Id, Ego SuperEgo
& The Triune Brain
The concept of
id, ego, superego are the key elements of a hypothetical structure of
the mind, visualized by Sigmund Freud. His related theories
formed the foundation for psychoanalysis, which has become the most
widely used method of psychotherapy. Psychoanalysis is the
clinical method for treating psychopathology
through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst. The
founding aim of the treatment was to curb neurotic behaviors through the assisted recall of
suppressed memories. This requires the identification of complex defense
mechanisms, which suppressed unwelcome memories.
While psychoanalysis has
become a major field of therapy, it gained little from Freud's ideas. This article seeks to clarify weaknesses in the dense, pedantic and abstruse complexities involved in Freud's visualization of the structure of the mind as well as the complicated processes suggested by him for the revelation of suppressed
The three parts
of Freud's “unconscious” mind, the id, the ego and the superego,
stood for an instinctual drive, a realistic intelligence and a
social/inner moral sense. According to
his theory, "Transference neuroses correspond to a conflict
between the ego and the id; narcissistic neuroses, to a conflict
between the ego and the superego; and psychoses, to one between the
ego and the external world." For
many modern psychologists, Freud's psychoanalysis relied too much on
ambiguous data, including dreams and free associations and failed to
yield reliable standards for treatment.
“three parts” also provided an oversimplified map of the
in normal parlance, an “unconscious” mind does not respond to
stimuli, this article describes the nerve cell pattern recognition
processes, which occur beneath conscious awareness as “subconscious”
events. Unlike Freud's narrow focus on repressed memories as the
trigger for emotional turmoil, history has proved that psychological
problems originate from myriad sources and many fields of treatment
have successfully delivered tangible emotional relief to people.
Id, Ego SuperEgo And The Triune Brain
As against Freud's theory of interactions between a primitive instinct (id), a realistic brain (ego) and a conscience (superego), an emotion controlled triune brain, proposed by Paul D. MacLean, provides a more substantive evolutionary substructure for the mind. The concept separates the evolutionary stages in the development of the control processes in the brain. The first stage controlled raw animal reactivity to direct stimuli, and approximated to the reptilian brain. The second stage mammalian brain added more complex feeling/emotion controls, which triggered instinct/experience based behavioral responses. In the third human stage, the prefrontal regions generated behaviors based on rational evaluations.
While Freud visualized a “seething cauldron of the unconscious,” the subconscious nervous system actually consists of the competing emotional drives including anger, fear, sadness, disgust, contempt, curiosity, surprise, love, pleasure, embarrassment, guilt, and shame. Each of these emotions is supported by programmed behavior patterns, developed over millions of years. Over a lifetime, the more active emotions can also gain abnormal strength through LTP, neural plasticity and neuronal reverberation (habit). Psychological problems result from the over activity of such drives.
is the pattern recognition mechanism, which focuses the control of
the system to a single emotion by inhibiting other “irrelevant”
emotional impulses. In an animal, this inhibition process inhibits
the option to drink, when the urge to eat grass is selected. In the
“two faces, or a vase” visual experiment, intuition inhibits
recognition of two faces, when the mind identifies the vase. The
emotional drives, which inhibit rationality whenever a negative
emotion is in control, remain at the root of psychological problems.
Id, Ego SuperEgo –Id
Ignores The Amygdala
in a sexually bottled up society, Freud saw the id, desiring the
satisfaction of sex, as the most fundamental instinctual drive. The
id was a primary instinctual force, which was unresponsive to the
demands of reality. It was the source of bodily needs, wants,
desires, and impulses, particularly sexual and aggressive drives.
The id was like a child - “an
alimentary tract with no sense of responsibility at either end.”
It was a
mass of instinctive drives and impulses, dominated by the pleasure
principle, which sought immediate gratification. It contained
the libido, an elemental mental force, and was the only component of
personality that contained drives present from birth.
guided by the id would act without discretion to meet immediate
desires. Freud even suggested a death instinct, which sought to
“lead organic life back to its inanimate state.” The id included
this “instinct of destruction, directed against the external
the deepest level of the unconscious, id ruled in a chaos, in a “dark
inaccessible part of the personality, in a cauldron seething with
energy and excitations,” seeking the satisfaction of instinctual
needs. A “pleasure principle” also included a drive to avoid
pain or “unpleasure,” through the arousal of instinctual tension.
