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The psyche ( ancient Greek ψυχή ' soul ' ) denotes the totality of all spiritual properties and personality traits of an individual or especially a person. It includes feelings, thoughts and all individual mental abilities , so therefore, among other thinking skills , learning ability , emotion , perception , sensation , empathy , knowledge , intuition or motivation . In addition, dreams can also be associated with the psyche. In contrast to the soul , the psyche does not include any transcendent elements. Mental illnesses are referred to as mental disorders .

In medicine today we start from the assumption that body ( physique ) and mind (psyche) are not fundamentally independent of one another, but can influence one another ( psychosomatics ).

Although limited to humans in the general context, animals are sometimes referred to as “psyche”.

Definition and general

The prevailing objective understanding of psyche today relates to the “total system ” of all those (life) “impulses” which “the vernacular ” has long referred to as inner life or soul life and, like scientific psychology, subdivided into thought and emotional life . This means first of all the totality of such "expressions of life" or self-reactions that are initially or at all accessible only to self-perception and thus can only be observed and described from the subjective or today so-called " first person perspective " : the experience Perceiving , imaginative recollection of previous experiences , dreaming , spontaneous or arbitrary thinking out or fantasizing about possible or different experiences of all conceivable kinds up to diverse emotional reactions to them (and possibly related habitual, i.e. learned behavior and intentional or conscious and possibly even planned to strategic action ).

With Psyche mainly the "subjective" or "inner" is thus now experiencing side of the - meant the subject area of psychology - enclosing a whole also actions and other response. Above all in depth psychology , attempts are made to capture what is not (always) conscious or " unconscious " and is presented in various order or explanatory models. The disease -quality disturbances of mental experience and their cure, the deal psychiatry and psychotherapy and especially the psychoanalysis .

Traditionally, “the psychic” is contrasted with the “ physical ” body or “ somaticbody . " Psychosomatic " are those "body and soul" processes in which the conscious and unconscious psychological activities are related to processes in humans that can only be determined and observed physiologically , biochemically or otherwise. First and foremost, these are changes in vegetatively controlled and hormonally mediated vital functions such as muscle tone , breathing , heartbeat , blood pressure or digestion, including any pathological effects caused by them such as chronic or even painful tension , to give just one example.

Animals also perceive and show different kinds of emotional reactions. That is why they are sometimes ascribed a psychological experience that has been called an "animal soul" since Wilhelm Wundt . It is controversial whether they have a psychological function that is equal to or identical to the human imagination, which enables a more than elementary "recognition" in moments of actual perception, in particular arbitrary remembering as well as above all projective or anticipatory imagining.

Because of this special ability, older children and especially adults are capable of that kind of conscious, especially deliberate thinking and planning that could not be observed in animals up to now . People are therefore made responsible for their actions, but not animals and small children before they develop sufficient memory and mastery of a targeted and controlled, in particular rule-based and solely "in the imagination" or "in the spirit" combination of imaginary elements of any kind ("thinking") .

Psyche with Sigmund Freud

In Freud's view , all of our actions are based on psychological motives (motivations and motivations). “Psyche” describes the system in which perception and thinking are based, that is, that on which the affective and rational motives of our actions are based. "System" (organism) describes a structure, the essential elements (parts) of which are related to one another in such a way that they form a unit (a whole). Systems organize and maintain themselves through structures. "Structure" refers to the pattern (shape) of the system elements and their network of relationships through which a system functions (arises and is maintained). According to Freud's structural model of the psyche, the motives for our actions can be rooted in three distinguishable structures: in the id , super-ego and ego .

“It” denotes that psychological structure in which the

The drives, needs and affects are also psychological patterns (psychological "organs") by means of which we perceive largely involuntarily or unconsciously and which guide human activity.

“Super-ego” describes the psychological structure in which the norms of action , ego ideals , roles and world views internalized from the educational environment are based.

“I” refers to the psychological structure that mediates realistically by means of self-critical thinking and critically-rationally secured norms, values ​​and worldview elements “between the demands of the id, the superego and the social environment with the aim of constructive psychological and social conflicts to dissolve (= to make it disappear). "

After the first few months of life, a newborn baby learns more and more clearly that it is different from things and other people. It develops an initial awareness of one's own body limits and self-esteem. “In the following four years of life, a child learns (prelinguistic and therefore unconsciously) to answer the questions: 'Who am I?' - 'What can I?' and thus to fill his confidence in content. "Around the time around so a zone is established that one as early I can call. The early ego, which is wrapped around the id like a shell, is thus formed by the early body representations and the early self -representations. The early body representations are the childlike basic contents of consciousness and feeling about areas of the body. The early self-representations include the child-like basic consciousness and feeling contents regarding oneself. They determine the social character and all of our later self-conceptions (who we are, what we fear and hope for, what we trust ourselves ...) in different ways.

