Psychoanalytic Personality Theory



The Psychoanalytic Theory of Personality asserts that personality and behavior arise from dynamic interactions between the id, superego, and ego. The id drives a person to pursue immediate pleasure and to avoid pain. It is innate and completely unconscious. The superego is the moral conscious driving people toward idealistic goals. It is shaped by socialization. The ego mediates between the id and the superego according to the reality principle. The ego uses defense mechanisms to alleviate anxiety that can be caused by conflicts between the id and the superego. Psychoanalytic theory is a deterministic theory of personality.

Key Points

  • Psychoanalytic Theory of Personality
    • Developed by Sigmund Freud
    • Personality shaped by interaction between conscious and unconscious elements
      • Determined by drives, defense mechanisms, and fixations
      • Believes personality is deterministic
    • Has 3 components
      • Id
        • Unconscious, primitive pursuit of pleasure
          • Follows pleasure principle
            • Pursuit of immediate pleasure and avoidance of pain
          • Fueled by the libido (“life instinct”)
            • Motivation for survival, pleasure, avoidance of pain (not limited to sexual drive)
          • Also contains the death instinct
            • Drives aggressive behaviors, unconscious desires to hurt others/oneself
      • Ego
        • Mediates between id and superego
          • Follows reality principle
            • seeks realistic, socially-acceptable (superego approved) ways to satisfy id
          • Uses defense mechanisms
            • relieve anxiety caused by conflict between the id and superego
      • Superego
        • Moral consciousness shaped by socialization
          • Follows morality/perfection principle
            • Pursuit of socially approved ideals 


The id is ruled by a desire to pursue immediate pleasure and avoid immediate pain. For example, a kid on Halloween doesn’t think about the long term consequences of eating handfuls of candy. Instead of delayed gratification, the kid wants candy, and he wants it now. An older kid with a more developed superego, however, might want to pursue the socially-shaped conception that gluttony is bad. The kid’s ego would then use a defense mechanism to alleviate the anxiety created by these conflicting drives.