Growth | Written by: Devonnie Garvey

Id, Ego and Superego: What’s the Difference?

Ever wondered what makes you, you?

Sure, you may think of your likes and dislikes, the schools you attended, the charities you volunteer at, or even your specific way of speaking. But, have you ever considered what made your personality the way it is today?

It was in his attempt to decode the question of the human personality that Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychology, coined the terms id, ego, and superego.

These three terms actually form the basis of every human’s personality and are what drives every single interaction we have with the world and others.

If you’ve ever come across these terms before, you may have questions. What do each of these terms mean, and what it is the difference? Let’s take a look at each of them in depth.

The Id

This was the first and most basic part of the personality, as defined by Freud. It refers to the parts of the personality that we have issues controlling, or at the very least move us to satisfy our animalistic urges.

Have you ever become frustrated after being unable to get something to eat? Or, you become more aggressive when you’re hungry? That is an example of the id taking over.

The id refers to the part of our personality that needs the instant gratification of our wants and needs — like our desire for food, water, or sex. When those needs aren’t met, we experience emotions like tension, anxiety or anger.

Since the id is the first part of the personality formed, if we want a better understanding of how the id works, we can turn to the example of babies and toddlers.

For example, if a baby is hungry, it will cry until that need has been met. Similarly, if a toddler enjoys ice-cream, and is given only one serving, that toddler may cry until he or she gets another serving.

In both these instances, we see the id craving the instant gratification of both a need and a want, and the emotional response that not having those needs met elicited.

Luckily, the older we get, the easier it becomes to keep the id in check. This is thanks in part, to the development of another part of the personality.

The Ego

As the second part of the personality that we develop, the ego is less animalistic than the id. You see, the older we get, the more we realized that sometimes what the id prompts us to do may be socially unacceptable.

Think about it. If you were to throw a tantrum every time you didn’t get what you wanted, how would you be perceived? Socially, being ruled solely by the id is improper. That’s where the ego comes in.

The ego part of your personality strives to fulfill the desires of the id in a socially acceptable way. What this may mean is that the ego may delay the gratification, as well as helping to ease the emotional tension that results from not getting what we may want or need immediately.

After all, this part of your personality recognizes that selfishness will not benefit you in the long run.

Let’s take the example of a teenager. He may be in the middle of an important lesson at school when the urge to pee takes him over. He really wants to go. His id might want him to run out of class to the bathroom, but before that desire can be executed his ego steps in. It reminds him that he has to ask the teacher for permission before leaving the class, and on top of that, the lesson that she’s covering is a technical one.

If he misses this, he may have an issue learning the rest of the lesson when he gets back from the bathroom. With these things in mind, his ego delays the gratification from the fulfillment of his need to use the bathroom. The teenager asked the teacher to use the bathroom after he had grasped the point she was trying to bring across when he first felt the urge.

The ego definitely makes our lives better. But sometimes there is no right moment to have the want we have fulfilled. What do we do then? That’s where the last, and most superlative part of our personality comes into play.

The Superego

The superego is the last part of our personality to develop, and it’s largely shaped by the environment that we grew up in. The morals and judgments that were imparted to us by our parents, friends and the environment around us create the superego.

However, this is also part of our personality that is easier to change. The superego is governed by our values and morals. Put another way, if our superego wants to make a decision, it will not at all be influenced by the id or the ego. Instead, the decisions that our superego moves us to make are based solely on what is right and wrong.

An example of this would be an adult who works in an office. There are no cameras on her floor, and her desk is the only one with a direct line of sight to the office supply room.

As an avid artist, she always needs paper, pencils, glue and other office supplies. Her id wants to steal the office supplies since she does need them for her art career. And her ego wants her to wait until there is no one in sight, since she will probably not get caught.

However, her superego supersedes both other parts of her personality, using the voice of right and wrong. It reminds her that it is wrong to steal from her employer, regardless of the fact that she may never get caught. Interesting, right?

The ID + Ego + Superego = Who You Truly Are

Now that we’ve covered all three parts of the human personality, things should be a little clearer. While the id keeps us attached to our primitive brain, and our ego makes us conscious of what others think, the superego keeps us doing what is right, even if there are no consequences to doing the wrong thing. These three parts of our personality combined, make us complex human beings.

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