For early I Freud also scored the socialization character of an educated person: the awareness enabled emotions and needs that the nature and intensity of the basic instincts There have been shaped by the socialization process. Here Freud called the socialization shaped emotions and needs as drive derivatives of it in the ego , the time is here compared to a tree trunk with his innate drive pulses from the early I grows as a crown. That is why Freud calls this part of the ego a product of the id: it was developed from the material of the id (basic instincts). But emotions and needs should be subsumed under the id because this is conceptually clearer and less confusing. You may be tempted to count the emotions and needs as part of the self, because you want to equate everything conscious with the self and the emotions and needs can become conscious. But not everything that is conscious belongs to the ego, because super-ego content can become conscious. And not everything unconscious belongs to the id, as the superego contents show. In all three psychological structures there is conscious, unconscious and preconscious (= what was consciously learned, but became an unconscious habitus , such as driving a car, foreign language ...) For example, actions that are consciously practiced through use of the ego can be automated and thus be preconscious. And what one has consciously experienced can sink into the memory, it can be forgotten and thus be unconscious, but also be remembered.

One of the elements of the ego is first of all the consciousness performances of perception , thinking and memory , because they help the ego to do justice to its specific task, namely realistically (conflict-resolving) between the claims from the id, the super-ego and the To mediate socially outside, i.e. to resolve psychological and social conflicts constructively. One criterion for whether the ego is oriented towards the development of life in a realistic or unrealistic manner is the freedom from destructive social and individual conflicts over a long period of time and the ego's ability to resolve conflicts constructively. Because only the ego is able to ensure realistic action, this means that only the ego can ensure truly human action. These parts of the psyche are not products of the id like emotions and needs, because these do not emerge from the id through the conflict of fit between instincts and the socializing environment, but because they go through their own separate, specific development.


The “psyche” ( ancient Greek ψυχή , psychḗ , originally for “breath, breath”, from ψύχω , “I breathe / breathe / bubble / live”) was understood in ancient Greek in a very comprehensive sense and was also used to describe the whole person (similar as in German Mein Seelchen , Du, Meine Seele u. Ä.), up to the description of the most precious, the most valuable of all.

In the experience-wise obvious and therefore probably original conception of breathing and breath as a sign of vitality , ψυχή as breathing and breath possibly undifferentiated from the beginning also stood for vitality and vitality (cf. breath soul , atman ). In this respect, ψυχή could also be understood as a life principle and equated with life .

In particular, ψυχή could denote the most important appearances ( phenomena ) of liveliness, in particular all self-perceptible individual appearances or forms of one's own liveliness and liveliness. In addition, it could mean mind, heart, courage and heartiness , the seat of passions (or perhaps passion as such), the capacity for desire in general, lust and appetite, and about meaning (in every sense, for example, intention as with the phrase in the sense have ) also thinking, understanding and cleverness, as well as the mind in general .


Web links

Wiktionary: Psyche  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. For example, the DWDS states under psyche : totality of the phenomena linked to a subject and the reflection of the environment through the higher nerve activity ; the widespread paraphrase of psychology as the doctrine of “ human experience and behavior ”, which is also represented by experts - for example Peter R. Hofstätter in the introduction to his ed. "Fischer Lexikons" Psychology (Fischer, Frankfurt from 1957 in many editions) such as, for example, Gabriele Heister: Psychology in: Jürgen Mittelstraß (Ed.): Enzyklopädie Philosophie und Wissenschaftstheorie 3. Metzler, Stuttgart 1995, pp. 396-401 thinks ebf. this "total" of all expressions of life of people accessible to self and external perception.
  2. ↑ On this rather unusual term, see Dirk Hartmann Philosophical Foundations of Psychology (WBG, Darmstadt 1998) p. 46f; colloquially synonymous terms for what is meant as internal events, internal operations or internal events are due to the risk of numerous misleading associations express avoided here: it is also in operations "within oneself" always about their own activities or in-house activities, regardless of how they come about: as reflexive or - be it through targeted practice or through ordinary conditioning - "automatic ( habituated ) processes" and habitual behavior or, for example, self-initiated actions when thinking consciously.
  3. Rupert Lay : From the meaning of life. P. 212.
  4. ^ Rupert Lay: Ethics for Economy and Politics. P. 68.
  5. Wilhelm Gemoll : Greek-German school and hand dictionary , 7th edition. Munich 1959, p. 815.
  6. Julian Jaynes : Psyche in his work The Origin of Consciousness , Reinbek 1993, pp. 329–331 (to be found online: here ( Memento of September 28, 2007 in the Internet Archive ), however, in Book II, Chapter 5 on p. 371– 373)