Freud’s Theory of the Id in Psychology

According to Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality, the id is the personality component made up of unconscious psychic energy that works to satisfy basic urges, needs, and desires.

Overview

The id operates based on the pleasure principle, which demands immediate gratification of needs. The id is one of the three major components of personality postulated by Freud: the id, ego, and superego.

illustration of teacher standing in front of classroom with words "theory of the Id"

illustration of teacher standing in front of classroom with words “theory of the Id”

When Does the Id Emerge?

Freud compared personality to an iceberg. What you see above the water is actually just a tiny piece of the entire iceberg, most of which is hidden under the water. The tip of the iceberg above the water represents conscious awareness.

The bulk of the iceberg below the water symbolizes the unconscious mind where all of the hidden desires, thoughts, and memories exist. It is in the unconscious mind that the id resides.

The id is the only part of the personality that is present at birth, according to Freud. He also suggested that this primitive component of personality existed wholly within the unconscious. The id acts as the driving force of personality. It not only strives to fulfill the most basic urges that people have, many of which are tied directly to survival, it also provides all of the energy necessary to drive personality.

As people grow older, it would obviously be quite problematic if they acted out to satisfy the needs of the id whenever they felt an urge, need, or desire. The id contains all of the life and death instincts, which Freud believed help compel behavior. This aspect of personality does not change as people grow older. It continues to be infantile, instinctive, and primal. It isn’t in touch with reality or logic or social norms. It strives only to satisfy an individual’s most basic urges and needs.

The Id and Personality

Fortunately, the other components of personality develop as we age, allowing us to control the demands of the id and behave in socially acceptable ways.

The superego, or the aspect of personality that encompasses internalized values and morals, emerges to try to push the ego to act in a more virtuous way. The ego must then cope with the competing demands presented by the id, the superego, and reality.

How the Id Operates

The id acts according to the pleasure principle, which is the idea that needs should be met immediately. When you are hungry, the pleasure principle directs you to eat. When you are thirsty, it motivates you to drink. But of course, you can’t always satisfy your urges right away. Sometimes you need to wait until the right moment or until you have access to the things that will fulfill your needs.

When you are unable to satisfy a need immediately, tension results. The id relies on the primary process to temporarily relieve the tension. The primary process involves creating a mental image through daydreaming, fantasizing, hallucinating, or some other process. For example, when you are thirsty, you might start fantasizing about a tall, cold glass of ice water.

When you are hungry, you might start thinking about ordering your favorite dish from your favorite restaurant. By doing this, you are able to cope with the tension created by the id’s urges until you are realistically able to satisfy those needs.

Observations About the Id

In his 1933 book New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, Freud described the id as the “dark, inaccessible part of our personality.” The only real way to observe the id, he suggested, was to study the content of dreams and neurotic behavioral clues.

Freud’s conception of the id was that it was a reservoir of instinctual energy driven by the pleasure principle that works toward fulfilling our most basic needs.

Freud also compared it to a “cauldron of seething excitations” and described the id as having no real organization. So, how do the id and ego interact?

Freud compared their relationship to that of a horse and rider. The horse provides the energy that drives them forward, but it is the rider to guides these powerful movements to determine direction. However, sometimes the rider may lose control and find himself simply along for the ride. In other words, sometimes the ego may simply have to direct the id in the direction it wants to go.

A Word From Verywell

Freud’s views of personality remain controversial, but a basic knowledge of them is important when discussing psychoanalysis and the practice of psychology.