Personality Theories

Id, Ego, and Superego: What to Know About Freud’s Theory

An illustration of the human mind with three bubbles representing the id, ego, and superego.
(Last Updated On: October 4, 2022)
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The Id | Ego | Superego | How They Interact | Impact | FAQ

In his theory of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud suggested that human personality was made up of three key elements. He called these the id, the ego, and the superego. According to Freud, it is the interaction of these three parts of the personality that influence how people think and behave. 

The id is what drives our needs and desires, and the superego strives for morality and perfection. The ego is the mediator between the two that tries to fulfill the needs of the id and the superego while accounting for the demands of reality.

To understand Freud’s theory, it is important to understand how he described each of these components of personality. This article describes Freud’s theory of the id, ego, and superego and explores how these three aspects of personality interact.

Read more: What Is Personality Psychology

What Is the Id?

Freud believed that the id was personality’s most basic and primal part. It is the only part of personality that is present at birth.

The id controls all of a person’s instinctual behaviors. Since the id is primitive and instinctual, it operates on an unconscious level. 

Also, it is guided by what Freud referred to as the pleasure principle. The pleasure principle works to pursue the immediate gratification of any need or desire that a person has. For example, feelings of hunger produce an immediate desire for food. When these needs are not met, people may experience feelings of anxiety, tension, or unease. 

Not every need or want that a person experiences can be satisfied immediately. If you were to try to satisfy an urge at the wrong time in the wrong setting, you might find yourself behaving in ways that are inappropriate or socially unacceptable. 

What Is the Ego?

Freud described the ego as a part of personality that allows the id’s desires to be expressed in a realistic and acceptable way. The ego develops from the id, but has been modified by the influence of the real world.

It operates on what Freud described as the reality principle. Where the id’s demands are unconscious,  unrealistic, or unacceptable, the ego’s goal is to fulfill those desires in a way that accounts for reality. This means assessing the situation and weighing the pros and cons of taking an action. 

Freud compared the relationship of the ego and id to that of a rider and horse. The horse is the powerful force that propels the two forward, but the rider controls the direction and course that they follow.

Sometimes, this might simply mean waiting to fulfill a need until you are in the right time and place, a process known as delayed gratification. For example, if you are tired, the ego would keep you from taking a nap until you are home in a bed instead of drifting off in the middle of the work day.

What Is the Superego?

The superego is part of personality that strives for moral behavior. It is made up of all the internalized beliefs, values, and morals that people learn from their parents and from their society. It is the last component of personality to form and usually begins to emerge sometime between the ages of three and five. 

The superego plays an important role in decision-making and judgments.

Freud suggested that the superego is made up of two components:

  • The conscience: This is the part of the superego concerned with things that are considered bad, inappropriate, or immoral. Doing things that go against the conscience can trigger negative consequences such as being punished or experiencing a sense of guilt.
  • The ego ideal: This is the idealized self that an individual aspires to. In other words, it is what we believe we should be doing, how we feel that we should behave, and how we think we should treat others.

The goal of the superego is to suppress the primitive urges of the id. If the superego had its way, you would live up to the high idealistic standards without ever giving into the urges and demands of the primal id.

How the Id, Ego, and Superego Interact

The id, ego, and superego don’t function separately and independently. Instead, they overlap and interact in various ways to influence how people think, feel, and behave. 

These forces are also dynamic and always shifting. Sometimes the demands of the id might take precedence. In other cases, it might be the superego that takes the lead. In every situation, the ego serves as the mediator trying to strike a balance between the demands of the id, the superego, and reality. 

Ego strength is what Freud called the ego’s ability to manage these competing forces effectively. Having poor ego strength means that you might give in to your impulses more frequently, while having too much might mean an inability to adapt and compromise.

Read More: What Is a Type A Personality?


It is important to recognize that Freud’s concept of the id, ego, and superego is a theory and not actual physical regions of the human brain. 

Freud’s theories are generally viewed as interesting but flawed by today’s standards. However, researchers have also pointed out that the id, ego, and superego described by Freud are closely aligned to the concepts of the unconscious, conscious, and metacognition structure of the mind that is currently studied in the field of neuroscience. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How are the id, ego, and superego related to one another?

Freud believed that each of these three components of personality represents a distinct component, but they interact with one another to form an individual’s personality and direct behavior. The id provides the drives for behavior, the superego strives for moral perfection, and the ego works to strike a balance between those two needs and the demands of reality.

A healthy, well-functioning personality is all about striking a need between the id, ego, and superego.

What is the difference between the id and the ego?

The id represents all of a person’s most basic primal urges. Left unchecked, the id would direct a person to fulfill all their desires without consideration for reality or the consequences of their actions.

The ego is the part of personality that must account for reality. It helps restrain the desires of the id and fulfill these urges in ways that are realistic and socially appropriate.

What is the difference between the ego and the superego?

The ego is realistic, whereas the superego is idealistic.


Freud’s id, ego, and superego describe different aspects of personality that interact to help shape human behavior. This theory suggests that the id is made up of basic instincts and that the superego is made up of internalized moral ideals. The ego is the part of personality that deals with reality and manages the demands of both the id and superego.


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