Linked with the ego and the superego, the id (das Es ) is the mental agency, in Freud's "second topography" of 1923, that answers to the instincts and to the greater part of the unconscious processes. In German, es is the neuter personal pronoun. Its use as a noun, with an initial capital—das Es —is perfectly regular. From the standpoint of linguistics, es presents problems at the border between semantics and the syntax of anaphora: in order to understand what it signifies one must refer to another part of the discourse that interprets it. Thus es may be interpreted as any neuter noun in German and is also used, like the English "it," in many impersonal constructions. Syntactically, es may be the subject or object of transitive verbs. Consequently, an idea designated "das Es " is liable to be indefinite and impersonal, universal, diverse, ambiguous and equivocal, even contradictory.
Georg Groddeck used this term to refer to the universal unconscious agency—as force and as substance—that he considered to be his interlocutor and object of study when he treated patients suffering from somatic illnesses: "There is something common to the body and the soul; there is an Id in them, a force by which we are lived, even as we believe we are living ourselves" (Groddeck to Freud, May 27, 1917). Groddeck borrowed the term from the Berlin physician Ernst Schweninger, who had written, "The id cures." The idea of an energetic monism was in any case a commonplace of the German culture of the time. And of course Groddeck had been reading Freud in the 1913-1917 period.
Freud first encountered the notion of the id in Groddeck's letter. His response in a letter of June 5, 1917, was critical: "The notion of the Ucs requires no extension." The Ucs (unconscious) system was adequate for dealing with organic illnesses, for it influenced somatic processes. And why "cancel the difference between psychological and physical phenomena"? "I am afraid," Freud concluded, "that you are a philosopher as well and have the monistic tendency to disparage all the beautiful differences in nature in favor of a tempting unity" (1960a, pp. 317-318). But in the same letter Freud had dubbed Groddeck "an analyst of the first order," and subsequently he supported him, having his Book of the It published by the Internationaler Psychoanalytisher Verlag just before his own The Ego and the Id. Apropos of The Book of the It, he wrote to Groddeck on March 25, 1923 that "The work . . . expounds the theoretically important point of view which I have covered in my forthcoming The Ego and the Id " (1960a, p. 342).
The Freudian conception of the id, which he worked out in the summer of 1922, was presented in The Ego and the Id. That work, along with Beyond the Pleasure Principle and Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, constituted what Freud called "the third step in the theory of the instincts" (1920g, p. 59). The life and death instincts (Pleasure Principle ) opened up a dynamic space for the accommodation and study, in Group Psychology, of the large-scale mental formations of the "second step": ego, ego ideal, identifications. In The Ego and the Id, moving "closer to psycho-analysis" (1923b, p. 12), Freud confronted the ego and its unconscious resistance on the one hand and the unconscious/preconscious-conscious (Ucs./Pcs.-Cs.) distinction on the other. As a result, this last system was now seen as local, confined to the superficial layers of the mental apparatus where the Ucs. was synonymous with the repressed; it was unable to explain the resistance of the ego and inadequate as far as practice was concerned. In order to take the ego into account it was now necessary to move from the "local" examination of the symptoms and their treatment to a global view of the mental personality and of psychoanalytical treatment. This shift of level implied different dynamics and forms, although it did not necessarily mean that local forms and dynamics were surpassed or modified.
Freud introduced the id as alien to the ego, as "the other part of the mind," global and unconscious, incorporating the repressed and the forces by which (in Groddeck's terms) we "are lived": a realm large enough to be that which the ego resists (1923b, p. 23). "We shall now look upon an individual as a psychical id, unknown and unconscious, upon whose surface rests the ego, developed from its nucleus the Pcpt. [perceptual] system." (p. 24). The resistance of the ego was not identical to the familiar local resistances, for it had a global aspect that it manifested in the treatment (often after the local symptomatic features had been worked on) precisely at the point where it was confronted by something alien to it. The inadequacy of the Ucs./Pcs.-Cs. opposition was thus bound up with the counter-transference and with the orientation of the treatment, issues that could not be addressed solely in terms of the first topographical theory.
The introduction of the notion of the id bespoke a fresh overall approach on Freud's part to treatment and the mental personality. Because of the life and death instincts, it was possible to claim a place for this new point of view "in the structure of science" (1923b, p. 23) without falling into monism. The attribution of the id's paternity to Nietzsche, inaccurate on its face, perhaps may be taken as a semantic reference to the philosopher who, in criticizing philosophies of consciousness and of the subject, did the most to thematize the dynamics of the psyche.
