Human Mind Functioning in Psychoanalytic Theory


The Viennese psychiatrist, Sigmund Freud, was one of the most influential figures of the 20th century in the fields of psychology and psychiatry. His psychoanalytic theory provided a comprehensive explanation of the functioning of the human mind, in particular, and human behavior in general. This theory made a significant impact on the culture and contributed to the formation of the contemporary worldview. Considering the importance of Freud’s work and the significance of his ideas, in this paper, I would like to review and reflect on Freud’s psychoanalytic theory.

Unconscious Mind

According to Freud’s model of the human mind, human activity largely depends on instinctual drives, i.e., the sexual instinct and the instinct of self-preservation. However, within society, instincts cannot reveal themselves as freely as in the animal world. Society imposes many psychological constraints on the individual and censors his or her innate impulses and desires.

Thus, to fit in with society, people learn to suppress their instincts. In this way, instinctual inclinations become displaced from the conscious level of the human mind because people perceive them as unacceptable. Nevertheless, instincts cannot simply disappear, and they merely pass into the sphere of unconsciousness. Situated in the unconscious mind, natural human inclinations remain active and continue to control the person’s behavior. They transform into various forms of human culture and the product of human activities (Smith 48).

Three Components of the Human Mind

According to Freud, the three structural elements of the human personality are the id (instincts), the ego (reality), and the superego (morality) (McLeod para. 4). The structure of the mind can be represented schematically in the form of an iceberg: Above the surface of the water is the ego, which takes about one-sixth of the whole structure. The id covers the other five-sixths of the structure. This sub-structural element rests in the unconscious part of the psyche, while the ego exists in the preconscious and conscious areas. Usually, people are not aware of the id’s contents because it is beyond the conscious mind, yet its presence can be traced in the behavior that, in its turn, is controlled by the superego, i.e., external social norms.

All the mentioned structural elements of the mind appear at different times in human development. The id may be regarded as the core of the human personality because it is innate and subordinate to the pleasure principle (McLeod para. 4). It contains the natural impulsive desires (instinct of life—Eros, and death—Thanatos) and comprises the foundation of psychological development. Contrary to the id, the ego is a rational component of the personality, of which, to a large extent, people are aware. It emerges throughout biological maturation.

The ego helps the individual to explain the environment and form behavior in a way that his or her instinctual requirements are met and, at the same time, social norms are not violated. Finally, the superego is formed last, between three and six years of life. It represents morality and different ego-ideals and strictly controls from within individual compliance with the social norms. As a rule, the id and the superego conflict with each other and produce anxiety, nervousness, and tension. In response to these internal psychological conflicts, the ego employs a set of defense mechanisms such as sublimation, projection, regression, etc. that help the individual to cope with unpleasant experiences and withdraw them from the conscious (McLeod para. 5).

Summary: Personal Reflection

The unconscious mind as the storage of all suppressed memories and instincts represents the basic element of the psychoanalytic theory and psychoanalysis as such. I agree with the thesis that the unconscious aspect of the human psyche is a reality that cannot be denied. Once in a while, I realize that I cannot clearly explain the motivations behind some of my actions and emotions. Unreasonable expressions of anger may serve as one of the examples.

Sometimes people may become angry over trifles. Then, when they come to the understanding that the anger was unnecessary and their behavior was irrational, they feel surprised or begin to regret their actions. They may not understand what the actual motivation for their anger might have been. The truth is that in this way, individuals can simply express emotions and feelings that they, for some reason, could not have expressed before. For example, when a father or a mother becomes angry with children because they play too loudly, in fact, he or she may just be satisfying repressed impulses (e.g., a disagreement with a manager at work). In such a situation, a child serves merely as a substitute.

The psychoanalytic theory is widely used in other disciplines besides psychology. For instance, nowadays, researchers employ it in investigating climate change and human resistance to accepting the fact of it. When looking at the human mind from this perspective, we may see how the psychological defense mechanisms actually work and help people to continue satisfying their aspirations for pleasure while avoiding thoughts of personal responsibility for their actions. For example, it can be observed that the ego employs denial and negation to block thoughts about the risks of death due to ecological deterioration and the realization of unbearable fault (Weintrobe 6). However, no matter how bitter the truth may be, acceptance always leads to healing. Moreover, in some cases, awareness of hidden feelings, emotions, and thoughts is critical.

We cannot deny the influence of the unconscious mind on our behavior. In some cases, the revelation of real motivations and drivers of behavior can significantly improve life at both individual and social levels. In this regard, psychoanalysis and the development of self-awareness can be very useful tools.

Works Cited

McLeod, Saul. “Sigmund Freud.” SimplyPsychology, Web.

Smith, David Livingstone. Freud’s Philosophy of the Unconscious. Springer Science & Business Media, 2013.

Weintrobe, Sally. Engaging with Climate Change: Psychoanalytic and Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Taylor & Francis, 2013.