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I knew the gentleman in our writing group meant to write immaculate instead of emasculate in one of the pieces we were critiquing Monday night, and when I asked, “Freudian slip?”, he grinned. So did a few others.

Freud has fallen into disfavor among many people, and yet I can’t help but notice his presence in every intro psych text. Looks like we can’t cut him loose. After Monday night’s meeting, a few of his teachings came to mind. In addition to the emasculate example above, another writer in our group wrote an entertaining story about her mother taking her out of church and giving her a “whupping” because of her misbehavior.

Although the experience wasn’t funny to my friend at that time in her life, now she can laugh about it. The punishment reined in her id and strengthened both the ego and superego. The first time I heard of the id, ego, and superego, I thought Man, there is really something to this. I’m too lazy to go in search of a textbook, so I’m going from memory here, memory based on reading and decades of going over a programmed spiel in PSY 201.

The id is the part of the personality that a person is born with, and it operates according to the pleasure principle. Having no morals, sense of right and wrong, or understanding that there are other people with needs to consider, the id wants what it wants and wants it NOW. Babies cry, have hissy fits, throw food, and kick and scream.

According to Sigmund Freud, the id is powerful and must be reined in, and that’s where the ego comes in.  The ego operates according to the reality principle and develops as a result of interactions between the child and his  environment. A baby can cry all he wants to, but if Mama is driving, she’s not going to take the baby out of the car seat. That’s reality. Sooner or later the child learns to act in socially acceptable ways.

The superego develops last and is based on the morality principle. When a child is taught the difference between right and wrong through disciple, example, and consequences, the youngster develops a conscience that tells him “tsk, tsk” when he does wrong—or even thinks about getting off the straight and narrow. The “ego ideal” is similar to the conscience except that it encourages a child or person to do the right thing because it’s the right thing, not because he wants to avoid punishment, guilt, or shame.

The above three personality components work together in creating behavior. The id creates the demands, the ego adds the reality, and the superego adds the moral aspect. As humans, we have all three, and in a healthy personality all work together. For example, sometimes I might want to overspend, but usually my ego and superego work together to curb over-the-top purchases.

All three components have their value. Even the id can be good as long as we’re not overly hedonistic, selfish, greedy, slothful, or irresponsible. The ego keeps us straight and in touch with reality. The superego is, of course, desirable, but people with too much of it can be so suppressed, straight-laced, and prudish that no one wants to be around them or invite them to parties.

Sorry for this psychobabble. It’s the only way I could get to my point.

I haven’t thought too much about these elements of the personality since retirement, but since Monday night’s meeting, I’ve been pondering the strength of the id in adults, especially those in powerful positions, and wondering if it can be held in check, pushed to the side, or lassoed in. Although Dr. Freud is not here to weigh in on the topic, my guess is that he’d say no.

What do you think? Can a person’s basic personality be modified once adulthood is reached? Can a leopard change its spots?

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