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Psychodynamic Theories

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Freud believed that information in the unconscious emerges in slips of the tongue, jokes, dreams, illness symptoms, and the associations people make between ideas.

The Id, the Ego, and the Superego

Freud proposed that personalities have three components: the id, the ego, and the superego.

  • Id: a reservoir of instinctual energy that contains biological urges such as impulses toward survival, sex, and aggression. The id is unconscious and operates according to the pleasure principle, the drive to achieve pleasure and avoid pain. The id is characterized by primary process thinking, which is illogical, irrational, and motivated by a desire for the immediate gratification of impulses.
  • Ego: the component that manages the conflict between the id and the constraints of the real world. Some parts of the ego are unconscious, while others are preconscious or conscious. The ego operates according to the reality principle, the awareness that gratification of impulses has to be delayed in order to accommodate the demands of the real world. The ego is characterized by secondary process thinking, which is logical and rational. The ego’s role is to prevent the id from gratifying its impulses in socially inappropriate ways.
  • Superego: the moral component of personality. It contains all the moral standards learned from parents and society. The superego forces the ego to conform not only to reality but also to its ideals of morality. Hence, the superego causes people to feel guilty when they go against society’s rules. Like the ego, the superego operates at all three levels of awareness.

Freud believed that the id, the ego, and the superego are in constant conflict. He focused mainly on conflicts concerning sexual and aggressive urges because these urges are most likely to violate societal rules.


Internal conflicts can make a person feel anxious. In Freud’s view, anxiety arises when the ego cannot adequately balance the demands of the id and the superego. The id demands gratification of its impulses, and the superego demands maintenance of its moral standards.