Freud’s Personality Theory

Sigmund Freud’s Structural Theory of Personality


Sigmund Freud psychoanalytic theory of personality states that one’s personality depends on the relationship between the id, the ego, and the superego. The first structure which is the id, deals with the instant satisfaction which an individual is born with.  It is often driven by basic physical impulses which are completely subconscious. The superego which is also referred to as the conscience is concerned with social rules and morals. It is influenced by what our society views as acceptable and unacceptable. If the urges of the id wanted something so much that one would even be willing to risk their own lives, the superego brings one back to their conscious awareness. This part develops when one is young and in the process of learning what the society views as right or wrong. The ego, on the other hand, is the rational part of our personalities that deals with reality. Its role is to balance the demands of the other two parts. The ego also develops as one is growing up.

How the Id, Superego, and Ego Interact

A good example of how the three parts interact with each other is when you pass a stranger eating a chocolate bar, your id would tell you to instantly take the chocolate bar for yourself. However, your superego would view this action as rude. The ego would then reflect on the conflict between the id and the superego and decides the best option is for you to go and purchase your own chocolate bar. Even though this may mean waiting a few more minutes before having the chocolate, the ego makes the decision to sacrifice in order to avoid unnecessary confrontations but satisfying your desires at the end of the day. This theory emphasizes on the role that the unconscious psychological interactions play in shaping our overall personalities. Freud believed that the dynamic conflicts among the different parts of the mind during our childhoods are what determine our adult personalities and behaviors. Freud suggested that people who have a weak ego usually satisfy their id at all costs. Those with strong egos, on the other hand, will find reasonable ways to satisfy their needs and urges (Cherry, 2017).

Freud’s Ego Defense Mechanisms

The job of the ego is to satisfy the urges of the id while taking into account the moral character of the superego. This is definitely not an easy task. According to Freud, human beings have two triggers: sex and aggression. In short, everything an individual does is driven by either of the two. It is a difficult job to balance the desires of both the id and the superego, therefore the ego has developed some mechanisms it can use to perform its role as the mediator (Heffner, 2018). These mechanisms include:

  • Denial
  • Displacement
  • Sublimation
  • Reaction formation
  • Rationalization


Freud proposed that this defense mechanism involves convincing oneself that a provoking stimulus does not exist. This often happens when an individual refuses to come to terms with the reality of a situation. This is a dangerous approach to dealing with a difficult situation as the real problem will haunt them later no matter how much they try to avoid it. A good example is when one is diagnosed with HIV/AIDS by a physician, their denial leads them to seek a second opinion.


This ego defense mechanism involves redirecting an impulse onto a less powerful substitute target. The target can either be a human being or an object who is less of a threat. This mechanism is mostly associated with the emotion of anger. Displacement often adds problems to one’s life that can be avoided. Someone may slam the door as opposed to hitting a person or even yelling at your spouse after getting frustrated by your superiors at work.


Sublimation is like displacement but the difference is that instead of directing our impulse to powerless targets, we decide to displace our emotions into socially acceptable activities. It is a mature defense mechanism where unacceptable idealizations are eventually transformed into constructive activities that result in a long-term change of the first impulse. This might be in an artistic manner or in a sport. According to Freud, sublimation is the key to civilization in life, art, and science. Many successful singers and artists have used music and art as a way to express their unhappy emotions. Sublimating one’s aggression into a sport such as boxing is also another great way of handling emotions.

Reaction formation

This mechanism is where an individual goes passed denial and convinces themselves that the opposite of what they feel or think is true. A person usually does this if the truth causes anxiety. In this case, the id is satisfied while the ego is kept from realizing the truth. Reaction formation is depicted by showiness and being compulsive. For example, Freud suggested that men that judge homosexuals and have a harsh attitude towards them are a way of defending themselves against their own homosexual feelings. The mechanism is a way of convincing themselves of their own heterosexuality.


Rationalization is a mechanism that involves breaking down the facts of an event so that they seem less threatening. We tend to supply the brain with a logical reason rather than the real reason. We usually use this mechanism on a conscious level when we give ourselves excuses. This often comes easy for people with sensitive egos that they do not realize that they are doing it. This is truly sad because most of us are always prepared to believe those lies (McLeod, 2009). An example is when someone says that they were sacked because they did not suck up to the boss but in the real sense they were fired is because of their poor performance.

Reflecting on my own behavior, I have used some of these ego defense mechanisms to handle my emotions. The most common one, displacement, which I am sure most people have used at least once in their lives. Being a short-tempered individual, I happened to yell at my friends after getting kicked out of science class for being late. I wrongfully directed my anger towards my friends yet they had not done anything to deserve it.


Sigmund Freud’s structural theory of personality, an individual’s personality develops when one is a child through a series of stages where they are presented with different conflicts between biological impulses and social expectations. Successfully navigating these internal tests will lead to mastery of every stage and eventually developing a mature personality. However, Freud’s theory has been met with criticism because his theory about development is human personality is mainly focused on sexuality. Regardless, his theory gives a reasonable explanation of why people develop different personalities.


Cherry, K. (2017, August 23). What are the Id, Ego, and Superego? Retrieved from VerY Well Mind:

Heffner, D. C. (2018). Freud’s Ego Defense mechanisms. Retrieved from AllPsych:

McLeod, S. (2009). Defense Mechanisms. Retrieved from Simply Psychology: