Id, Ego, Superego

By Leo Gura - April 7, 2014 | 1 Comments

A definition of Freud’s old-school psychology concept: Id, Ego, and Superego.

Video Transcript

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Hey, this is Leo from, and in this video I’m going to talk about id, ego and the superego.

According To Sigmund

Welcome back. Let’s talk about the id, the ego and the superego. In this video I want to cover what these concepts are, and how they play in practical personal development. How do we actually apply these old-school concepts from Sigmund Freud, back in the early 1900s, how do we take them and how do we make sense of them, and actually use them to help us today in our own lives to improve our self-control and our ability to be happy and successful.

Let’s talk about that. Let’s really define what the id, the ego and the superego are. Like I said, these are some old-school concepts coming from Sigmund Freud, way back in the day. In a lot of ways, they are somewhat obsolete today, somewhat archaic. The whole Sigmund Freud school of thought, the whole analytical, psychoanalytic school of thought is in many ways not what you want to be using in order to move forward in your own personal growth.

What I’m delivering to you guys through Actualized.oprg is more practical, more modern ides, things you can go out there and apply. We can still take some lessons from this old model that Freud developed and we can see how we can use it to help us today.

A really good analogy that I loved and got from Jonathan Haidt, who wrote the Happiness Hypothesis. There he gives us this amazing analogy of what the id, the ego and the superego are.

A Picture Painted

He says it’s like this: Imagine in the old times, there’s an old buggy. A horse carriage drawn buggy. Here’s you’ve got the horses that are pulling this buggy forward at breakneck speed. Then, what have you got? You’ve got the rider on top of the buggy, who is holding the reins and trying to control the horses, trying to steer the horses. He’s also got a whip, so he’s whipping the horses to make them run.

That is like the relationship between the id and the ego. The id are the horses. The ego is the rider, he’s trying to control the horses. Then, inside the carriage, behind the rider is his old father. His father is yelling at the rider, telling him where to steer the carriage. That is the superego.

I love this image, because it’s so easy to remember, and it clearly illustrates what each of these functions of the psyche are. That’s exactly what Freud was talking about. These are functions of the psyche: the id, the ego and the superego.

What is the id? The id is the horse, or multiple horses, that you’ve got pulling your carriage forward. What is that literally? That can be described as your more base, instinctual desires. This is that force within you, within your psyche, that is looking for instant gratification, for pleasure. It is more or less unconscious.

The way you would imagine a horse. A horse is just doing its own thing, it’s not too worried about where we’re going. It’s just hungry or thirsty or it wants to run or it doesn’t want to move, and that’s just the horse.

Then you’ve got the ego. The ego is the rider. He’s the rational one. He’s the more conscious one. He’s the one who’s in control. He’s thinking long-term. He’s planning, he’s the realistic person. He’s the strategic element of the psyche. He’s that part of you that’s being rational and planning your life. That’s the ego. It’s trying to rein in the id, the horses.

Sometimes the horses want to do crazy things that are not healthy for the overall carriage and rider situation. It might even be something that’s not healthy for the horses themselves. Maybe the horses decide they want to lead the carriage and themselves off a cliff. They’ll do that unless the rider holds them back and steers them in the right direction.

Then, of course, we can’t forget the lovable, old, cranky man. The father sitting in the carriage behind the rider. He’s the wise one. He is the one who knows best. He’s got experience. He’s got morals. He’s got ideals. He’s got high standards. He is the societal influence, you might say.

He’s the one who’s lecturing, who’s moralising the rider on how to best steer the horses. He might criticize the rider in one aspect of how he manages the horses. Or he might offer some suggestion or some advice about how it should be done better. That is the superego.

That’s the part of our psyche that is the moralising part. It’s our conscience, you might say. It’s that part that is the ideal self, but also the critical self. It’s that inner critic we all have that tells us we know we could be doing better, that we should be living up to something more than we currently are.

An Explanation

This is the dynamic. The id, the ego and the superego. This is how Freud thought of it. This is how Freud characterized the human psyche. He thought that we have this very low base part which is virtually unconscious, the horses, the id. All it wants are instant gratification and desires. Quick hits of pleasure. Without thinking about long-term repercussions.

Then he imagined we have the flipside of that, the complete opposite, which is the moralising side, the ideal side of us which knows what should be done, which is the conscious part. But it’s also the part that can be too idealistic sometimes, too moralising, too sermonising.

