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What Is the Id in Psychology?

In Sigmund Freud’s theory of personality, the id is the primitive part of human personality that strives to fulfill a person’s most basic, instinctive desires. This part of a personality is part of the unconscious mind. 

According to Freud, the id operates based on what is known as the pleasure principle. This means that the id wants to obtain immediate gratification from all of our instinctual needs. The problem, however, is that it does this without any thought for the potential consequences. 

The id is driven by the desire to seek pleasure and avoid pain. It is also responsible for our impulses and urges, including aggression and sexual impulses. The id is often in conflict with the ego, which is the rational part of the personality that tries to mediate between the id and the external world.

Where Did Freud Call it “the Id”?

Freud actually didn’t refer to it as the id. In his native German, it was known as “das Es,” which means the “it.” It was when Freud’s works were translated to English that his translator, James Strachey, substituted the word id as a Latinization of the terman es. Both mean “it.”

The Origins of the Id in Personality

Freud suggested that the id is the only aspect of personality present at birth. That’s because the id is essential for ensuring that the most basic, primal needs are met. For example, the id causes a baby to cry when hungry so that a caregiver will provide nourishment. In this way, the id ensures that the most basic survival needs are met as quickly as possible.

As a child grows older and interacts with the external world, the ego and superego begin to develop, which help to mediate between the id and the external world.

The Role of the Id in Personality

The id is the most primitive part of the personality that is present from birth. The ego is the part of personality that develops next and is responsible for striking a balance between the urges of the id and reality. The superego is the last part of personality to form, emerging as children begin to internalize the ideal they learn from their parents and their society. 

Freud believed that the id played a crucial role in the development of human personality. This part of personality is present at the earliest points in life, which is important because it helps ensure that children get what they need. The id compels them to seek things like food, comfort, and care from their parents. 

While other parts of personality emerge as people grow, learn, and gain new experiences, the id continues to exert an influence on behavior. For example, the id is responsible for the urges and impulses that people experience, such as aggressive and sexual urges. 

But this id doesn’t have free reign over our behavior. It often finds itself in conflict with the ego and the superego.

The superego is the part of your personality that urges you to conform to the ideals that you’ve absorbed from your upbringing, experiences, and culture. The ego, on the other hand, is the part of personality charged with balancing between all of the demands of the id, the superego, and reality. 

Overall, the id helps to shape our personality by driving our instincts and basic desires from the very early stages of our life.

Examples of the Id in Personality

Examples of the id are things that may seem impulsive or that demand instant gratification. How the id is expressed depends on factors like age and other pressing needs. 

Some examples of the id include:

  • Grabbing something to eat when you are hungry without thinking about whether it is healthy or appropriate for the situation
  • Acting out on your attraction to someone without thinking about whether they return your interest
  • A child falling asleep in the living room without considering the time of day, comfort level, or other things happening around them
  • A toddler throwing a tantrum because they want a toy that belongs to someone else
  • A teenager engaging in risky activities like experimenting with drugs or driving under the influence of alcohol without considering the legal, health, or social consequences
  • Going out to drink on the weekend without thinking about how it will affect your workday on Monday morning
  • Impulsively buying a bunch of stuff that you want without considering the financial risks of acquiring a great deal of debt

The Id vs. the Ego

The strength of the id and ego depends on the individual’s needs and the demands of the situation. Sometimes the ego will be strong and effectively manage the id’s impulses while considering the consequences and relevant social norms.

When the ego is effective and well-developed, people can behave in ways that are adaptive and socially acceptable.

There are times when the urges of the id may be too strong or overwhelming. In such cases, impulsive behaviors can occur. Situations that can weaken the ego and cause the id to take assert itself more strongly include when people are stressed, distracted, or deprived. 

In reality, having a balance between the id, ego, and superego is healthy. Ideally, no single element dominates personality, and there is a dynamic give-and-take depending on what an individual needs in the moment and the demands of the situation.

The Id and Defense Mechanisms

In Freudian theory, defense mechanisms are psychological strategies that people use, usually unconsciously, to protect the ego from feelings of anxiety. Such defense mechanisms emerge to help people deal with conflicts between the id’s instincts and the superego’s moral principles.

When people experience an urge that is socially unacceptable, they experience feelings of anxiety and discomfort. Defense mechanisms then act unconsciously to help mitigate the conflict.

Common types of defense mechanisms that may emerge include denial, repression, projection, rationalization, and sublimation.

Criticisms of the Id

It is important to recognize that Freud’s theory of personality has been the subject of criticism and is not widely accepted within psychology. Freud’s theory contributed to a great deal to the development of psychology, and it still gets a lot of attention. However, it isn’t without limitations and problems.

First, because the id is unconscious and unobservable, it is difficult to study it objectively and empirically. That makes it difficult for research to either support or refute the concept.

The emphasis on unconscious, sexual, and aggressive urges has also been criticized as overly simplistic, negative, and incomplete. Arguing that the id is responsible for instinctual urges ignores the many other factors that also play a role in human behavior.


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