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Freud's Personality Factors

 

Explanations > Personality > Freud's Personality Factors

Three levels of awareness | Three components of personality | Energy and CathexisSo what?

 

Sigmund Freud described several components which have been very influential in understanding personality.

Three levels of awareness

Freud identified three different parts of the mind, based on our level of awareness.

Conscious mind

The conscious mind is where we are paying attention at the moment. It includes only our current thinking processes and objects of attention, and hence constitutes a very large part of our current awareness.

Preconscious mind

The preconscious includes those things of which we are aware, but where we are not paying attention. We can choose to pay attention to these and deliberately bring them into the conscious mind.

We can control our awareness to a certain extent, from focusing in very closely on one conscious act to a wider awareness that seeks to expand consciousness to include as much of preconscious information as possible.

Subconscious mind

At the subconscious level, the process and content are out of direct reach of the conscious mind. The subconscious thus thinks and acts independently.

One of Freud's key findings was that much behavior is driven directly from the subconscious mind. This has the alarming consequence that we are largely unable to control our behavior, and in particular that which we would sometimes prefer to avoid.

More recent research has shown that the subconscious mind is probably even more in charge of our actions than even Freud had realized.

Three components of personality

Clinical psychologist Don Bannister has described Freud's position on the human personality as being:

"...basically a battlefield. He is a dark-cellar in which a well-bred spinster lady (the superego) and a sex-crazed monkey (the id) are forever engaged in mortal combat, the struggle being refereed by a rather nervous bank clerk (the ego)."

Thus an individual’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors are the result of the interaction of the id, the superego, and the ego. This creates conflict, which creates anxiety, which leads to Defense Mechanisms.

Id

The Id contains our primitive drives and operates largely according to the pleasure principle, whereby its two main goals are the seeking of pleasure and the avoidance of pain.

It has no real perception of reality and seeks to satisfy its needs through what Freud called the primary processes that dominate the existence of infants, including hunger and self-protection.

The energy for the Id's actions come from libido, which is the energy storehouse.

The id has 2 major instincts:

  • Eros: the life instinct that motivates people to focus on pleasure-seeking tendencies (e.g., sexual urges).
  • Thanatos: the death instinct that motivates people to use aggressive urges to destroy.

Ego

Unlike the Id, the Ego is aware of reality and hence operates via the reality principle, whereby it recognizes what is real and understands that behaviors have consequences. This includes the effects of social rules that are necessary in order to live and socialize with other people. It uses secondary processes (perception, recognition, judgment and memory) that are developed during childhood.

The dilemma of the Ego is that it has to somehow balance the demands of the Id and Super ego with the constraints of reality.

The Ego controls higher mental processes such as reasoning and problem-solving, which it uses to solve the Id-Super ego dilemma, creatively finding ways to safely satisfy the Id's basic urges within the constraints of the Super ego.

Super ego

The Super ego contains our values and social morals, which often come from the rules of right and wrong that we learned in childhood from our parents (this is Freud, remember) and are contained in the conscience.

The Super ego has a model of an ego ideal and which it uses as a prototype against which to compare the ego (and towards which it encourages the ego to move).

The Super ego is a counterbalance to the Id, and seeks to inhibit the Id's pleasure-seeking demands, particularly those for sex and aggression.

Energy and Cathexis

Freud viewed the forces on us as a form of energy, with energy from the senses being converted into psychic energy in the personality through a topographic model that takes sensed energy, filters it through various associative metaphors, then passes it through the unconscious and preconscious before it finally reaches the conscious mind.

Object-cathexis

This is the investment of energy in the image of an object, or the expenditure of energy in discharge action upon such an object. It occurs in the Id.

Ego-cathexis

This is the investment of energy in mental representations of reality through associations and metaphors, which is needed for the Ego's secondary processes. It occurs in the Ego.

Anti-cathexis

This is energy used to block object-cathexes of the Id. Repression occurs in the battle between cathexis and anti-cathexis. It occurs in the Ego and Super Ego.

So what?

Although later theories have improved understanding, Freud's ideas still provide a useful model for the more complex actions that are really going on.

To persuade, you can appeal either to the basic urges of the Id or the higher morals of the Super ego. Then encourage the Ego to make the 'right choice'.

See also

Defense Mechanisms, Freud's Psychosexual Stage Theory

 

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