We start in psychoanalysis with Freud at the turn of the 20th Century where he came up with the topographical model of the mind. He compared the mind to an iceberg where this little tip is the conscious, and the whole hunk of ice, the mind is unconscious and resides below the surface. He saw the conscious mind as being what we’re doing today, what we’re talking about at the moment.
People use the term “subconscious”. That’s not a Freudian term. He used “pre-conscious” such as if I asked you your birth date. Now you’re thinking about it, you weren’t three seconds ago. That resides in the pre-conscious. Those are memories and thoughts and feelings you can access at will. But the largest part is the unconscious which really is below the surface. All the primitive wishes and feelings that we really can’t access, and they’re held down by repression. It’s just there, and probably always going to be there. That was the first idea Freud had about the mind.
Then about 1923, he came up what we call the “Structural Model of the Mind”. He really came up with not areas of the brain, but entities of the brain; the Id, the Ego and the Superego. When you’re born, you’re all Id. The Id is the pleasure principle; Give me everything I want, everything I need. It’s all completely unconscious drives and desires. That’s what a baby is, all Id. But as they develop, in infancy, the Ego develops. The Ego is the entity that helps you get and acquire the things that the Id is pushing for. We call that the “Reality Principle.” And then as you go through childhood, comes the Superego. The Superego is the morals and norms that you learn from society and your parents.
The three hopefully work together. You have the Id pushing to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants. The Superego saying, “No, no, no. You can’t do that. Society’s not going to allow it.” And the Ego becoming who you are, sort of walking the line between the two. It’s really a fascinating idea of what the mind is. But what tends to happen is that the various entities come into conflict with each other. That creates anxiety and tension. So how do you deal with it? That’s where the defense mechanisms come into play. People tend to hear the term “defense mechanism” and think it’s a negative. We all have defenses, you couldn’t live without them. You wouldn’t survive.
What happens is if the Id is pressing for certain discharge and the Superego is pressing the other way, it said you can’t do it, defenses come into play. They really protect us in many ways. ~ Rafael Sharón, NCPsyA, SCPsyA, Psychoanalyst in Princeton NJ