Then you have this function in between, which is the ego. It’s the ego’s job to guide between the two extremes. The ego is trying to really live up to the conscience, but on the other hand, it’s also trying to appease the horses. It’s trying to appease the id. Yes, the ego wants to indulge in pleasures, but it doesn’t want to indulge in pleasures in such a way that is self-destructive and it’s going to lead you off a cliff.

He listens to the superego. Then, sometimes, the superego’s a little bit too stern, and a little bit too self-criticizing, too judgemental, so the ego wants to bring it back towards the id. This is the job of the ego, it is to mediate between these two extremes, the best in us and the worst in us, to kind of mediate between the two and keep us on the road, going forward in life, doing whatever it is we have to do.

Yes, But…

There are a few problems here with this model. First of all, it’s not literally how the mind works. This is just more of a figurative or a diagrammatic way of looking at what is going on here. This is not literally what’s happening. You don’t actually have an id in your brain. You don’t actually have an ego in your brain, and a superego. It’s all meshed together.

Some of these roles are hard to really delineate. I think there’s something powerful here to the idea that we do have a lower self, or something that seems like that in our brain. It’s that lower self that tells us that we shouldn’t go to the gym today, that we should just take it easy. It’s that lower self that says we shouldn’t push it at work today, we should just take it easy.

Maybe we should just take a vacation. Maybe we should drop off that diet. Maybe we’ve been good enough, so we should indulge in some TV or some internet, or some sort of easy stimulation. Maybe go get that third Martini. Maybe go drinking with the friends, go have a party, do something fun, do some recreational drugs.

That’s the id. Now we’ve all been there, we’ve all given in to that. We also know the dangers of that. The dangers of that are forming bad, negative habits that can really destroy your life. In the worst of situations, like drugs, those habits can literally wreck your entire life.

Even in more subtle ways, even in more socially acceptable ways, just simple things like watching television or being addicted to partying and drinking, even though that’s more socially acceptable than hardcore drugs, it’s still probably destroying your life and robbing you of all the potential that you’ve got.

You’ve got to watch out for that. You’ve got to watch out for that id. The, of course, we also know the conscience part. The conscience part is really where Freud’s model start to break down. I think the ego is more accurate, the superego is the problematic thing.

You don’t have this. You do have some sort of societal conditioning, and you probably have morals that you’ve picked up from your parents and society and the media, and just things like culture that you’re told are taboo, that are wrong.

A Different Superego

You’ve got those in the back of your mind, but that is really not your highest self. Your highest self is something different than the superego. If we take this whole model and we cut it up in a different way, I think a more accurate way to cut it up would be to simply say you’ve got your lower, unconscious self and you’ve got your higher, conscious self.

Your conscious self naturally tries to live up to ideals. It naturally tries to do good. Your higher self, this is where you ultimately want to be. It’s not that you should be mediating between your lower self and your higher self. No, you should be going totally for your higher self.

This higher self is not the moralistic higher self that your parents taught you about. It’s not that sermon you got in church that tells you if you don’t do good, and you don’t do right, and if you lie, cheat, steal and have sex you’re going to go to hell with brimstone and pain and torture.

It’s not about that. That’s not how it works. I think this is where Freud’s model really starts to break down. He was probably coming at it from this religious context and a societal conditioning context that was telling you what to do.

No, in reality, the way it works is when you’re doing things for the lower values, you’re doing things just to get pleasure or stimulation, or doing things that are easy and comfortable, really what you’re doing is behaving in an unconscious way.

The Root Cause Of Evil

When you’re doing that, that is the evil of the world. That is what’s destroying your life, that’s also what is causing evil in the world — when people live like that, they live unconsciously. They get angry, they get negative thoughts, they’re always judgmental, they’re criticizing, they’re engaging in activities that are not good for them in the long run, they’re hurting their health, they’re hurting their relationships, hurting their businesses, their work, their careers.

That is all unconscious. When you start to move towards consciousness, you start to develop more knowledge, more self-awareness, then what happens is you move towards your higher self. Your higher self is not a mixture of both good and bad elements, like the superego is.

The superego, on the one hand it has ideals, but it also is negative in the sense that it is critical. It’s like that critical parent. That parent might have good intentions, but in the end that criticism the parent is throwing out, the judgements, the constant nagging, that’s not healthy. That’s actually an unconscious behavior.

What we want to do is, in Freud’s model, what we would do is take the superego, we would carve out that critical part and we would move it over into the id. That’s where it properly belongs. If we reformulate that whole model then what you’ve got is the id, which is negative stuff, and then you’ve got the higher self, the new superego, which is what I call the higher self.

