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What Is theEgo?

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The ego exists in both the conscious and unconscious mind.

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According to Freud, the ego is part of personality that mediates the demands of the id, the superego and reality. The ego prevents us from acting on our basic urges (created by the id), but also works to achieve a balance with our moral and idealistic standards (created by the superego). While the ego operates in both the preconscious and conscious, it's strong ties to the id means that it also operates in the unconscious.

The ego operates based on the reality principle, which works to satisfy the id's desires in a manner that is realistic and socially appropriate. For example, if a person cuts you off in traffic, the ego prevents you from chasing down the car and physically attacking the offending driver. The ego allows us to see that this response would be socially unacceptable, but it also allows us to know that there are other more appropriate means of venting our frustration.


  • "One might compare the relation of the ego to the id with that between a rider and his horse. The horse provides the locomotor energy, and the rider has the prerogative of determining the goal and of guiding the movements of his powerful mount towards it. But all too often in the relations between the ego and the id we find a picture of the less ideal situation in which the rider is obliged to guide his horse in the direction in which it itself wants to go."
    (Sigmund Freud, 1933, New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis)

  • "All the defensive measures of the ego against the id are carried out silently and invisibly. The most we can ever do is to reconstruct them in retrospect: we can never really witness them in operation. This statement applies, for instance, to successful repression. The ego knows nothing of it; we are aware of it only subsequently, when it becomes apparent that something is missing."
    (Anna Freud, 1936, The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense)

Quotations About the Ego

  • "The ego is not master in its own house."
    (Sigmund Freud, 1917, A Difficulty in the Path of Psycho-Analysis)

  • "It is easy to see that the ego is that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world."
    (Sigmund Freud, 1923, The Ego and the Id)

  • "The ego represents what we call reason and sanity, in contrast to the id which contains the passions."
    (Sigmund Freud, 1923, The Ego and the Id)

  • "Towards the outside, at any rate, the ego seems to maintain clear and sharp lines of demarcation. There is only one state ? admittedly an unusual state, but not one that can be stigmatized as pathological ? in which it does not do this. At the height of being in love the boundary between ego and object threatens to melt away. Against all the evidence of his senses, a man who is in love declares that "I" and "you" are one, and is prepared to behave as if it were a fact."
    (Sigmund Freud, 1929, Civilization and Its Discontents)

  • "The poor ego has a still harder time of it; it has to serve three harsh masters, and it has to do its best to reconcile the claims and demands of all three... The three tyrants are the external world, the superego, and the id."
    (Sigmund Freud, 1932, New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis)

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Kendra Cherry

Kendra Cherry
Psychology Guide

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