The main thing I learnt from this lucid summary of Freudian theory is that Sigmund Freud is quite badly misrepresented. Mention Freud and most people think of the Oedipus complex, penis envy and the Freudian slip. The ‘ego’ has entered our language, too, although in a very different sense from that intended by Freud. After reading Calvin Hall’s 1955 primer, I can see that there’s a lot more to Freud than being neurotic, selfish and obsessed with your mother.
Freud describes the human personality in terms of three components: the id, ego and superego. The id represents primal urges like hunger and sexual desire, and is governed entirely by the ‘pleasure principle’. The superego is our sense of conscience or morality, reflecting the rules handed down by our parents or society. Between the two is the ego, trying to manage the inevitable conflicts between instincts and morality and to negotiate with the outside world to ensure survival – it operates on the ‘reality principle’.
Freud sees personality formation in dynamic terms, with energy flowing between the different areas of the brain. All energy, he says, originates in the id and its basic desires, but can be channeled into the ego and superego when it meets reality and its desires get frustrated. The urges from the id are called cathexes, and are countered by anti-cathexes from the ego and superego, and the essence of human personality lies in this continuous conflict between the id, ego and superego. The aim is to remove tension and anxiety, but this can take many forms: identification, displacement, sublimation, repression, projection, fixation, regression, etc.
The whole thing is presented very clearly, and makes a lot of sense to me. Funnily enough, it’s the most well-known Freudian stuff that was the least convincing for me. But I could see a lot of truth in the basic conflict between the pleasure principle and the reality principle, and the various distortions of character, both healthy and unhealthy, that ensue as the ego tries to manage this conflict. I’d recommend this short, 120-page book to anyone who wants a lucid introduction to Freud’s main ideas.