In reality, the avoidance of pain, not the gratification
sexual drives, provides the most powerful drive within the nervous
system. During the early beginnings of life, nature
developed the amygdalae as a defense response mechanism for animals.
Intuitively recognizing danger patterns in the potential for pain,
the organs enabled animals to fight, freeze, or escape. As essential
as the vertebrae, these organs protected fishes, amphibians,
reptiles, birds and mammals from harm. In reality, angry,
destructive, or fearful drives from the amygdala dominate the system
while seeking self protection through the early detection of the
potential for physical, or social pain. Freud's description of the
id, as the principal elemental instinct, fails to fit facts.
Ego SuperEgo –Ego Mixes Rational & Emotional Drives
presents the ego as a part of the id modified by contact with the
external world. It is a mental agent mediating among three contending
forces: the outside demands of social pressure or reality, libidinal
demands for immediate satisfaction arising from the id, and the moral
demands of the superego. Although considered only partly conscious,
Freud considered the ego to constitute the major part of
consciousness. Conflicts between the id, the ego and the superego
formed crucial factors in the development of neuroses. The ego
mediated between the id and reality by cloaking id demands with the
preconscious rationalizations of the ego. The ego would resist the
urge to grab other people's belongings by purchasing
them for one's self.
Freud presents the ego as the
entity which mediates between instinctual responses and extreme
social demands. Originally,
Freud used the word ego to mean a sense of self, but later revised it
to mean a set of behaviors, including judgment, tolerance, reality
testing, control, planning, defense, synthesis of information,
intellectual functioning, and memory. These can also be termed adult
behaviors, which can be coldly rational, or kind and compassionate.
The prefrontal regions and emotions produce the patterns of human
behavior. Rational behavior is initiated by the prefrontal regions
and compassionate behavior by the mirror neuron circuits in the
insular cortex, which are said to grant a person a sense of empathy.
With “Ego,” Freud combined two distinctly
different drives into a single structure.
Id, Ego SuperEgo –
SuperEgo, A Narrow View
in its massively evolved wisdom, created the conditions for herds of
animals to live in peace and harmony. The mirror neuron system,
(MNS), gave an animal inner awareness of the experiences and the pain
of its neighbor. With empathy, the MNS built love and compassion
into the nature of the herd. Only the failure of the MNS caused
But, in its dogged search for
repressed memories, Freud's psychoanalysis attributed suppressed sex
related anger, guilt and fear to be the initiators of appropriate
social behavior. Living in a sexually repressed society, Freud
focused on sex as the final determinant of personality. According to
him, the Oedipus complex gave each child a desire to sexually
possess the parent of the opposite sex! Repression of this desire
developed a superego, which punished inappropriate behavior with
guilt. It was repression, which developed an individual's sense of
what was right and wrong. The superego was a domineering parental
drive, which compelled the ego of a person to act according to his
own conscience. The superego concept casts a pall of psychoanalytic
suspicion on individual acts of honor, justice and compassion.
focused on the superego as compelling proper social behavior through
guilt. The insular cortex triggered pain for a variety of emotions.
Comparison drives triggered the pain of envy and jealousy. Failure
to meet social norms triggered the pain of guilt. In response, the
amygdala set off pain avoidance activities. People don't behave
appropriately, because they hear the strictures of their parents.
Their behaviors occur, because they internally sense the needs of the
society they live in. Good behavior may not be the result of
“censorship or repression” by a superego, but by a globally
evaluated decision making process, which balances social needs
against personal needs.
Id, Ego SuperEgo –
Unconscious Vs. The Subconscious
provides a confusing picture of the “unconscious.” He divided
the mind into the three elements of conscious, preconscious, and
unconscious. According to him, the conscious contained events that we
were aware of. The preconscious contained events that were in the
process of becoming conscious. The unconscious had events that we
were not aware of. Subsequently, Freud made the "disagreeable
discovery” that conscious events and repressed and unconscious
events did not coincide. Freud named this chaotic and conflicting
unconscious region the “id.” In addition, conscious awareness
resides in the ego, although not all of the operations of the ego are
conscious. Although the id is unconscious by definition, the ego and
the super-ego are both partly conscious and partly unconscious.
