Freud's Structural Model of the Psyche Research Paper Starter

Freud's Structural Model of the Psyche

(Research Starters)

The foci of this paper circulate around the tertiary components that constitute the mental apparatus of Freud's structural model of the psyche: the id, superego, and ego, and their corresponding extensions (e.g., ego ideal and defense mechanisms). Freud asserted that the combined interaction of such forces epitomized human cognitions and driving forces that establish psychological welfare, manipulate behavior, and induce subsequent relational transactions. Before launching into an overview of Freud's structural model of the psyche, a distinction between conscious and unconscious realms of existence, one of his most significant contributions, will be examined.

Keywords Conscious; Defense Mechanisms; Ego; Ego Ideal; Id; Superego; Unconscious

Freud's Structural Model of the Psyche


Even in the early twenty-first century, Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) maintains his status as one of the most influential, significant, and highly revered psychologists and theorists from whom the world has benefitted. Freud innovated and expanded upon many provocative, intellectual, and resourceful ideologies, which persistently contribute to those in the field of psychology and the lay public alike, based upon the stimulating and controversial elements that imbue their existence. Scholars, clinicians, and students oftentimes respond to the tenets of Freudian (i.e., psychoanalytic or psychodynamic) theory with impassioned divisiveness. Rarely do we ponder the thoughtful elements that Freud proposed with indifference or apathy; on the contrary, people tend to have heated opinions on his theories that are either tremendously enthusiastic or abhorrent. During his life, Freud generated a similar level of controversy, demonstrated in part by the raucous collegial relationships formulated and terminated with renowned psychologists such as Carl Jung and Alfred Adler (Donn, 1988; Roazen, 1976).

Although the emphasis of this article surrounds Freudian forces that relate to the id, superego, and ego (Hollitscher, 1947; Hughes, 1994; Lear, 2005; Mayer, 2001; Neu, 1991; Schweidson, 2005; Strupp, 1967), as well as the interchange they have with conscious and unconscious dynamics (Gammelgaard, 2003; McLoughlin, 1999; Rosenbaum, 2003; Symington, 2006), it is noteworthy to mention additional contributions that he formulated. Some of the most impressive theoretical constructs set forth by Freud include:

• The Oedipal/Electra complex, which transpires during the psychosexual stages of development (Garcia, 1995; Zucker & Green, 1992),

• Elaboration on neuroses such as anxiety and guilt (Bristol, 2004),

• Emphasis on dreams and dream interpretation (Bouchet, 1995; Rodriguez, 2001), and

• The conception of clinical terms such as transference and countertransference (Arnd-Caddigan, 2006; Meszaros, 2004).

Conscious vs. Unconscious

A common visual depiction of the unconscious and conscious relationship is that of an iceberg: the tip of the iceberg signifies our conscious thinking, that which is exposed "above the surface" and to which we have regular and easy access. People are conscious, for example, of the daily expectations demanded upon them, such as where their place of employment is located, and the contact information of the friends and family with whom they intermingle on a daily basis.

The unconscious or "hidden" portion of the iceberg is an amalgamation of memories, events, fears, etc. that tend to remain buried throughout a person's life (Ekstrom, 2004; Jones, 2002; Wildt, 2007). For various reasons, people conceal troubling information as a protective barrier that preserves their sense of self. However, the unconscious as a separate entity has a strong sense of fortitude and expansive memory base, and while it may not communicate directly with a person consciously, it manifests urges, motivations, and predilections through behavior. Freud believed that by employing specific clinical techniques such as free association (Hoffer, 2006) that correspond with psychoanalysis, psychologically motivated people may acquaint themselves with their unconscious domains. For most people, however, unconscious thoughts surreptitiously emerge through one of three occurrences:

• Neurotic behavior,

• Parapraxes, and

• The act of dreaming (Kahn, 2002).

Neurotic Behavior

Neurotic behavior such as anxiety (Bierman, 2007; Bound, 2004) revolves around the fears that people possess, of which the origins are often either mysterious or irrational. For example, Joe might have an unusual fear of riding as passenger in a car but is unable to articulate why that is the case. Perhaps as a young child Joe was privy to unhealthy parental figures, in which his father was domineering and oppressive and his mother was submissively compliant to her husband's demands. Joe's mother was a passive "passenger" in the relationship steered solely by his father's imperious ways, a situation that Joe seeks to avoid at all cost, both literally and metaphorically. As demonstrated though this example, the relationship between the activating event and corresponding behavior may be cryptic and unrealistic.


An example of a parapraxis, commonly referred to as the "Freudian slip," (Bate, 2002; Swer, 2004) might occur when a sexually frustrated individual is randomly asked the time and relays "sex o'clock" instead of "six o'clock." Though the person might shamefully blush and repair his or her "mistake," Freud considered the initial blunder as a manifestation of the unconscious desire to have a heartier sex life.


