Structural Models of Personality

In addition to his conceptions of psychosexual development, Freud believed that there were numerous other driving forces at play that were important to understanding the development of a person’s personality. His structural model of personality attempts to describe how the mind works by making distinctions between three parts of personality and the human mind: the id, the ego, and the superego

Every person is born with an id—the id is responsible for getting the newborn child’s basic needs met. Freud claimed that the id is based on something known as a “pleasure principle,” which essentially means the id wants whatever feels good at that precise moment and disregards any ramifications. There is no consideration for how the rest of the situation might play out, or for any other people involved. For example, when a baby is hurt, wants something to eat, needs to be changed, or simply wants the attention of others, the id drives the baby to cry until its needs are met.

The next aspect of the personality—the ego—begins developing naturally over the first three years as a result of the child interacting with the world around him. Because of this, Freud claimed that the ego is based on something he referred to as a “reality principle.” The ego comes to realize that there are other people around that also have desires and needs, and that impulsive, selfish behavior can actually lead to harm. The ego has to consider the reality of any particular circumstance while also meeting the needs of the id. For example, when a child thinks twice about doing something inappropriate because he understands the negative outcome that will occur, this is the ego asserting itself.

The superego develops when a child is ve years old and is nearing the end of the phallic stage. This is the part of our personality that is made up of morals and ideals that have been acquired and placed on us by society and our parents. Many people also nd the superego to be equivalent to the conscience, since both terms have come to refer to the part of our personality that judges what is right from what is wrong.

Freud believed that, in a truly healthy person, the ego would be stronger than the id and superego so that it could consider the reality of the situation, while both meeting the needs of the id and making sure the superego was not disturbed. In the case of the superego being strongest, a person will be guided by very strict morals, and if the id is strongest, a person will seek pleasure over morality and could end up causing great harm (rape, for example, is when one chooses pleasure-seeking over morality, and is a sign of a strong id).