Theoretical Perspectives of Sigmund Freud and Erik Term Paper

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¶ … Theoretical Perspectives of Sigmund Freud and Erik Erikson

Sigmund Freud's Id, Ego and Super Ego

One of the more interesting aspects of Freud's approach to understanding the brain and how it operates in the daily lives of humans was his use of topographical comparisons to illustrate his main themes, even going so far as to "map" these regions as they related to his constructs of the id and ego. According to Blanco, "Topographic' clearly refers to space, as do expressions such as 'depth psychology', 'deep unconscious', 'surface of the mental apparatus', 'barrier', 'keeping away from consciousness' [etc.]" (1998, p. 8). The topographical approach used by Freud can be contrasted with the staged-based developmental concepts advanced by Erikson and others, but Erikson drew on Freud's original notions as well (Blanco, 1998).

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Although some observers have questioned whether a spatially oriented framework can be used to illuminate the working of the human psyche, the fact remains that Freud consistently used the metaphor to help explain his complex concepts about the id, ego and super ego. In this regard, Blanco notes that the mapping techniques used by Freud are found throughout his texts and adds that, "This can easily be seen if one considers that Freud spoke of 'regions or provinces' of the mind, and that this is a topographical comparison. Freud also made a diagram in which at least some of the relations between the three psychical instances are studied in terms of the comparison with space" (1998, p. 8). The original diagram to which Blanco (1998) refers showing the topographical relationship between the id, ego and superego is shown in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1. Freud's original diagram of the topographical relationship between the id, ego and super ego


Note: The "pcpt-cs" notation shown at the top of Figure 1 above refers to Freud's concept of a Perception-Consciousness system which is discussed further below.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Theoretical Perspectives of Sigmund Freud and Erik Assignment

Id. The id is the foundation for the other components of individual personality since it is the only one of the three elements of personality that is present from birth (Cherry, 2010). According to this authority, "This aspect of personality is entirely unconscious and includes of the instinctive and primitive behaviors. According to Freud, the id is the source of all psychic energy, making it the primary component of personality" (Cherry, 2010, para. 2). With regards to its topographical dimensions, Freud again resorts to the metaphor to explain his concept of id: "We look upon the mind of an individual as an unknown and unconscious id, upon whose surface rests the ego. The ego does not envelop the whole of the id, but only does so to the extent to which the Perception-Consciousness System forms its surface, more or less as the germinal layer rests upon the ovum. The ego is not sharply separated from the id; its lower portion merges into it" (1927, p. 28). The next component of Freud's personality model is ego, which is discussed further below.

Ego. From Freud's perspective, the second component of personality, ego, is essentially responsible for making sense of the real world. In this regard, Cherry reports that "The ego develops from the id and ensures that the impulses of the id can be expressed in a manner acceptable in the real world. The ego functions in both the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious mind" (2010, para. 3). The ego can be a harsh taskmaster as well, suggesting that to the extent that people's desires are aligned with what the ego finds acceptable will be the extent to which they will be satisfied. For instance, Cherry emphasizes that, "The ego operates based on the reality principle, which strives to satisfy the id's desires in realistic and socially appropriate ways. The reality principle weighs the costs and benefits of an action before deciding to act upon or abandon impulses. In many cases, the id's impulses can be satisfied through a process of delayed gratification -- the ego will eventually allow the behavior, but only in the appropriate time and place" (2010, para. 4). In addition, the ego can drive behavior in other ways as well. For instance, Cherry concludes that, "The ego also discharges tension created by unmet impulses through the secondary process, in which the ego tries to find an object in the real world that matches the mental image created by the id's primary process" (2010, para. 4).

Complicating the discussion of the ego -- and superego -- is the fact that these can be "on" or "off" in terms of their effect on human behavior at any given point in time. For example, in his 1933 work, New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-analysis, Freud explained that, "With regard to the two alternatives - that the ego and the super-ego may themselves be unconscious, or that they may merely give rise to unconscious effects - we have for good reasons decided in favor of the former" (1933, p. 137). It may be possible, from Freud's perspective, for some part of the ego or superego to manifest itself in conscious thought, but by and large these personality components remain unconscious. In this regard, Freud writes, "Certainly, large portions of the ego and super-ego can remain unconscious are, in fact, normally unconscious. That means to say that the individual knows nothing of their contents and that it requires an expenditure of effort to make him conscious of them. It is true, then, that ego and conscious, repressed and unconscious do not coincide" (1933, p. 137).

To help explain these concepts further, Freud once again turns to topographical metaphors as illustrated in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2. Freud's original diagram of the topographical relationship between the ego and id

Source: Freud, 1927, p. 28

Freud suggests with regards to the above, "Perhaps the ego wears an auditory lobe ['aud' in Figure 2] -- on one side only, as we learn from cerebral anatomy. It wears it crooked, as one might say" (1927, p. 28). The topographical nature of this analytical approach is also highlighted by Auffert (2010) who notes, "From the topographical point-of-view, the Pcpt.-Cs. system is attached to the Perception-Consciousness System (Pcs) (preconscious) system but not to the Ucs. (unconscious) system -- at least, not to the unconscious as an effect of repression, since Freud considers the unconscious of a consequence of the ego" (para. 3).

Because he developed the concepts and was most familiar with what he meant, Freud also offers somewhat disingenuously that, "It is easy to see [for Freud at least] that the ego is that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world. Moreover, the ego has the task of bringing the influence of the external world to bear upon the id and its tendencies, and endeavors to substitute the reality-principle for the pleasure-principle which reigns supreme in the id" (1927, p. 29). Fortunately, this somewhat abstruse presentation is followed by a more illuminating explanation when Freud states, "In the ego perception plays the part which in the id devolves upon instinct. The ego represents what we call reason and sanity, in contrast to the id which contains the passions. All this falls into line with popular distinctions which we are all familiar with; at the same time, however, it is only to be regarded as holding good in an average or 'ideal' case" (Freud, 1927, p. 29).

In other words, every individual is unique and even Freud concedes that he did not have a "one-size-fits-all" model that would be useful in all settings. Despite these limitations, Freud's work has influenced virtually every psychological theory that has emerged since, confirming Erikson's observation that there was a germ of truth in all of Freud's concepts. Likewise, notwithstanding criticisms and other limitations to Freud's theories to the contrary, he does provide a useful framework in which the inner working of the human psyche can be understood by others. In this regard, Freud observes that, "The functional importance of the ego is manifested in the fact that normally control over the approaches to motility devolves upon it" (1927, p. 30).

Departing from his typical topographical references, Freud resorts to an equine metaphor to explain the relationship between the id and the ego:

Thus in its relation to the id it is like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse; with this difference, that the rider seeks to do so with his own strength while the ego uses borrowed forces. The illustration may be carried further. Often a rider, if he is not to be parted from his horse, is obliged to guide it where it wants to go; so in the same way the ego constantly carries into action the wishes of the id as if they were its own. (Freud, p. 30)

This observation certainly makes more sense than many of Freud's writings, but the quest for a full understanding of Freud's personality model is not complete without reviewing… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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