Freud formulated his famous Tripartite Model of the structure of the mind or personality during 1923.
The theory is termed ‘tripartite’ because Freud distinguished 3 elements that create the structure of the mind – the id, ego and super-ego.
The id is the base for the instinctual sexual drives which require satisfaction.
The super-ego contains the ‘conscience’ … where the social control environment is internalized.
The ego, which is the conscious-self, is created by the dynamics between the id and the super-ego. Its task is to reconcile the id and super-ego conflicts into something useful in the external reality.
The mind can be seen as a dynamic energy system. All things of the consciousness reside in the ego. The id permamently lies in the unconscious mind. The super-ego seeks to limit the blind pleasure-seeking drives of the id by putting restrictions in place.
Freud saw the nature of mental health as the establishment of a harmonious relationship between the 3 elements.
If the external world cannot satisfy the id‘s pleasure drives, or if some or all of these drives would transgress the moral sanction set in place by the super-ego, it will create inner conflict in the mind between its consistent elements. It could lead to neurosis at a later stage, if it can’t be resolved.
Freud introduced the key concept that the mind has a number of ‘defense mechanisms’ which attempt to prevent conflicts in the mind from becoming too acute:
- repression – pushing conflict into the unconscious.
- sublimation – channelling the sexual drives into socially acceptable goals, such as art or science.
- fixation – the failure to progress beyond a certain point of development.
- regression – a return to the behavior characteristics of a previous stage experienced.
Of these defense mechanisms repression is the most important.
Freud explained it like this:
When a person has an instinctive notion that the super-ego deems inappropriate, then it is possible that the mind would push this notion away and try to repress it into the unconscious.
So repression is one of the central defenses by which the ego tries to avoid internal conflict and pain. And it tries to reconcile the id and super-ego demands with reality.
However, the instinctual drive is not and can’t be destroyed when repressed in the unconscious. It continues to exist. It exerts a determining force on the conscious mind from the unconscious. It can therefore create dysfunctional behavior, such as neuroses.
The difference between ‘normal’ repression and the type of repression that results in a neurotic illness, is one of degree and not of what type. The compulsive behavior of a neurotic person is in itself a manifestation of a repressed instinctual drive.
This highly irrational behavior of neuroses is beyond the control of the person, because it is now driven by the unconscious repressed impulse.
The task of psychonalysis is to find these repressed drives by going into the person’s unconscious, bring them to the forefront of the consciousness, and then allow the ego to directly confront them and thus take them out of play.
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