The division of the mental personality into three provinces, id, ego, and superego, would not have been relevant had each of the three agencies not been characterized by Freud, beginning in The Ego and the Id, by sufficient ambiguity, diversity, and even contradiction. Since he did, the concept of the id would remain stable until the end of his work. A main interpretant of the id is instinctual life. "We approach the id with analogies: we call it a chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations. We picture it as being open at its end to somatic influences, and as there taking up into itself instinctual needs which find their psychical expression in it, but we cannot say in what substratum." (1933a , p. 73). Since psychoanalysis is a dynamic theory of the psyche, the "whole person" is an interpretant of the id (p. 105), and psychoanalysis is "a psychology of the id (and of its effects on the ego)" (1924f, p. 209). The prevalence of the dynamic aspect means that the ego and the superego emerge from the id as "superficial strata" differentiated during ontogenesis; "id and ego are originally one" (1937c, p. 240); the superego "is in fact a precipitate of the first object-cathexes of the id" (1926e, p. 223). So the ego and the superego are interpretants of the id. (In The Ego and the Id, "es " is related to ego and superego in an ambiguous manner.)
External reality is not an interpretant of the id (since we are not dealing here with the instinctual point of view), but it does illuminate the dominance of the pleasure principle in the id. The id knows nothing of logic, nothing of negation; contrary instinctual impulses coexist within it; the mechanisms of displacement and condensation are normal; dispersal and disorganization reign. And if, "in its blind efforts for the satisfaction of its instincts, it disregarded that supreme external power," the outside world, if it did not have the ego as its protective shield and guide vis-à-vis reality, then the id, motor of the psyche, "could not escape destruction" (1933a , p. 75).
The id is not only a motor—it is also the locus of the motor; and in this respect, passive—it is a reservoir, or a storehouse (in which case reality is indeed an interpretant of the id). The id is the original reservoir of libido and of the destructive instincts that cathect and nourish the ego and the superego and their cathexes; it is also a storehouse for active memory-traces and, in this capacity, indifferent to time: "Wishful impulses which have never passed beyond the id, but impressions, too, which have been sunk into the id by repression, are virtually immortal." (1933a , p. 74). The id embraces the repressed, and by extension the unconscious: "The impressions of early traumas . . . are either not translated into the preconscious or are quickly put back by repression into the id-condition. Their mnemic residues are in that case unconscious and operate from the id" (1939a, pp. 97-98). The id also stores up human history: "The experiences of the ego seem at first to be lost for inheritance; but, when they have been repeated often enough and with sufficient strength in many individuals in successive generations, they transform themselves, so to say, into experiences of the id, the impressions of which are preserved by heredity. Thus in the id, which is capable of being inherited, are harboured residues of the existences of countless egos; and, when the ego forms its super-ego out of the id, it may perhaps only be reviving shapes of former egos and be bringing them to resurrection"(1923b, p. 38). Such an archaic inheritance may include symbolism, the schemata of primal fantasies, or memory-traces of the killing of the primal father by the primal horde (1939a, pp. 98-101).
Although the id-ego-superego system entails not only conflicts between these agencies but also intra-agency conflict, there is no conflict within the id. Clinical experience allows for part of the id's operations to be inferred. The repressed is transformed there; the id can destroy a repressed impulse, the libido of which is diverted into other channels. The liquidation of the Oedipus complex, which is not repression but rather destruction in the id, is an example. A regression of the libidinal organization can be brought about by the id, as for example in compulsive neurosis.
Since psychoanalysis is an interpretant of the id, any notion may be related to it. Furthermore, the id is neither separated nor separable from the areas onto which it opens: the somatic realm, the ego and superego, even external reality; from its dynamic dimension, where the life and death instincts are to be found; from its constituent elements: instinctual life, libido, hate, repressed material, memory-traces, the unconscious; or from the pleasure principle.
The articulation of the mental personality in accordance with the ego-superego-id scheme revived discussion on the following issues: the distinction between neurosis and psychosis; the classification of individuals into "libidinal types" defined by the particular conflicts that predominate in each case between id, ego, superego, and reality; and the forms of resistance and the dynamics of working-through: Freud describes as "arising from the id" the form of resistance that, even after ego-resistances have been relaxed, demands a "period of strenuous effort" in order to undo repressions (1926d, pp. 160, 159).
The conduct and aims of analysis were described by Freud as follows: "During the treatment our therapeutic work is constantly swinging backwards and forwards like a pendulum between a piece of id-analysis and a piece of ego-analysis. In the one case we want to make something from the id conscious, in the other we want to correct something in the ego. . . . The therapeutic effect depends on making conscious what is repressed, in the widest sense of the word, in the id." (1937c, p. 238). "Its intention is, indeed, to strengthen the ego, to make it more independent of the superego, to widen its field of perception and enlarge its organization, so that it can appropriate fresh portions of the id. Where id was, there ego shall be. It is a work of culture—not unlike the draining of the Zuider Zee" (1933a, p. 80).
