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Freud S Structural Model of the Mind Why it Was NeededEssay

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Freud, the Ego and the Master of the House: The Development of the Structural Model

Just as the life of the mind is a sort of balance among the Ego, ID and Supergo, according to psychoanalysis, Freud's own awareness of these concepts was not born full-blown like Athena out the head of Zeus, but rather was cultivated, developed and extended over time, moving from a topographical model as in Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams to a structural model, that provided a more substantial framework for the mind, even if it remained largely subjective in approach and conjoined to the topographical model. This paper will discuss the evolution of Freud's theories in order to show why "the Ego is not the master in its own house" and how the structural model of the mind came to be so important.

The structural model of the personality consists of the Id, Ego and Superego -- the Id being based in the realm of pleasure, instinct and basic human needs, the Ego being based more in touch with reality while also aiming to meet the needs of the Id, and the Superego attempting to apply a moral principle to the discourse between the two. However, this identification came later in Freud's career and his conception of the personality and the mind first took shape with a topographical model that consisted of 3 distinct parts -- the conscious, preconscious (subconscious) and the unconscious. The Conscious region, of course, consisted of that of which one is aware; the Preconscious region was that which one could be prompted to access if properly compelled; and the Unconscious region consisted of feelings, beliefs, impulses and instincts that are not accessible by the Conscious region (Freud, 1915). Freud's focus was simultaneously on defining and treating the personality problems and structure that were presented him, particularly in his early case studies with Breuer on the subject of hysteria, wherein the ego makes its first appearance, based admittedly on "the terminology of Janet and his followers" (Freud, Breuer, 1895, p. 84). Freud's usage of the term "ego" appears in the case study on Miss Lucy, age 30 in the same Studies on Hysteria and is used in conjunction with the topic of repression -- in short, the "feeling of unpleasure, the incompatibility between the single idea that is to be repressed and the dominant mass of ideas constituting the ego" (Freud, 1895, p. 102). Thus, for Freud, structural identification was never an isolated objective but rather a strategic development of the topographical conceit utilized to help treat the patients under observation. The issue at hand was the repression of the psychic energies that took their "revenge, however, by becoming pathogenic" (Freud, 1895, p. 102). In other words, from the very earliest stages of his work, Freud was aware that the Ego was not the master in its own house -- that there was a parallel force that resisted the Ego and that charged it with an energy that could neither be wholly accepted nor wholly repulsed. The house, essentially, was under continuous assault from within, divided by tension within/between the personality regions.

The development of the structural model of the mind, however, was important because it allowed for the treatment potential that Freud sought to be more fully accessed and utilized. Freud pointed this out in The Interpretation of Dreams when he stated that "what we are doing here is once again to replace a topographical way of representing things by a dynamic one. What we regard as mobile is not the psychical structure itself but its innervations" (Freud, 1900, p. 1036). However, even this assessment was not a permanent fortification but rather a link in the evolutionary process of Freud's thought -- and the footnote added to this point later in 1925 issued as much: "It became necessary to elaborate and modify thus view after it was recognized that the essential feature of a preconscious idea was the fact of its being connected with the residues of verbal presentations" (p. 1036). After more than two decades of work and interaction with patients and examination of the mind and personality of each, Freud saw clearly that verbal "residue" -- that part of speech-thought that conveys the "between the lines" concepts -- was intimately connected to and bound up in the region of the Preconscious (identified on the topographical model as such -- but in the structural model as the region belonging both to the Ego and the Id in a kind of borderline state, thus serving as that same connecting point).

This development was rooted in the need for praxis and practical application: a desire to understand, to know, to teach, and to treat -- all of this factored into the evolutionary process. The first shift, noted here as an historical footnote at the bottom of The Interpretation of Dreams, marks the essential element underlining the overall transition: a more precise and experiential characterization of the interaction between mind and behavior, between personality and communication. Staring at him in the face was the way in which people communicated messages to others that they failed to pick up themselves. This spoke to the intention of the psychoanalyst, who sought to treat the patient by guiding him or her to this unspoken (yet communicated) message -- this "between the lines" knowledge -- that the Id was forcing into the Preconscious region where the Ego stood, assembling the reality of the Conscious region, yet interpreting those shadows that filtered their way through the Preconscious to arrive at the border of the Conscious and, ultimately, make their way into a cognitive state possessed by the Ego.

Yet even this depiction localizes and centralizes the Ego within the "house" of the mind/personality, as though it were indeed the "master" -- but Freud made clear that Ego was no such master in A Difficulty in the Path of the Psycho-Analysis (1917) when he stated that while "psycho-analysis has sought to educate the ego," there were new discoveries still being made, such as the notion "that the life of our sexual instincts cannot be wholly tamed, and that mental processes are in themselves unconscious and only reach the ego and come under its control through incomplete and untrustworthy perceptions" (p. 3614). Freud saw that the sex instinct was like that of an animal, which could never be brought totally under the control of the master (thus removing that title from the ego, which could not therefore be said to be in control since it was not); likewise, he saw that the Ego was only able to gain control of mental processes that were collected by it in fragments that were typically misunderstood and mistrusted. Thus, there was a gap between the unconscious and the Ego, which Freud had identified by 1917, and the relationship was one in which the mind/personality lacked harmony. It was out of joint with itself -- or an obstacle "to man's self-love" (p. 3614). For this reason, Freud suspected that the Ego disliked and distrusted psychoanalysis, as the latter was a method that attempted to inform the Ego of its mistakes, miscalculations, and misinterpretations of what the unconscious desire of the personality sought to express. The Ego seeks mastership and yet does not have it; nonetheless, it proceeds on its way as though it did possess it. By pointing out that the emperor wears no clothes -- that the Ego is acting in ignorance, the Ego sends rational revolt in terms of expression and behavior to the psychoanalyst who is attempting to bring harmony to the topographical regions of the personality -- or to unite the structural beams of the personality so that they work in conjunction with one another as a triumvirate that shares responsibility. The Ego's usurpation of control was the problem that Freud identified at this point in his career -- and it was an important point in the development of the structural model of the mind, as it pinpointed the error in regarding Conscious awareness as the centrifugal power or as the driving force of the mind/personality. It was not. It was merely pretending to be in control.

This is why the topographical model had to change to a structural model. The topographical model simply laid out the parts, like a puzzle -- in horizontal dimensions, which did not explain the interaction of the regions. The structural model that developed through deeper insight into the human experience was what provided that actual sense of the relationship between the regions, the play for power, the struggle for dominance, and the expressions that were communicated accordingly as one sought to outdo the other. The structural model provided not just an identification of regions as the topographical model did but also a concept of how those regions worked, what motivated them, why they did what they did, and what their overall aims were. This, of course, was not all clear to Freud at the time, but it was beginning to appear to him that… [END OF PREVIEW]

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