That’s you being fully conscious. When you’re fully conscious, that’s ultimately where you want to be. That’s when you’re making the best decisions. That’s when you’re thinking long-term. That’s when you’re able to delay gratification. That’s when you’re able to be wise. That’s when you’re able to control your impulses, you’re able to control your thought patterns.

You’re able to do things with complete awareness. You’re also very happy with life as it is. You don’t always need to be judging and criticizing. Browbeating yourself all the time, browbeating yourself, and beating yourself up over the fact you’re not able to do as much as you wanted to do, that’s not a healthy impulse.

Consciousness Above All Else

Sometimes people get that wrong, and I think that’s where Freud got it wrong. That’s not a healthy impulse. A healthy impulse is being completely conscious, and also accepting the fact that you’re not perfect, that you’re going to slip up sometimes. That’s ok. What you’re trying to do is be conscious of all your imperfections as well as the things that are good about you.

When you get to a really high level of consciousness in your life, then what happens is you just become at peace with what is. You’re not so worried about striving for something. You’re not so worried about judging yourself for doing something wrong or not living up to some sort of goal. You’re just more comfortable and more at peace.

You might say “Well if that’s the case, don’t you become listless? Don’t you become unmotivated? Don’t you become lazy?” Actually no. What happens is that when you stop criticizing yourself, you become more motivated. When you’re at peace it’s not like you have no motivation now.

It’s not like you just sit on the couch. In fact, quite the opposite. When you’re at peace everything’s OK, and now you have a very healthy emotional foundation from which to act upon. You’re not attached to things. That’s healthy.

To be attached to results and outcomes is neurotic. That parent that’s sitting in the back of the buggy, yelling at his son to steer the car to the left or to the right, that’s really not a healthy relationship. That’s not a healthy attitude, that’s a neurotic situation. Kind of interesting to think about, huh?

How does that apply to your relationship with your parents? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Probably a little bit of that going on there too. Basically, that is what the id, the ego and the superego is. How does this actually apply to your life and what can you do with it?

A Battle Of Wills

I think what you do with is start to recognize there are these forces within your mind, and there’s this tug-of-war going on. That part of it is pretty accurate. There is a tug of war going on between your lower self and your higher self. Sometimes the lower self wins out, sometimes the higher self wins out, and sometimes we get confused about what is the lower self and what is the higher self.

Sometimes those elements intermix and it’s hard to even distinguish. Is our higher self really doing the best for us? Or does it have elements within it that are actually part of the lower self that are critical, judgemental, that are trying to get us to achieve things, that are not really in line with what we want authentically.

I think this is the real — The journey of personal development is that you go through this and you start to weed and sort out. It’s not quite so simple to say what is the lower self and what is the higher self within you. You have to actually do some work. You have to do some introspection, do some personal development.

Slowly, as you get more experienced, you start to see which elements are really part of your higher self and which elements are not. As you do that, as you make this distinction more and more clear in your mind, it becomes easier for you to become disciplined. It becomes easier for you to go towards the route of consciousness and to do the thing that are high consciousness, and that are good for you.

And you don’t have to browbeat yourself to get them to happen. It’s an easy flowing kind of discipline. That’s really what self-actualization is. The self-actualized person has made this distinction very clear for himself. He is naturally, effortlessly guiding himself towards what is good.

It’s not just doing the bad stuff and knowing that there’s good stuff you should be doing. It’s knowing the good, and the fact that you know what’s good makes you want to do it. That’s ultimately the level you want to get to. I think that’s really the power of this idea. This is something that’s real, something you can have in your life.

You can carve out this distinction very clearly for yourself by doing conscious personal development work, to the point where the things that are healthy for you are the thing you are doing naturally.

I personally experienced this a lot in the last year of my own life, where a lot of the things that I’ve been struggling with, a lot of the bad stuff I knew I shouldn’t be doing, now I don’t do them effortlessly. That’s because of a lot of the work I’ve done. A lot of that I try to share with you guys through the other videos that I’ve got.

Wrap Up

That is ego, id and superego. I hope that got you a little bit more clarity around those classic psychology concepts. This is it, I’m going to be signing off. Go ahead, post your comments down below. I’d love to hear what you guys think. Please like this and share it. Spread it around, share it with a friend on Facebook so that we can get other people conscious about what’s going on with their own psychologies.

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louis wesley says:

i really enjoyed this video. i have not heard anyone say this about freud. thank you so much for helping me begin to understand these concepts.

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