Freud didn't exactly invent the idea of the conscious versus unconscious mind, but he certainly was responsible for making it popular. The conscious mind is what you are aware of at any particular moment, your present perceptions, memories, thoughts, fantasies, feelings, what have you. Working closely with the conscious mind is what Freud called the preconscious, what we might today call "available memory:" anything that can easily be made conscious, the memories you are not at the moment thinking about but can readily bring to mind. Freud suggested that these are the smallest parts!
The largest part by far is the unconscious. It includes all the things that are not easily ...view middle of the document...
Repression, he held, demanded significant amounts of energy to maintain; even then, a repressed thought might come perilously close to becoming conscious, only to be redirected or defended against by a defense mechanism. As well, a fixation on a past psychosexual stage of development could permanently sap this libidal energy, causing, in the extreme cases, neuroses or worse.
The dynamic interaction between the id, ego and superego, with each contending for as much libidal energy as possible, illustrates the importance of the functions of the mind. A man who invests most of his libidal energy into the cravings of his id will act and live much differently than the man whose guilt-inspiring superego consumes most of his libidal energy. This constantly changing balance and interaction between the various functions of the mind, in Freud's theory, determines personality.
Freud's Division of the Mind
David B. Stevenson '96, Brown University
Freud understood the mind as constantly in conflict with itself, and understood this conflict as the primary cause of human anxiety and unhappiness. His classic example is the patient Anna O, who displayed a rash of psychological and physiological symptoms: assorted paralyses, hysterical squints, coughs, speech disorders, and others. Under hypnosis, Freud and Josef Breuer, a fellow physician, traced many of these symptoms to memories of a period when she nursed her dying father. One symptom, a nervous cough, they related to a particular event at her father's bedside. Upon hearing dance music drifting from a neighbor's house, she felt an urge to be there, gone from her father's bedside. Immediately, she was struck with guilt and self-reproach. She covered this internal conflict with a nervous cough, and from that day on, coughed reflexively at the sound of rhythmic music. Freud's investigations into internal conflicts such as this led him to an eventual division of the mind into three parts, three conflicting internal tendencies, the well-known id, ego, and super-ego.
This division, it is important to note, is not the separation of the mind into three structures and functions which exist in physical partitions in the brain; they are not even truly structures, but rather separate aspects and elements of the single structure of the mind. Although it is convenient to say, for example, that the id "demands" immediate gratification, the mind has no three distinct little men who engage in constant fisticuffs of conflict. The personification of these elements merely serves as a convenient guide through a complex psychoanalytic theory.
The id, the ego and the superego function in different levels of consciousness: indeed, Freud's theory of the mind hinges upon the ability of impulses or memories to "float" from one level to another. The interaction between the three functions of the mind represents a constant movement of items from one level to another.
As the baby emerges from the womb into the reality of...