FREUD’S THEORY OF PERSONALITY. Many psychologists have developed theories about personality—how to describe it, how it emerges, what influences it, how it changes, and what constitutes a healthy or an abnormal personality. Here you will learn about the three most important personality theories: psychoanalytic theory, behaviorism, and humanism.

Psychoanalytic Theory

  • The first of the modern personality theories was developed by Sigmund Freud and is known as psychoanalytic theory.
  • The psychiatric practice of this theory is called psychoanalysis.
  • Freud’s ideas were plentiful, profound, and often controversial.
  • His theory about personality has had a tremendous influence on societies around the world through many different disciplines.
  • Not only psychology has been influenced and informed by the ideas of Freud, but also literature, art, philosophy, cultural studies, film theory, and many other academic subjects.
  • Freud’s theory represents one of the major intellectual ideas of the modern world.
  • Right or wrong, these ideas have had a lasting and enormous impact.


  • Freud theorized that personality contains three structures—the id, ego, and superego—and that the mind is like an iceberg, the unconscious making up 90% while the conscious (like the tip of the iceberg floating above water) makes only 10% of the mind.
  • Freud suggested an analogy about the mind.
  • He said that the mind is like an iceberg in the ocean, floating 10% above the water and 90% below.

The unconscious, Freud proposed, makes up the vast majority of our minds.

  • In Freud’s view, only about 10% of our behaviors are caused by conscious awareness—about 90% are produced by unconscious factors.
  • According to psychoanalytic theory, most of what controls our behaviors, thoughts, and feelings is unknown to our aware minds.
  • Normally, the unconscious guide us. Freud said that the mind could be divided into three abstract categories.
  • These are the id, the ego, and the superego.

1. The id:

  • Latin for the term “it,” this division of the mind includes our basic instincts, inborn dispositions, and animalistic urges.
  • Freud said that the id is unconscious, that we are unaware of its workings.
  • The id is not rational; it imagines, dreams, and invents things to get us what we want.
  • Freud said that the id operates according to the pleasure principle—it aims toward pleasurable things and away from painful things.
  • The id aims to satisfy our biological urges and drives.
  • It includes feelings of hunger, thirst, sex, and other natural body desires aimed at deriving pleasure.

2. The ego:

  • Greek and Latin for “I,” this personality structure begins developing in childhood and can be interpreted as the “self.”
  • The ego is partly conscious and partly unconscious.
  • The ego operates according to the reality principle; that is, it attempts to help the id get what it wants by judging the difference between real and imaginary.
  • If a person is hungry, the id might begin to imagine food and even dream about food. (The id is not rational.)
  • The ego, however, will try to determine how to get some real food.
  • The ego helps a person satisfy needs through reality.

3. The superego:

  • This term means “above the ego,” and includes the moral ideas that a person learns within the family and society.
  • The superego gives people feelings of pride when they do something correct (the ego ideal) and feelings of guilt when they do something they consider to be morally wrong (the conscience).
  • The superego, like the ego, is partly conscious and partly unconscious.
  • The superego is a child’s moral barometer, and it creates feelings of pride and guilt according to the beliefs that have been learned within the family and the culture.


  • Although these are known as structures, do not take the term literally.
  • Freud did not mean that these are physical parts of our bodies or our brains.
  • He coined these terms and proposed this division of the mind as abstract ideas meant to help us understand how personality develops and works, and how mental illnesses can develop.

Freud theorized that healthy personality development requires a balance between the id and the superego.

  • These two divisions of the mind are naturally in conflict with one another:
  • The id attempts to satisfy animal, biological urges, while the superego preaches patience and restraint.

The struggle between these two is an example of intrapsychic conflict—conflict within the mind.

  • According to psychoanalytic theory, defense mechanisms are automatic (unconscious) reactions to the fear that the id’s desires will overwhelm the ego.
  • Freud believed that a healthy personality was one in which the id’s demands are met but also the superego is satisfied in making the person feel proud and not overwhelmed by guilt.
  • If the id is too strong, a person will be rude, overbearing, selfish, and animalistic.
  • If the superego is too strong, a person is constantly worried, nervous, and full of guilt and anxiety and is always repressing the id’s desires.
  • An overly strong id makes one a psychopath, lacking a conscience, or an ogre, selfishly meeting one’s needs without concern for others.
  • An overly strong superego, on the other hand, makes one a worrier, a neurotic, so overwhelmed by guilt that it is difficult to get satisfaction.