Freud Personality Theory: conscious, unconscious, I, Superego and It

Freud Personality Theory: conscious, unconscious, I, Superego and It

The psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud believed that the behavior and the personality they derive from the constant and unique interaction of conflicting psychological forces that operate at three different levels of consciousness: the preconscious, the conscious and the unconscious. The theory psychoanalytic of the conscious mind e unconscious it is often explained using a iceberg metaphor: Conscious knowledge is the tip of the iceberg, while the unconscious is represented by the ice hidden beneath the surface of the water.

What do these expressions mean? What exactly happens at each level of consciousness?


  • 1 Mind according to Freud
  • 2 The Three levels of the mind according to Freud
  • 3 The conscious mind
  • 4 The preconscious mind
  • 5 The unconscious mind
  • 6 What is the It, the I and the Superego?
  • 7 The It
  • 8 The I
  • 9 The superego
  • 10 The interaction between the It, the I and the Superego

Mind according to Freud

Many of us have experienced what is commonly known as a failed act. These mistakes are believed to reveal unconscious thoughts or feelings. For example:

Antonio has just started a new relationship with a woman he met in high school. While talking to her one afternoon, he accidentally calls her by the name of his ex-girlfriend.

If you find yourself in this situation, how would you explain this error? Many of us could say it was a distraction or describe it as a simple accident. However, a psychoanalytic theorist can say that this is much more than a casual accident.

The psychoanalytic view holds that there are internal forces, unconscious or outside our consciousness that somehow direct our behavior. For example, a psychoanalyst could say that Antonio expressed himself badly because of his ex's unresolved feelings, or perhaps because of doubts about his new relationship.

The unconscious includes thoughts, emotions, memories, desires and motivations that are outside our knowledge, however, continue to influence our behavior.

As we all know, Sigmund Freud He was the founder of psychoanalytic theory. While his ideas were considered somewhat shocking in his time, today they continue to create debate and controversy, even now, his work He had a profound influence on a number of disciplines, including psychology, sociology, anthropology, literature and art.

The term psychoanalysis it is used to refer to many aspects of Freud's work and research, including the Freudian therapy and the research methodology he uses to develop his theories. Freud relied heavily on his observations and case studies of his patients when he formulated his theory of personality development.

The Three Levels of the Mind According to Freud

Before we can understand the Freud's personality theory, we must first understand their point of view of how the mind is organized.

According to Freud, the mind can be divided into three different levels:

Conscious mind

It includes everything that we are aware of. This is the aspect of our mental process that allows us to think and speak rationally. Apart from this, it includes our memory, which is not always part of consciousness, but can be easily recovered at any time and is brought to our knowledge. Freud called this the preconscious.

The preconscious mind

It is the part of the mind that represents the ordinary memory. While we are not aware of this information at any given time, we can retrieve it and throw it into consciousness when necessary.

Unconscious mind

It is where we keep our feelings, thoughts, impulses and the memories that are outside our conscious knowledge. Most of the contents of the unconscious, according to Freud, are unacceptable or unpleasant, such as the feelings of pain, anxiety or conflict. For him, the unconscious can influence our behavior and experience, although we are not aware of these underlying influences.

Thus, Freud compared these three levels of the mind with an iceberg:

  • The tip of the iceberg that can be seen above the water represents the conscious mind.
  • The part of the iceberg that is submerged under water, but is still visible is the preconscious.
  • The thickness of the iceberg is hidden below the waterline and represents the unconscious.

What are the It, the I and the Superego?

Each person also has a certain amount of psychological energy that forms the three basic personality structures: the id, the self and the superego. These three structures have different functions and act on different levels of the mind.

According to Sigmund Freud, each component adds its own unique contribution to personality and the three elements work together to form complex human behaviors.

According to this theory, certain aspects of our personality are more primitive and that can pressure us to act on our most basic impulses. Other parts of the personality can counter these impulses and strive to make them conform to the demands of reality.

Let's look at each of these key parts of the personality, how they work individually and how they interact.


  • This is the only personality component that is present from birth.
  • This aspect of personality is completely unconscious and includes instinctive and primitive behaviors.
  • According to Freud, the It is the source of all psychic energy, so it is the main personality component.

The id is driven by the pleasure principle, which strives to achieve immediate satisfaction of all desires, desires and needs. If these needs are not met immediately, the result is a state of anxiety or tension.

For example, an increase in thirst or hunger should produce an immediate attempt to eat or drink.

This is very important from the earliest moments of life, as it ensures that the needs of a baby are met. If the baby is hungry or feels uncomfortable, he or she will cry until the demands of it are satisfied.

However, the immediate fulfillment of these needs is not always realistic or possible. If we were governed entirely by the pleasure principle, as we get older we could take the things we want without caring for other people, to satisfy our own desires.

This type of behavior would be both harmful and socially unacceptable. According to Freud, It attempts to resolve the tension created by the pleasure principle through the primary process, which consists in the formation of a mental image of the desired object as a way of satisfying the need.

The I

  • The I is the personality component that deals with dealing with reality.
  • The I develops from the It and ensures that the impulses of the It can be expressed in an acceptable way in the real world.
  • The functions of the I are used in the conscious, the preconscious and the unconscious of the mind.

The I works based on the reality principle, which strives to satisfy the desires of It realistically and socially. The reality principle weighs the costs and benefits of an action before deciding to act on impulses or abandon. In many cases, the impulses of this can be satisfied through a process of delayed gratification. The I will finally allow the behavior that the It seeks, but only in the right place and time.

The me too discharge the voltage created by the unfulfilled impulses through a secondary process, in which the I tries to find an object in the real world that matches the mental image created by the primary process of It.

The superego

The last personality component described by Freud is the Superego.

  • The Superego is the aspect of personality that contains all our internalized moral standards and ideals that we acquire from both parents and society; Our sense of good and evil.
  • The Superego provides us with guidelines for making judgments.
  • The superego begins to emerge around the age of five.

There are two fundamental parts of the Superego:

  • The ideal of the I, which includes the rules and norms for good behavior. They include those that are approved by the authority figures of parents and others. Here you would find the feelings of pride, courage and achievement.
  • Awareness, which includes information about things that are considered by parents and society. These are behaviors that are often forbidden and result in bad consequences, punishments or feelings of guilt and regrets.

The superego acts to perfect and civilize our behavior. He works to suppress all of the unacceptable impulses of It and strives to make the acts of I fit into social norms, rather than realistic principles. The superego is present in the conscious, preconscious and unconscious.

The interaction between the It, the I and the Superego

With so many competing forces, it is easy to see how a conflict could arise between the It, the I and the Superego. Freud used the term ego strength to refer to the ego's ability to function despite these grieving forces. A person with good ego strength is able to effectively manage these pressures, while those with too little ego strength may become too inflexible or antisocial.

According to Freud, the key to a healthy personality is a balance between the It, the Self and the Superego.

Books written by Sigmund Freud that you can read online for free on our website:

  • The interpretation of dreams
  • Totem and Taboo
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