S. Freud’s Models of the Mind Part 2

This is the second article in our series on history of psychology. This post will look at Freud's structural model of the mind.

Freud presented a new theory that provides an intuitive depiction of the mind in his paper The Ego and the Id (1923), together with the effort of integrating the topographical model with the new structural theory. The “topos within the mind” theory developed into the “intrapsychic structures or agencies” model, without being replaced by it. The mind is now seen by Freud as being composed of the three agencies or structures Id, Superego and Ego.

1. The Id

In the structural theory of the mind, the content of the Id can be considered as matching the content of the dynamic Unconscious of the topographical model: The Id is portrayed as the reservoir of wishes, desires and instinctual drives. However, the perspective in which the Id is conceived in the mind is different from the dynamic unconscious in the topographic scheme. The unconscious is now seen as a feature of the three agencies, although the Id represents the most identifiable structure with the term unconscious.

Freud describes the reason why he chose the term Id as follows: “[…] we will no longer use the term ‘unconscious’ in the systematic sense […] we will in future call it the ‘id’. This impersonal pronoun seems particularly well suited for expressing the main characteristic of this province of the mind—the fact of its being alien to the ego”. The Id’s specific dynamic relation to the Ego is devised as if within the Ego itself there is an unknown part, the central nucleus of us as human beings. The Id does not show evidence of Ego-like functioning and it is incapable of postponing pleasure and satisfaction of needs. As Freud points out: “The id of course knows no judgements of value: no good and evil, no morality”. By way of explanation, the Id can be seen as consisting of unsatisfied instinctual urges, which seek gratification.

2. The Superego

The Superego can be seen as the intrapsychic agency that represents the introjected parental authority figures of childhood, and that has been differentiated from the Ego and the Id during the course of development. A great part of the Superego is unconscious, while a smaller part is represented in the form of conscious ideals and standards. The Superego functions as an internal judge in relation to the Ego and as a bitter enemy in relation to the Id.

With the introduction of the Superego concept, the interaction with the external world is given more importance than ever before. The Superego acts as a bridge between the individual and the external world. In fact, its formation arises during the dissolution of the Oedipus complex and is structured by the internalisation of and identification with the parents, as Freud pointed out: “The broad general outcome of the sexual phase dominated by the Oedipus complex may, therefore, be taken to be the forming of a precipitate in the ego, consisting of these two identifications in some way united with each other. This modification of the ego retains its special position; it confronts the other contents of the ego as an ego ideal or super-ego”.

3. The Ego

The Ego is portrayed as the part of the Id which has been modified by the influence of the external world. For that reason, part of the Ego has to be conscious because it perceives impression from the external world, acting accordingly to the reality principle. The Ego's main duty is to mediate between the outside world and the Id, which just seeks pleasure and gratification: “Thus [the Ego] 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 tries to do so with his own strength while the ego uses borrowed forces”.

Therefore, according to Freud’s new vision of the mind, the Ego is a mixed intrapsychic structure characterized by conscious, preconscious and unconscious parts and functions. Freud’s Ego at the stage of introducing this model was relatively passive and weak, portrayed as the helpless rider on the id’s horse. In Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety (1926), Freud revised his theory of anxiety and delineated a stronger Ego. Freud pointed out that moral and value judgments, i.e. the Superego, instinctual urges, i.e. the Id, and the external world make demands upon an individual. The Ego’s function is to mediate among conflicting drives and develop a compromise. So, instead of being a passive agency subjugated by the Id, the Ego is now seen as an active and creative structure, responsible for regulating the Id’s impulses and the Superego’s demands on one hand, the external reality pressures and the intrapsychic agencies on the other.