What Is the Id?

Iceberg representing the id
J. W. Burkey / The Image Bank / Getty Images

According to Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory of personality, the id is the personality component made up of unconscious psychic energy that works to satisfy basic urges, needs and desires. The id operates based on the pleasure principle, which demands immediate gratification of needs.

Freud compared personality to an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg above the water represents conscious awareness.

The bulk of the iceberg below the water symbolizes the unconscious mind where all of the hidden desires, thoughts and memories exist. It is there that the id resides.

When Does the Id Emerge?

The id is the only part of personality that is present at birth. Freud also suggested that this primitive component of personality existed wholly within the unconscious. The id acts as the driving force of personality. It not only strives to fulfill our most basic urges, many of which are tied directly to survival, it also provides all of the energy necessary to drive personality.

During infancy, before the other components of personality begin to form, children are ruled entirely by the id. Satisfying basic needs for food, drink and comfort are of the utmost importance. As we grow older, it would obviously be quite problematic if we acted out to satisfy the needs of the id whenever we felt an urge, need or desire.

Fortunately, the other components of personality develop as we age, allowing us to control the demands of the id and behave in socially acceptable ways.

How the Id Operates

As mentioned earlier, the id acts according to the pleasure principle, which is the idea that needs should be met immediately. When you are hungry, the pleasure principle directs you to eat.

When you are thirsty, it motivates you to drink. But of course, we can't always satisfy our urges right away. Sometimes we need to wait until the right moment or until we have access to the things that will fulfill our needs.

When we are unable to satisfy a need immediately, tension results. The id relies on the primary process to temporarily relieve the tension. The primary process involves creating a mental image either through daydreaming, fantasizing, hallucinating, or some other process. For example, when you are thirsty, you might start fantasizing about a tall, cold glass of ice water.

Remember, however, that the id is just one of the three major components of personality. You can learn more about the ego and superego and how these elements of personality interact in this overview of the id, ego and superego.

Observations and Quotes about the Id

In his 1933 book New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, Freud described the id as the "dark, inaccessible part of our personality." The only real way to observe the id, he suggested, was to study the content of dreams and neurotic behavioral clues.

Freud's conception of the id was that it was a reservoir of instinctual energy driven by the pleasure principle that works toward fulfilling our most basic needs. Freud also compared it to a "cauldron of seething excitations" and described the id as having no real organization.

"Where id is, there shall ego be."
(Sigmund Freud, 1933, New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis)

So how do the id and ego interact? Freud compared their relationship to that of a horse and rider. The horse provides the energy that drives them forward, but it is the rider to guides these powerful movements to determine direction. However, sometimes the rider may lose control and find himself simply along for the ride. In other words, sometimes the ego may simply have to direct the id in the direction it wants to go.

"People actually live with their id exposed. They're not good at concealing what's going on inside.
(Philip Seymour Hoffman)"

More Psychology Definitions: The Psychology Dictionary

Continue Reading