This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 11 table of contents.

The Id

The first developing part of the psyche, in Freud's theory, was the id, which means "it." Freud got the idea of a psychological id from a psychologist named Georg Groddeck who lived in Vienna at the same time as Freud. To Groddeck, the id was a dark, unknown part of the mind that controls us but remains outside our awareness. Groddeck wrote a book called The Book of IT in which he argued that we are "lived" by this unseen presence. In other words, "it" is really in control!

Where did Freud get his idea for the "id," and how did he describe it?

Freud described the id as "chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitation" dominated by impulses of sex and aggression. Freud proposed that the id was the source of the libido, a source of energy for the entire psyche. This energy was expressed in drives or urges like sex and aggression. (Freud used the German word trieb, which means a motivating tendency, sometimes translated as "wish.")

What is "primary process thinking"?

Freud described the mental activity generated by the id as primary process thinking. Primary means first. Primary process thinking is primitive, dream-like thinking, presumably the first type of thinking we experience as babies. It is simple, irrational, and gut-level, aimed at seeking pleasure or avoiding pain. As adults, we experience it most often in dreams or in moments of mental disturbance.

What was the pleasure principle?

Freud believed the id generates urges and impulses in accordance with the pleasure principle : pursuit of immediate gratification, regardless of consequences. The pleasure principle might be described as "I want what I want when I want it." Primary process thinking, which Freud believed was typical of unconscious mental processes, was said to be dominated by the pleasure principle. It aimed to satisfy the demands of the id in irrational, unrealistic ways, often through fantasy. Freud believed, for example, that dreams were aimed at satisfying id impulses.

Freud believed babies were "all id" when born. When a baby is hungry or lonely, it cries and demands immediate relief. Even children three or four years old have a hard time waiting even a few hours for something they want. They operate on the pleasure principle; they want immediate gratification.

What was the unconscious like, according to Freud?

In general, Freud said, the unconscious is infantile. It is not necessarily evil, but it is childlike. It is innocently good or bad depending on circumstances, reacting with immediacy to events as they happen. Unconsciously, Freud believed, we are all like little children: we want immediate gratification and have low tolerance for frustration. Only the development of more mature, controlling parts of the mind helps us avoid expressing id impulses and acting like babies when we are grown up.


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