Structural model of the psyche

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The psychic apparatus according to Freud's second model

The structural model of the psyche or three-instance model is a model of the human psyche described by the Austrian depth psychologist Sigmund Freud , consisting of three instances with different functions: the "id", the " I " and the "superego".

Freud first worked out this topical model in 1923 in his work Das Ich und das Es (see there for the development of this instance model). The model is also referred to as the second topic or second topical model .

The It

It, me and superego

“It” denotes that unconscious structure , the content of which is the psychological expression of the instincts (such as food instinct , sexual instinct , death instinct ), needs (need for recognition, need to be accepted) and affects (envy, hate, trust, love). Central are the basic instincts, the unification instinct (also " libido ") and the destructive instinct (also " destrudo "). They play central roles in the Oedipus complex .

“It's the dark, inaccessible part of our personality; What little we know of him we have learned through the study of dream work and the formation of neurotic symptoms, and most of it has a negative character and can only be described as the opposite of the ego. We approach the id with comparisons, call it chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitement. "

- Sigmund Freud: New series of lectures.

The id acts according to the pleasure principle , that is, it strives for the immediate satisfaction of its striving. The instinctual impulses of the id shape and structure human action unconsciously, that is, they work without the agent always being explicitly aware of this effect.

Origin of the Es

The Es (English technical id ) is the psychologically first, partly also innate, instance of the soul. When a person is born, psychologically he seems to be nothing more than a bundle of instincts. The following innate instincts (among others) can be identified:

  • to take in something with the mouth, to ingest it, to feel it, to want to be full ( oral phase ),
  • wanting to feel comfortable on the skin (not freezing, wanting to be drained, need for extensive skin contact, touch).

The way in which the satisfaction of needs is experienced again and again, the degree and type of pleasure and displeasure experiences, forms the further needs and emotions of a person, his "drive structure" or his unconscious character , according to Freud's drive theory . Neglect and oversupply from the environment shape the child's character suboptimally. Depending on how the environment - especially the mother - responds to the child's instinctual expressions, instinctual impulses give rise to feelings and needs.

That I

In Freud's model, “ I ” ( ego ) refers to the entity that corresponds to the conscious thinking of everyday life, to self-confidence . According to Rupert Lay, the ego mediates "between the claims of the id, the superego and the social environment with the aim of resolving psychological and social conflicts constructively". The mature and mentally healthy person replaces the instinctual pleasure principle with the reality principle .

One of the elements of the ego is primarily the consciousness of perceiving , thinking and memory . In further developed psychoanalytic theories, the ego also includes the ego conscience (the moral principles, values ​​and moral norms that guide action, which are critically and self-critically examined by the ego, from the superego and the demands of the social environment) as well as the ideas about one's own person, the self-image or self .

Origin of the ego

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. Rupert Lay: “In the following four years of life a child learns (prelinguistic and therefore also unconsciously) to answer the questions: 'Who am I?' - ,What can I?' and thus to fill one's self-confidence in terms of content. ”A zone is built around the id that can be described as the“ early self ”. This early ego, which is wrapped around the id like a shell, is thus formed by the early body representatives and the early self-representatives. The early body representatives are the childlike basic content of consciousness and feeling about areas of the body. The early self-representatives include the child's basic consciousness and feeling content about 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.

"The view hardly needs justification that the ego is that part of the id that has been modified by the proximity and the influence of the outside world, set up to absorb and protect against stimuli, comparable to the cortical layer with which a lump of living substance surrounds itself."

- Sigmund Freud: New series of lectures.

Freud also counted the character of a person formed by socialization as part of the early ego: the emotions and needs capable of consciousness, the type and intensity of which were formed through the process of socialization from the basic drives of the id. Freud described the emotions and needs formed by socialization as “instinctual descendants of the id in the ego”. The id with its innate impulses is compared here with a tree trunk from which the early ego grows out 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 (from basic instincts).

The superego

According to the psychoanalyst Freud, “superego” denotes that psychological structure in which social norms , values, obedience , morality and thus conscience are located as an authority that commands and prohibits . They are mainly acquired through upbringing and reflect the internalized values ​​of society, especially of the parents, brought to the child from outside. Only through the development of the superego do humans acquire the ability to behave in a socially just manner and to independently control their original instinctual impulses.

"For us, the superego is the representation of all moral restrictions, the advocate of striving for perfection, in short that which has become psychologically tangible to us from the so-called higher in human life."

- Sigmund Freud: New series of lectures.

The super-ego (English technical language super-ego ) is also the carrier of the so-called "ego ideal", which stimulates the ego to strive and with which it compares itself. A malfunction, for example, also leads to feelings of inferiority. Feelings of guilt arise when the do's and don'ts of the super-ego are not obeyed.

According to Freud, large parts of the superego are mostly unconscious. This content can therefore only be made aware of with some effort.

The superego, together with the ego, play an important role in repression .

