According to Sean McLeod, Freud believed life was composed of either pleasure or tension, and that tension was just built up sexual energy and pleasure was the only way to release the tension. (McLeod, 2008) As you can imagine, his theories were not widely accepted and are still hot topics of debate amongst psychoanalysts today. Freud believed the only element of our personality that is present at birth is the ID. He believed it to be the unconscious and included all of our natural and primitive instincts, or survival instincts. Freud was convinced that the ID is ruled by the pleasure principle.
McLeod’s impression of the pleasure principle is that when the id doesn’t receive the gratification it seeks it begins to experience unpleasure. (McLeod, 2008) For instance, when an infant is hungry it will cry until it is fed. Being fed is part of the ID because it is a survival instinct and when that need is fulfilled it provides pleasure in a feeling of being full or satisfied. If the infant is not fed he/she goes into a sort of panic and experiences the unpleasure feeling. Freud also believed this was where the vast majority of libido energy was stored.
The ID could be considered the devil on one’s shoulder, encouraging them to do whatever it takes to achieve pleasure. Regardless of the risk or complications, it wants what it wants and when it wants it. In comparison to the ID, the second element, the ego, is more realistic and down to earth. It uses logic and reason to help control the behavior of the ID. According to Freud, the ego is both conscious and unconscious. It is driven by the same instincts as the ID but uses common sense and reasoning to try to achieve the goal.
McLeod points out that Freud mentions a comparison of the ID being a horse and the ego is the rider. This comparison makes perfect sense. (McLeod, 2008) Both the ID and ego share the same goal, as in a horse a rider attempting to reach a location, but they serve different functions in obtaining it. The id is perhaps the wild side to the calmer ego. It is the ego’s job to meet the needs of the id, while taking into consideration the reality and logic. The final element for the structure of one’s personality is the superego. The superego could be considered our conscious.
It has developed morals and learned its idea of right from wrong, usually with guidance from the child’s mentors and role models. If the ID is the horse and the ego is the rider, then then superego is like a map to guide it. It has a clearer understanding of what is acceptable in society. The superego is what provides us with feelings of pride or guilt. Just like the ego, it shares the same goals as the ID. Its primary function is to keep the ego in check and ensure that actions are socially acceptable. Even though the ID is logical, it cannot necessarily decide what is acceptable in society.
The ID throws a fit and wants something, the ego determines a way to get it because it knows that a fit won’t get the job done, and the superego comes along and perfects the plan by making it normal to society so that it does not cause embarrassment. Where the ID can be thought of as the devil on one’s shoulder, the superego balances it by being the angel on their shoulder. When the ego cannot satisfy the needs of both the ID and the superego it can become overwhelmed. When this happens the ego uses a defense mechanism to help ward off the unpleasant feelings.
There are several different defense mechanisms that can be used. Each helps the ego and/or the person avoid anxiety in a stressful situation. The defense mechanisms job description is to protect from the reality of the stressful situation. One example of a defense mechanism would be repression. Repression allows the ego to ignore and block distressing thoughts and feelings from becoming conscious. Repression ultimately pushes the thoughts out of the conscious mind. A person might use repression to block the memory of their mother’s funeral to avoid the feelings of grief and hurt.
Another defense mechanism used by the ego is denial. Denial, unlike repression does not block the thought or feeling; rather it refuses to acknowledge its presence. The most common examples of denial would be a person in an abusive relationship. No matter how many bruises or broken bones they end up with, they will deny that there is a problem. Denial is often used by addicts. Almost everyone can recognize the statement ‘the first step is admitting you have a problem’. Rationalization is another ego defense form. When a person rationalizes something they make up a reasonable explanation for the threatening behavior.
An example of rationalization would be when a person thinks that it is okay for them to cheat on a test one time because they have never done it before. Projection, displacement, regression and identification are additional examples of defense mechanisms. Defense mechanisms are very healthy for a person’s psyche as long as they are not abused. A person using denial to avoid confronting the fact they have an alcohol addiction would be an example of abusing a defense mechanism. Freud proposed a theory that a child’s personality develops in five stages. He called these stages psychosexual stages.
Each stage represented a different sexual energy and was focused on certain areas of the body. Each stage also presented a challenge to the child. It was Freud’s belief that, starting from birth, sexual energy would start to accumulate and need to be released. Once the energy was released the person could then go on to the next stage. The first stage in Freud’s theory is the oral stage. This stage starts from birth and lasts until about one year old. Just as it sounds, everything in this stage is focused on the mouth. An infant’s primary focus for his or her first year is their mouth.