Freud's divisions of conscious, preconscious, and unconscious cast a
confusing veil over the acknowledged mystery of consciousness.
While science has discovered the neural correlates of
consciousness, nothing in the physical world can explain our
subjective experience of the three dimensional world of color, sound
and sensations. While billions of nerve cells fire to enable us to
subconsciously recognize the ideas in this page, or manage heartbeat
and breathing, there is an entity, the neural correlates of
consciousness, forming a small fraction of the multi-billion cell
network, which sees the words on this page - conscious awareness.
the theory of complex systems, emergence is the effect, where new
patterns arise out of myriad simple interactions. New properties do
emerge at higher levels of complexity. Psychology emerges from
biology and biology from chemistry. The whole completely differs from
the sum of its parts. Could consciousness emerge into a non physical
knowledge dimension as the complexity of a neural network increases?
The brilliant experiments of Benjamin Libet help to clarify
some elements of this mystery. He studied
subjects who voluntarily pressed a button, while noting the position
of a dot on a computer screen, which shifted its position every 43
milliseconds. The noted moment of depressing the button was the
moment of conscious awareness; the exact instant the subject thought
the button was pressed. Each time, Libet had also timed the beginning
of motor neuron activity in the brains of his subjects. He discovered
that conscious awareness occurred 350 milliseconds AFTER the
beginning of subconscious motor neuron activity. While Freud leaves
us confused, Libet has at least managed to link the mystery of
consciousness to measurable human responses.
Ego SuperEgo –Freud's Psychoanalysis
laid the conscious identification of repressed memories as the
foundation for psychoanalytic therapy. He focused on sex as a
determinant of personality. His examples were drawn from a narrow
group of nineteenth century upper-class Austrian women living in a
sexually repressed society. Psychoanalysis focused on early
childhood, since many human conflicts originate in the first years of
a person's life.
According to Freud, the patient's mind was
endeavoring to hide the underlying problem through myriad defense
mechanisms. The psychiatrist had to distinguish between them. They
included repression, forgetfulness, reaction-formation, regression,
displacement, and rationalization, denial, displacement,
intellectualization, fantasy, compensation, projection, reaction
formation, regression, repression, and sublimation, which acted to
protect the conscious mind from an unacceptable reality. Freud's
daughter Anna Freud added more mechanisms, including undoing,
suppression, dissociation, idealization, identification,
introjection, inversion, somatisation, splitting, and substitution.
The psychoanalyst required frequent sessions with a client over a
period of years to uncover the problem.
Ego SuperEgo –Not The Detection Of Repression
meanwhile, beyond Austria, enlightened thinkers on many continents
endeavored over the ages to bring mankind freedom from emotional
turmoil. These processes had little to do with the revelation of
suppressed memories. The stilling of emotions through meditation,
yoga and breath control handed over controls to the prefrontal, or to
higher level emotional regions in the insular cortex. This enabled
reason, or love and compassion to take control of the mind.
Mindfulness courses improved the performance of novice meditators on
tasks of sustained attention and working memory. They were less
depressed than those who did not receive such training.
Focusing, developed by Eugene Gendlin, was not about
repression. In Focusing, patients achieve success by recognizing a
“Bodily Felt Sense,” related to a painful emotion. Such
recognition led to sudden insights, accompanied by body relaxation
indicators and increases in EEG alpha frequencies. The Focusing
Institute reported successful outcomes for prison inmates, psychotic
patients, the elderly and in patients with health related
Despair was not caused by suppressed memories. As a
prisoner in the Nazi concentration camps, the famed psychiatrist
Frankl learned that discovering a purpose in life, however simple,
was the key to survival in an unbearably cruel world. After the war,
he established a major field in psychiatry, assisting thousands of
suicidal patients around the world to recover by discovering an
acceptable purpose in life.
The Emotional Freedom Technique, EFT, developed by Gary
Craig, is also not about sexual repression. EFT simplified ancient
acupressure techniques into a simple one minute exercise. Tapping
identified nodal points in the body effectively brought about a
powerful reduction in emotional turmoil. Thousands of people
acknowledge measurable reduction in the intensity of their emotions
at the end of this one minute process. While Freud's concept of
psychoanalysis has contributed significantly to reduce emotional
turmoil, his theories of mental structures appear to lead the field
of mental health into the wilderness.
This page was last updated on 21-Jan-2016.