Understanding Freud’s Personality Theory

Sigmund Freud. Perhaps the most well known psychologist to date, and for good reason. This Austrian man from the 19th century laid out the foundations of psychoanalysis, which snowballed into many other forms of therapy over the years. The likes of  Mentalization-Based Treatment (MBT) and Transference-Focused Psychotherapy (TFP) are still used today. Freud also developed a psychoanalytical personality theory.

It’s safe to say that Freud has been very important to the development of the psychology field. But what has been Freud’s biggest discovery?

Well, that’s obviously up for debate. However, If you speak to any psychologist it’s pretty likely that you will hear something about the ‘id’, ‘ego’ and ‘superego’. Let me explain.

Freud’s personality theory: ‘id’

Everyone has the same ‘id’, though it might be expressed stronger or weaker in some people. It consists of sexual and aggressive drives. Sexual drive is also called libido, and is aimed at satisfying our needs. Such as eating food, feeling the sun on your skin, making something beautiful and, yes, having sex. The aggressive drive is aimed at destruction, also called the death drive. Freud came up with the second drive during WWI.

The Me-Figure according to Freud

The ‘ego’ is basically you, your conscious mind. It’s the one part of you that’s doing all the conscious thinking, it’s also processing this information right now. According to Freud the ego can be developed to the point where you can control the drives mentioned above, and instead act to satisfy long-term needs. However, a weaker ego can cause someone to be swallowed by the power of the two inherent drives. Not good. 

Freud, A difficulty in the path Psyho-Analysis, 1917

The ego is not master in its own house’

Your internal tyrant: ‘Superego’

The so-called ‘superego’ is exactly what it sounds like. It consists of your ideals and strives to achieve perfect morality. The superego will punish your ego if it doesn’t live up to its standards. It does this by letting the ego experience feelings of guilt or shame. Sound relatable at all?

The superego is not all bad, though. It will reward you when you act in line with its ideals. For example, your superego wants you to be a gymshark athlete, while maintaining a healthy family and work at least 80 hours a week. And on a seemingly ordinary Tuesday you’ve finally gone up and cooked something healthy. The superego will definitely give you two thumbs-up and reward you with a good dose of dopamine.

The issue with the id and superego

The conflict occurs when the id wants immediate gratification. It wants its sexual needs met, as soon as possible and the consequences don’t matter. But giving in to these needs might not be in line with your ideals, and your superego might think it’s just plain immoral.

However, trying to follow the superego’s guide won’t be easy either. Since the id will likely not meet his needs quickly, or at all. This causes conflict and the ego is just caught in a crossfire. Why did you think this was a good idea, nature?

A healthy balance

Healthy psyche in freud's personality theory
Freud’s vision of a healthy psyche and a well structured personality

A healthy balance should be strived for, according to Freud. A strong ego can control its impulses, and make conscious decisions to satisfy both the id and superego.

Next time you’re confronted with the decision whether you should continue binge watching Breaking Bad or go and read an interesting blog like this, ask yourself, What would my ego do? Being more conscious of the process might help you make better thought out decisions in the future.

That’s my experience, anyway.

I would love to hear what you think of Freud’s personality theory and how you try to be more mindful about the id-superego struggle!


  • McLeod, S. A. (2016). Id, Ego and Superego. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/psyche.html
  • Weerman, A. (2013). Zes psychologische stromingen en een client (5de editie). Boom Lemma.

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