By Ashley Renteria
I recently finished a Critical Thinking English course where we used a textbook A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature that introduced us to some of Freud’s theories, and his main contention basically states that everyone’s mental process can be divided into three categories: the superego, the ego and the id.
Freud believed that “most of our actions are motivated by psychological forces over which we have limited control.” Freud viewed the human mind as an iceberg: that most of our mind is structured so that its great weight and density lie beneath the surface, below the level of consciousness. He believed that human behavior is motivated by what we call ‘sexuality’ the prime psychic force as libido or sexual energy. The three psychic zones of superego, ego and id tie into relationships with the conscious and subconscious. The id is entirely unconscious while only small portions of the ego and superego are conscious.
The id is the reservoir of libido, the primary source of all psychic energy. The id’s main goal is to fulfill its “pleasure principle”, the source of all aggression and desire. The id is lawless, amoral and asocial. It exists to satisfy our instincts for pleasure without any concern for legal ethics, social conventions or moral restraint. The id is known for being selfish, having no concern or care for the safety of others or even themselves, the id thrives on instant gratification no matter the consequences. The id is selfish, pleasure driven and sometimes referenced as being “evil”.
The ego acts as regulator of the id, it is the rational restraining influence of the human psyche. The ego lacks strong vitality of the id, however it does regulate the urgencies and instinctual drives of the d so that they can be liberated in non-destructive behavior patterns. Even though the ego is mostly unconscious, it still compromises what we think as part of being a conscious mind. The ego stands for good sense and reason while the id stands for untamed, wild passions. The id is ruled by the pleasure principle while the ego is ruled by the reality principle and serves as an in between world within and the world without, it is in essence in limbo between “pure and evil”.
The superego’s main function is to protect society. Since the superego is predominantly unconscious it serves as the moral censor, the archive of conscience and pride. The superego is the “representative of all moral restrictions, the advocate of the impulse toward perfection, in short it is as much as we have been able to apprehend psychology of what people call the ‘higher’ things in human life.” The superego acts directly or through the ego and represses the drives of the id and pushes them back into the unconscious. The superego development is credited towards parental influence that reveals itself in regards to punishment for what society has deemed inappropriate or as “bad behavior”, yet rewards what is “good behavior.” Having an overactive superego results in one having a “guilt complex”. Id is dominated by the pleasure principle, ego is dominated by the reality principle and the superego is dominated by the morality principle.
When thinking about this Freudian theory, we might think that people who fall into these categories can be easily identified and divided accordingly; we picture them as being obviously selfish or angelically pure but that is usually not the case. If you try to see your own family through this perspective, for example, you realize that things get much more complex.
My grandmother did not have an easy childhood and in turn, she was not the best mother to my mom and aunt. Growing up I believed that my grandmother was always that saintly, innocent sweet grandmother my older sister and I stayed with on weekends, when we got to stay up late watching MAD TV, and spending days rollerblading to the beach and eating surfer specials from El Burrito Jr. It was an innocent childhood with my grandma on these weekends, and I grew up thinking it was how she had always been. However, now that I’m growing older, I see my grandmother, aunt and mother more as their own individual people with their own lives and backgrounds, and slowly I’m starting to see them more clearly for who they really are deep down.
Hearing the truth and what really happened in my mom and aunt’s childhood, I’m realizing that my grandmother might fall more into the id category. My aunt tells me that my grandmother would often focus on herself and her boyfriends and doing what she wanted or what made her happy, without enough regard for the safety of her then young daughters. I can still see some of this today. She’s currently retired and living with my aunt yet spends all of her disability money on herself and on things she does not necessarily need but simply wants! She’ll take off early in the morning and will spend all day riding the bus by herself even though she may have promised my aunt to help her get ready for a party they are hosting that day. My grandmother has always done these things but I had never viewed it as her acting out her id impulses!
My mother, I can safely say, has acted out her id impulses in more obvious ways over the years. When she first got pregnant she was 16, and my older sister’s father was well into his late 20s, and the second time she got pregnant she was 18 and my father was 24. My mother has a history of jumping around from boyfriend, to boyfriend, husband, to second husband then to boyfriend and so on. So, we spent my whole life living with boyfriends and friends and family. She still wanted to be a wild, free 16 year old but she couldn’t because she now had two young girls to look after. Unfortunately, I’ve always felt that my mom put herself and her boyfriends before me and my siblings, and there was no doubt about that for me. Consequently, I’ve struggled to build a trustful and lasting relationship with my mom, as it was often the same old thing over and over again. I would express to her that I felt that she wasn’t taking care of us like we deserved, I would tell her that I felt I never had any voice or say in anything we were forced to do, but often she would just claim that I was being dramatic or that I was a brat. But, I knew I wasn’t.
Having two mainly id personalities within your immediate family is hard!! Luckily, my aunt is a bit different. I’d say my aunt is a good balance between ego and superego, she is smart, reliable, and often a selfless woman. Everything my mom and grandma seem to struggle with. My aunt has a good head on her shoulders and a wonderful life and family she has worked hard to create. She’s realistic yet a dreamer, she knows the truth yet tries to see the best in everything no matter what. Although, she seems to hold immense guilt for our family. She feels guilty about her own childhood and how her sister made me and my siblings suffer like she had in her own childhood. I can often see that she holds a lot of sadness and pain because of it, even though she overcame it in her own life.
It’s hard to see this from the outside–we look like any other normal big, loud loving family, and yet underneath it we are all damaged, are we not? But the damage is not always as obvious as evil vs. good. Because, the damaged person can be your grandmother, your sister, your cousin, your mother, your friend, or even you. Because, underneath it all, we are all damaged, are we not?
Ashley Renteria is a writer & blogger living in Southern California. You can visit her blog: http://www.SunflowerEyesBlog.wordpress.com or follow her Instagram: @yelhsarenteria