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What is the Id?

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The Id

The id is the entirely unconscious part of personality.

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According to Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory of personality, the id is the personality component made up of unconscious psychic energy that works to satisfy basic urges, needs, and desires. The id operates based on the pleasure principle, which demands immediate gratification of needs.

The id is the only part of personality that is present at birth. Freud also suggested that this primitive component of personality existed completely within the unconscious. The id acts as the driving force behind personality. It not only strives to fulfill our most basic urges, many of which are tied directly to survival, it also provides all of the energy necessary to drive personality.

During infancy, before the other components of personality begin to form, children are ruled entirely by the id. Satisfying basic needs for food, drink, and comfort are of the utmost importance. As we grow older, it would obviously be quite problematic if we acted out to satisfy the needs of the id whenever we felt an urge, need, or desire. Fortunately, the other components of personality develop as we age, allowing us to control the demands of the id and behave in socially acceptable ways.

As mentioned earlier, the id acts according to the pleasure principle, which is the idea that needs should be met immediately. When you are hungry, the pleasure principle directs you to eat. When you are thirsty, it motivates you to drink. But of course, we can't always satisfy our urges right away. Sometimes we need to wait until the right moment or until we actually have access to the things that will fulfill our needs.

When we are unable to immediately satisfy a need, tension results. The id relies on the primary process to temporarily relieve the tension. The primary process involves creating a mental image either through daydreaming, fantasizing, hallucinating, or some other process. For example, when you are really thirsty, you might start fantasizing about a tall, cold glass of ice water.

Remember, however, that the id is just one of the three major components of personality. You can learn more about the ego and superego and how these elements of personality interact in this overview of the id, ego, and superego.


  • "It is the dark, inaccessible part of our personality, what little we know of it we have learned from our study of the Dreamwork and of the construction of neurotic symptoms, and most of that is of a negative character and can be described only as a contrast to the ego. We approach the id with analogies: we call it a chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations... It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle."
    (Sigmund Freud, 1933, New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis)

  • "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)


  • "Where id is, there shall ego be."
    (Sigmund Freud, 1933, New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis)

  • "People actually live with their id exposed. They're not good at concealing what's going on inside."
    (Philip Seymour Hoffman)

More Psychology Definitions: The Psychology Dictionary

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