Origin of the superego

According to Freud, fear takes over the function of the superego before it develops. Parental influence takes the form of tokens of love and fear of punishment through loss of love. This creates the child's real fear, which is a forerunner of the later conscience fear. According to Freud, the process of transforming the parenting relationship into the super-ego is quite complex. If the Oedipus conflict is ended, the child renounces the object occupations that it had placed with the parents. The superego then arises through so-called identification . During this process, comparisons and adjustments to another self take place. These conflict with the aggression against the parent with whom the child is competing for the second parent. The superego is established for the first time as a counterweight to these aggressions, where it fulfills its function through passive aggression (values, norms, etc.) against the id. The superego thus forms the successor to the parent authority and, according to Freud, is a superior authority in the ego.

Over time, the super-ego also takes on influences from the parents who follow the educators (authorities) and ideal role models.

Ultimately, the superego is a separate part of the id, i.e. H. for Freud, morality and conscience are elements of the emotional world. In this he differs fundamentally on the one hand from Immanuel Kant , according to which morality is a "fact of reason" that does not go hand in hand with feelings other than the feeling of respect for other rational beings, on the other hand from Gauthier , for whom morality is functional rationality.


In many simplifying topical models, this instance is usually left out.

“Psychoanalytic speculation ties in with the impression received when examining unconscious processes that consciousness cannot be the most general character of mental processes, but only a special function of them. In metapsychological terms, she claims that consciousness is the result of a special system that she calls Bw . "

- Sigmund Freud: Beyond the pleasure principle.

According to Freud, this system has the task of delivering the perceptions of the excitations from the outside world and the sensations of the inside world. A special feature of this system compared to the other instances is that excitation processes leave no traces in it, but "fizzle out" when they become conscious.

The system Bw , called W-Bw in connection with the perceptions , has its seat, according to Freud, at the boundary between the outside world and the psyche and envelops the other, deeper layers. As a neurologist , he makes the remark that this is also the case with the brain and also compares the higher cognitive functions with their localization in the outer layers of the brain, literally the cerebral cortex .

The system W-Bw was represented together with the other instances by Freud in his topology drawings (see the text Das Ich und das Es ).

Relationship to Freud's older model of the soul

Relationship between Freud's first and second model of the soul

In all three psychic instances there is the conscious , the unconscious and the preconscious . The ego / id / superego model does not coincide with Freud's earlier developed, also three-part model of the psyche, which distinguishes between the conscious, the preconscious and the unconscious, even if both can be thought of as intertwined.

Freud's older model of the soul is also known as the first topical system . The term “ topical ” refers to their spatial structure in both models, with the second model emphasizing the processes between the respective entities: “In this more anthropological system, the entities have the character of relatively independent people who are friendly to one another or hostile relationships. "

See also


  • Sigmund Freud : The I and the It . 1923. In: Study edition. Volume 3: Psychology of the Unconscious. Fischer, Frankfurt / M. 1975, ISBN 3-10-822723-8 .
  • Sigmund Freud: Collected Works. Volume 15: New series of lectures introducing psychoanalysis. Imago, London 1944.

Individual evidence

  • ( f ) Sigmund Freud: Collected works. Volume 15: New series of lectures introducing psychoanalysis. Lecture 16: The Decomposition of the Psychic Personality. Imago, London 1944.
  1. Freud 1944, p. 80.
  2. Freud 1944, p. 82.
  3. a b Freud 1944, p. 75.
  4. Freud 1944, p. 71.
  5. Freud 1944, p. 76.
  6. Freud 1944, p. 68.
  7. Freud 1944, pp. 69/70.
  8. Freud 1944, p. 70.
  • Other documents
  1. ^ Jean Laplanche , JB Pontalis: The vocabulary of psychoanalysis. Suhrkamp, ​​1972, ISBN 3-518-27607-7 , p. 147 (original: Vocabulaire de la Psychanalyse. 1967).
  2. Rupert Lay : From the meaning of life. Munich 1985, p. 212.
  3. ^ Rupert Lay: Ethics for Economy and Politics. Munich 1983, p. 68.
  4. ^ Sigmund Freud: Outline of Psychoanalysis. Fischer, Frankfurt / M. 1964, p. 8.
  5. Stavros Mentzos : Psychodynamic Models in Psychiatry . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2nd edition 1992, ISBN 3-525-45727-8 ; (a) to chap. “Feelings of shame and school”: p. 79; (b) Re. "Über-Ich": pp. 37, 44, 74, 84
  6. ^ A b Sigmund Freud: Collected works. Volume 13: Beyond the pleasure principle and other works from the years 1920-1024. Imago, London 1940, Chapter 4, p. 23.
  7. ^ Sigmund Freud: Collected works. Volume 13: Beyond the pleasure principle and other works from the years 1920-1024. Imago, London 1940, Chapter 4, p. 25.
  8. ^ Sigmund Freud: Collected works. Volume 13: Beyond the pleasure principle and other works from the years 1920-1024. Imago, London 1940, Chapter 4, p. 23 ff.
  9. a b Uwe Henrik Peters : Dictionary of Psychiatry and Medical Psychology. Urban & Schwarzenberg, Munich, 3rd edition 1984; Wb-Lemma: "Totpgraphie, psychische": p. 567.