They eat and generally form a habit of sucking on a thumb or some other object. Both the eating and the thumb sucking are pleasure releases for an infant. They draw a comfort from the actions. To bring back Freud’s ideas of the ID, when the infant is hungry he or she uses their mouth to cry and make noise so that they can achieve the pleasure they seek. Freud argued that if a person were to get stuck in this phase he would have an oral fixation. (McLeod, 2008) Examples of oral fixations include smoking, overeating, or anything in general that they use their mouth for, particularly in stressful situations.
Stage two in Freud’s theory is the anal stage. This stage starts at around one and can last until about the age of three. This stage focuses on toilet training. Freud believed that the manner in which a child is toilet trained directly relates to his manners with authority. (McLeod, 2008) It was his belief that if a child’s parents set the expectations to high or too soon the child was likely to become anal-retentive. Anal-retentive is when everything is held in. These people like cleanliness and order. On the opposite end of that spectrum is anal-expulsive.
Anal-expulsive personalities are often rebellious and disorganized. Dino Felluga interpreted this stage as one in which the child is pleased because after defecation he or she feels they have made something of their own. (Felluga, 2011) Obviously the child would have to have approval and praise from his or her parents and that would bring about a sense of gratification and pride. Between the ages of three and six children go through what Freud called the phallic stage. This has been believed to be the most important stage in the personality development theory.
The genitals become the obsession in this stage. This is also the stage of gender identity discovery. He called this the Oedipus Complex. During this time the child will desire the parent of the opposite sex. In his own interpretation of the Oedipus Complex, James Phelan thought the boys would often fabricate a jealous rivalry with their father and then at some point they begin to fear that their father will discover their jealousy and render a punishment. (Phelan, 2005) The most tragic consequence a young boy can think of is his penis being taken away.
Freud referred to this as “castration anxiety”. Once this fear is realized the little boy will start to connect with his father more than his mother. It was during this time he believed the most influential bonding could take place between a father and son. (Phalen, 2005) Freud was convinced that once a little girl realized she didn’t have penis she would begin to feel inferior to her father. Ultimately she faulted her mother for this and focused her attention and love onto her father. Freud referred to this concept as “penis envy”. There was concern if a person did not overcome the Oedipus Complex.
In order to concur the challenge in this stage the child must concur the trust issues with the opposite sex parent. If this did not happen, as in previous stages, the child would get fixated in this stage. The direct reaction for this is trouble in relationships. Phalen thought that the males would not be intimate. In his research he also mention’s Freud’s belief that this is where homosexuality develops. (Phalen, 2005) Freud’s theories on if a female were to get stuck in this stage are weak at best. As the evidence shows, Freud did not have a good handle on females and how they developed.
He assumed that if a female did get fixated in the Oedipus Complex stage it was because she was deeply ashamed and rather than face her father she gravitated towards the female sex. (Phalen, 2005). The next stage in the psychosexual stages is the latency stage, occurring between the ages of about 6 to puberty. This is the stage for learning. The sexual needs expressed in the previous stages are repressed and the child begins to focus on the reality principle. As previously discussed, the reality principle is important for the function of the ego and superego. It is during this time that a child can behave like a child.
They focus on playing with children their age and enjoy learning new concepts. Usually they develop a sense of independence while at the same time learning to love and care for others. (Felluga, 2011) In general it is a calm and creative stage. The final stage in Freud’s theory is the genital stage. Simply put, this is the young adult. The libido comes back and in full gear and the goal is to find a sex object. John Garcia interpreted this stage as the stage in which the child becomes an adult and begins to seek out ways to channel his sexual energy in meaningful ways.
(Garcia, 1995, p. 2). The primary focus is still the libido and that means they are on the hunt for a satisfactory partner of the opposite gender. The difference between this stage and earlier stages is that the energy is now focused on the opposite sex rather than selfish pleasure. (McLeod, 2008) In retrospect, Freud’s theories may have been too bizarre for general audience acceptance. Regardless of the sanity of his ideas, Brian Rock & Peter Fonagy thought Freud to be an intellectual genius.
(Rock & Fonagy, 2006) Amongst other things Freud also developed theories on memory and dream interpretation. His ideas laid the groundwork for several other psychoanalysts to begin theirs. The remarkable thing about his theories is that they all played a role on each other and intertwined. The id, ego and superego play imperative parts in each of the psychosexual stages. It is clear that his basis of theory wrapped around sexual energy, or the libido. As Rock & Fonagy mentioned, Freud’s ideas will be and have been helpful in exploring ourselves and are irreplaceable.