instead they represent a general model of personality that describes

the interaction of various behaviors and drives that motivate us.

The id refers to the raw, unorganized, inherited part of the personality. Its main goal is to reduce tension created by our primitive drives which are related to hunger, sex, aggression and irrational impulses. The id operates according to the pleasure principle, in which its goal is immediate gratification and reduction of tension. In most people, reality prevents the id's instant demands from being fulfilled. We cannot always eat when we are hungry, and we can act on sexual drives only in the right place and time.

The ego is the buffer between the id and the world's realities. The ego operates on the reality principle. In this principle, instinctual energy is restrained in order to maintain the safety of the individual and help integrate the person into society. The ego is sometimes called "the executive" of an individual's personality. The ego makes the decisions, controls actions and allows for a higher capability of problem solving. The id is not capable of such higher level of thinking. The ego is responsible for the higher cognitive functions such as intelligence, thoughtfulness and learning.

The superego is the final element of Freud's model of personality. It is similar to the id in that it is somewhat unrealistic. The superego represents the rights and wrongs of the society as handed down to an individual over their lifetime. The superego has two subparts: the conscience and the ego-ideal. The conscience prevents us from doing

morally bad things. The ego-ideal motivates us to do what is morally proper. The superego helps to control the id's impulses, making them less selfish and more morally

correct. Both the id and the superego are unrealistic in that they do not consider the actualities of society. The lack of reality within the superego, if left unchecked, would create perfectionists who would be unable to make compromises that life requires. Likewise, an unrestrained id would create a pleasure-seeking thoughtless individual,

seeking to fulfill every desire without delay. It is the ego that compromises between the demands of the id and superego, permitting a person to obtain some of the gratification of the id while maintaining the superego, which would prevent such gratification.

The most compelling criticisms of Freudian personality point out that this theory is created upon a lack of scientific data. There are no physical parts of a person's brain that represent these three elements of personality. Freud based his theory on a wealth of individual assessments, but no actual concrete data. Another criticism is that we can often explain behavior after the fact using Freudian concepts, but we can rarely predict behavior. Also, Freud made his observations and thus derived his theory from a limited population, primarily upper-class Austrian women living in a strict era of the 1900s.

Despite the criticisms of the theory, Freudian personality has had an enormous impact on the field of psychology. The idea of the unconscious and the elements of personality have often lead us to wonder about our own motivations for our behavior. Freud's emphasis on the unconscious has been partially supported by some current cognitive psychology research. Such work has revealed that mental processes about which people are unaware have an important impact on thinking and actions.

The most important contribution of Freud's psychoanalytic theories is perhaps the fact that it ignited more study of the human mind, and the motivation behind an individual's behavior, thus leading to more study and discovery of new ideas and theories.

© High Speed Ventures 2011