Freud alleged that dreams were the "royal road to the unconscious" (quoted in Liegner, 2003) and emphasized the necessity of dream interpretation as the cornerstone of therapeutic alliances. Regardless of whether the lay person proactively pursues to interpret his or her dreams, Freud considered the dreams that naturally constitute our nocturnal existence as symbolic messengers that extend from our unconscious. To expand upon the previous example that exemplified the sexually frustrated individual, he or she might be bombarded with dream imagery that illustrates a lack of sexual expression. Freud believed that elongated dream symbols such as snakes and swords represent male genitalia and that crevices and/or containers (e.g., refrigerators, boxes) represent female genitalia.

Further Insights: Id, Ego

The Id

The developmental life stage that most closely resembles the nature of the id is infancy. The sole motivation that infants seek to fulfill is satisfying their own essential needs; upon soiling their diapers, or when experiencing discomfort, infants set off their alarm bells (i.e., cry) to alert their primary caregivers that a sense of solace and comfort is required. The infant beckons adults to satiate their needs regardless of what activities those adults were in the midst of. Additionally, the id is an inborn phenomenon that is initiated at birth and remains throughout a person's life (Klein, 2006).

The id parallels the infant by possessing similar temperamental underpinnings and expectations (Levin, 1992). Metaphorically speaking, when people are placed in unpleasant or compromising positions, the id is the component of the personality that stamps its foot in explosive retaliation and demands that matters are executed to suit its own needs. In an undesirable situation, such as an employee whose request for a raise was denied, most functionally mature adults would squelch the desire to respond with unbridled fervor. A normative response that the dejected employee would exhibit might range from gritting his teeth under the guise of a disingenuous smile, to assertively confronting the supervisor's decision-making process; in either case, it is likely that the id, as a quick-tempered, egocentric, indulgent, and infantile entity, has been censored.

The Pleasure Principle

The id operates on the "pleasure principle," (Solms, 2006) and therefore seeks immediate gratification at any given point in time. It is devoid of a proper sense of sophistication and is dismissive of other people's perspectives. The id discounts time-related sequential patterns such as the concept of "past, present and future," and only operates in the here-and-now (Solms, 2004). During the course of a hypothetical dinner party, the id represents the unruly dinner guest who arrives late, demands to be fed immediately, and, during the course of the meal, demonstrates poor etiquette by propping his/her elbows on the table while devouring his/her meal with unrestrained gusto. The id is an entirely unconscious process (Plaut, 2005), which makes it difficult for people to tap into its etiological driving forces or harness and modify its unpredictable mannerisms.

The id is a repository for primordial urges, guttural instincts, and emotional desires including those of an aggressive and sexual nature (Collins, 2006). During the course of a heated dispute, people often become frustrated at those with whom they are arguing. Though several factors contribute toward the way in which resolution is established, the id enters into the equation as the volatile element that might wish to take the punishment to the most extreme form of retaliation. The id disregards moral and legal repercussions and discards the notions of caution and consequence (Tekpetey, 2006). Likewise, the chemical and inexplicable laws of sexual attraction cohabit within the jurisdiction of the id. People are sometimes puzzled at those to whom they are romantically drawn, which can be explained through the erratic disposition of the id. The id does not recognize logical and identity-oriented constructs that help people navigate through relational matters such as "commitment" or "sexual orientation." For example, Jane Doe, a happily married heterosexual woman, might find herself romantically drawn to another woman, as an instinctual expression of id forces.

The Superego

The superego, on the other hand, is in diametrical opposition to the id. Whereas the id represents untamed impulses and reckless self-serving pursuits, images that illustrate the superego can be likened to that of the police, guardian, watchdog, judge, and supervisor (Alper, Levin, & Klein, 1964; Milrod, 2002; Velleman, 1999; Wurmser, 2004). The superego embodies the moral fiber of human existence by admonishing that which is ethically reprehensible and gravitates into a person's life principles that are upstanding and conscientious. If an uninhibited, inebriated bar patron served to exemplify the id, the bouncer responsible for monitoring the safety and well-being of that bar's clientele would represent the superego.

As infants move into childhood, they start becoming mindful of the subtle and direct cues transmitted from the outside world that help refine their sense of value development. Cognitively, they are able to discern the correlation between engagement in "naughty" behavior and the resulting reprimands that ensue. The constant influx of signals the child receives that molds his or her sense of "right and wrong" becomes established, and the birth of the superego is ignited. This internal process is reinforced as the child endures a series of punitive consequences (e.g., "time-out," verbal castigation, or corporal punishment) by parents, and during which he or she becomes exposed to outside educational, recreational, and social norms that require him or her to adhere to the rules and regulations established by teachers, coaches, and other authority figures (Hotchkiss, 2005).

Good, Bad, Right, Wrong

Over time, the external penalties that are imposed upon people by outside forces are initiated by the individuals, as they internalize the constructs of "good and bad." Whereas a five-year-old child is discouraged from engaging in bad behavior upon receiving a scolding from parental figures, adults dispense punishment upon themselves. A lingering amount of outside forces continue to interplay with the adult's sense of "right and wrong," such as the driver who is wary of surpassing the speed limit in fear of receiving a traffic violation. Simultaneously, the existence of one's inner police department tends to be just as forceful, damning, and serves as a deterrent by allotting severe punishment toward oneself. Ideally, the criteria on which the superego executes a verdict for maladaptive behavior should be fitting, without being...

(The entire section is 5514 words.)