What Freud Said About Personality Disorders

personality-disorder-man-with-many-faces

As controversial as many of Freud’s theories were (and still are, even today), he made some vital contributions to our understanding of personality and how mental disorders develop.

Id, Ego, and Superego

Freud believed that the human mind comprises three parts, namely the:

  • ID
  • Ego
  • Superego

ID

The ID gets referred to as the pleasure principle, a part of our personality that is present from birth and represents our instinctual drives.

In infancy, a newborn is driven by their primary needs, such as food, warmth, and comfort.

Immediate gratification

If a child’s needs get met by its caregivers, the infant will be satisfied and content.

However, since the ID requires immediate gratification, the child may experience significant distress and anxiety if the parent cannot satiate their needs.

If you look at Freud’s iceberg paradigm of the human mind, you will find that the ID is the unconscious part of the brain; here is where all our repressed wishes, dreams, and memories are stored.

Ego

freud narcissism ego

The ego represents the reality principle, and its primary goal is to mediate and channel the ID’s impulses in socially acceptable ways.

The ego is the conscious part of the personality that considers the pros and cons of taking a specific action or behaving in a certain way before making any moves and may decide to act or abandon impulses altogether.

The mediator

Essentially, the ego develops from the ID, and its main job is to channel all the ID’s wishes, desires, and impulses into socially acceptable behaviours.

The ego often gets referred to as the mediator between the ID’s deepest wishes and impulses and what is acceptable in society.

Superego

According to Freud, the superego develops at around five years old and contains the internalised ideals and moral standards we learn from our caregivers and society.

The superego represents the morality principle and serves as a guideline for proper behaviour and the kind of judgments we make.

Essentially, the superego is our sense of what is right and wrong and is an integral part of personality development.

The superego comprises two parts:

  • The ego ideal – includes a set of ethical standards, morals and behaviours set out by the ego.
  • The conscience – this part of the superego develops from the knowledge we acquire from our parents and society that teaches us that a particular behaviour or action is wrong -we develop an understanding that destructive behaviours may lead to punishment, consequences, and feelings of regret and guilt.

ID and superego

The interaction between the ID and the superego is an imperative component of the developing personality.

The superego seeks to suppress the ID’s unacceptable impulses while struggling to make the ego act on idealistic standards rather than realistic ones.

Freud said the superego is present in the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious mind.

Ego strength

While the ID, ego, and superego have different goals and motivations, they are not separate entities; they are fluid and dynamic and constantly oscillate depending on various factors.

These parts of the personality influence and shape our behaviour – however, since the ID, ego, and superego have different motivations and goals, conflict may arise between these powerful forces.

Complex interaction

According to Freud, if a person has robust ego strength, they can adapt to and manage the stress and pressures of competing forces of the ID, ego, and superego.

Freud described ego strength as one’s ability to function despite the duelling forces of the different personality components.

What happens if a conflict arises between the three competing personalities?

different personality disorders

Freud believed a balance between the ID, ego, and superego is the key to a healthy, well-adjusted personality.

If you imagine all three personality parts interacting as they should, Freud believed that a robust and healthy character materialises in this instance.

On the other hand, an imbalance in the personality dynamics would likely lead to a maladaptive personality.

Personality disorders

Freud’s personality model may help increase our understanding of personality disorders and their development.

For instance, according to Freudian theory, if you imagine someone with an uncontrolled or dominant ID, the person is likely to become uncontrollable, impulsive, and possibly criminal.

Antisocial personality disorder

Could a dominant ID be a factor in antisocial personality disorder?

According to psychologists, an antisocial personality disorder is an enduring pattern of behaviour marked by disregarding and violating other peoples’ rights.

Examining Freud’s ID theory, one may argue that a person with such a disorder may have a significantly overactive, uncontrolled ID or a significant conflict between the three duelling personality forces.

People with poor social skills may struggle to resist their primal urges and act upon the ID’s impulses as they arise.

Such an individual has little concern for the consequences of their actions or whether their behaviour is acceptable, appropriate, or legal.

In the above example, the ID dominates the whole personality, namely the ego and superego, and an antisocial personality likely emerges.

Dominant superego

At the other end of the spectrum is the person with a dominant superego, who, according to Freud, is exceptionally judgmental and moralistic.

Individuals dominated by the superego may struggle to accept anyone that comes across as immoral or distasteful.

Narcissistic personality disorder

narcissism freud traits

Freud proposed a slightly different approach to how people develop narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

Freud believed that our sense of “having a self” evolves in early infancy and childhood as the ego develops.

Primary narcissism

Such a transformation involves the disruption of primary narcissism (self-love), which gets brought on by the ideal ego.

As the ego develops, it directs the libidinal energy to objects such as the mother, father, other family members, and so forth.

During such a phase, the child’s narcissism is eliminated as the self-love the child was once consumed by (primary narcissism) is directed outwards.

However, primary narcissism returns if the child receives warmth and love from external objects (such as the mother or father).

Self-concept

According to Freud, our self-concept develops from three main sources, our original primary narcissism, which never entirely dissipates, the contentment we experience when love gets returned to us, and the fulfilment of the imagined expectations of our ideal ego.

Suppose the flow of primary narcissism is disrupted, for example. 

In that case, trauma may have occurred that blocks the flow of libidinal energy to the object – love, or the object – love does not reciprocate the child’s love. Should that happen, the person will likely become consumed by anxious, neurotic self-love, referred to as secondary narcissism.

Psychodynamic perspectives

Sigmund Freud made valid contributions to psychoanalysis for decades, and his legacy continues today.

Albeit a little controversial, Freud’s theories offered various perspectives on personality development and how experts practice psychotherapy.

However, Freud received much criticism for his work. His theories often got accused of being unscientific and subjective since most of his studies were based on specific groups and conditions.

Psychoanalysis is rooted in theory, not science.

Therefore, there is a need for more of a systematic outlook and comprehensive data-gathering methods in psychoanalysis.

The idea of the unconscious mind was challenging for many people to understand, particularly philosophers during the Freudian period.

The ID, ego, and superego are present in most Freudian literature. However, narcissism focuses on libidinal energy and object-love.

According to Freud, antisocial personality disorder originates from maladjustment between the ID, ego, and superego.

In modern psychotherapy practice, therapists examine your unconscious conflicts and how they may have led to neurosis, a fruitful approach to therapy since it allows people to understand why they feel and behave the way they do.

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transformation personality disorder

Contact one of our Centres for Health and Healing specialists if you want more information about this article or are concerned about your mental health.

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Lisa Davies - Program Director of Vaughan Recovery and Kirby Estate

About Lisa Davies

Lisa is the Program Director at Centres for Health and Healing. She lived for most of her life in the Durham region, before moving to Peel five years ago.

Lisa is a Master Hypnotist and is certified in Hypnotherapy (2008), Self-Hypnosis and in 5-phase Advanced Therapeutic Healing. As a Member of National Guild of Hypnotists, she is also specialized in hypnosis training in pediatrics, pain management, neuro-linguistic and stage programming.

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