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. 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.

An understanding of Freud's psychodynamic perspective is important in learning about the history of psychology. You will often see references to the id, ego, and superego in popular culture and philosophy.

illustration of teacher standing in front of classroom with words
Illustration by Emily Roberts, Verywell

When Does the Id Emerge?

Freud compared personality to an iceberg. 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 there 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 our most basic urges, many of which are tied directly to survival, it also provides all of the energy necessary to drive personality.

During infancy, before the other components of personality begin to form, children are ruled entirely by the id. Satisfying basic needs for food, drink, and comfort is of the utmost importance.

As we grow older, it would obviously be quite problematic if we acted out to satisfy the needs of the id whenever we felt an urge, need, or desire. 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.

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, we can't always satisfy our urges right away. Sometimes we need to wait until the right moment or until we have access to the things that will fulfill our needs.

When we 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.

Observations and Quotes 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.

"Where id is, there shall ego be."
(Sigmund Freud, 1933, ​"New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis")

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.

"People actually live with their id exposed. They're not good at concealing what's going on inside.
(Philip Seymour Hoffman)"

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

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Article Sources

  • Carducci, B. The Psychology of Personality: Viewpoints, Research, and Applications. John Wiley & Sons; 2009.
  • Engler, B. Personality Theories. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing; 2009.