Lastly, the question of anxiety was modified by the advent of the division into id, ego, superego, and reality. Whereas anxiety had hitherto been seen as arising from repressions, it was now acknowledged as intrinsic to the psyche and indeed as a factor in the institution of these divisions: ". . . the expression 'anxiety of the id' would stand in need of correction, though rather as to its form than its substance. . . . The id cannot have anxiety as the ego can; for it is not an organization and cannot make a judgement about situations of danger. On the other hand it very often happens that that processes take place or begin to take place in the id which cause the ego to produce anxiety. Indeed, it is probable that the earliest repressions as well as most of the later ones are motivated by an ego-anxiety of this sort in regard to particular processes in the id" (1926d, p. 141). Freud distinguishes two cases: something in the id may activate a danger-situation for the ego and spark anxiety in it; alternatively, "a situation analogous to the trauma of birth is established in the id and an automatic reaction of anxiety ensues" (1926d, pp. 140-41).
"But one cannot flee from oneself; flight is no help against internal dangers. And for that reason the defensive mechanisms of the ego are condemned to falsify one's internal perception and to give one only an imperfect and distorted picture of one's id" (1937c, p. 237). Depending on the epistemology to which one subscribes (and on the resistance by which this choice is motivated), one will be more or less inclined to accept the aspects of the unknown and the possible that Freud introduced into the metapsychological realm along with the id; these aspects are correlated with intrinsic and universal psychic dynamics and cannot be reconciled with positivism, pragmatism, or structuralism. In the history of psychoanalysis, what Freud had called "the third step in the theory of the instincts" came, after him, to be known as the "second topography."
After Freud, the dynamic dimension of the id and the importance of the instincts were concealed rather than further developed by a good many psychoanalytic tendencies. The ego psychology of Heinz Hartmann and his followers, the emphasis on object relationships (Ronald Fairbairn or Michael Balint in Great Britain, Margaret Mahler and Otto Kernberg in the United States), the foregrounding of the Self (Donald Winnicott, Heinz Kohut)—all either play down the notion of instinct (or drive) to the benefit of the object or sideline it completely; in all cases the id no longer has any raison d'être. Jacques Lacan's "unconscious structured like a language" gives no room to the id. Melanie Klein, although she preserves the priority of the instincts, gives pride of place to the aggressive and death instincts. However, some French analysts who are not exclusively Lacanian continue to work on the id.
Freud himself gave his followers a free hand, as witness the following observation on the division into id, ego, and superego: "It must not be supposed that these very general ideas are presuppositions upon which the work of psycho-analysis depends. On the contrary, they are its latest conclusions and are 'open to revision.' Psycho-analysis is founded securely upon the observation of the facts of mental life; and for that very reason its theoretical superstructure is still incomplete and subject to constant alteration" (1926f, p. 266).
A coherent advance in metapsychology that respected Freud's requirements with respect to mental dynamics would certainly not be able to dispense with the conceptual tools of qualitative dynamics, as developed during the nineteenth century. This approach posits spaces articulated with each other by sets of dynamics that give rise to specific forms. It would make it possible to illuminate the way in which the ego and the superego arise from the id and from reality; to specify and explain the various processes of identification; to characterize inherited memory-traces as well as types of governing dynamics; and to distinguish between energies of different kinds—and this while respecting the diversity of the id.
See also: Agency; Psychic apparatus; Resistance; Superego; Topographical point of view.
Freud, Sigmund. (1920g). Beyond the pleasure principle. SE, 18: 1-64.
——. (1921c). Group psychology and the analysis of the ego. SE, 18: 65-143.
——. (1923b). The ego and the id. SE, 19: 1-66.
——. (1924f ). A short account of psycho-analysis. SE, 19: 189-209.
——. (1926d). Inhibitions, symptoms and anxiety. SE, 20: 75-172.
——. (1926e). The question of lay analysis. SE, 20: 177-250.
——. (1926f). Psycho-analysis. SE, 20: 259-270.
——. (1933a ). New introductory lectures on psycho-analysis. SE, 22: 1-182.
——. (1937c). Analysis terminable and interminable. SE, 23: 209-253.
——. (1939a). Moses and monotheism. SE, 23: 1-137.
Groddeck, Georg. (1928). The book of the it: Psychoanalytic letters to a friend. Washington, DC: Nervous and Mental Disease. (Original work published 1923)
——. (1977). Ça et Moi. Lettres à Freud, Ferenczi et quelques autres (R. Lewinter, Trans.). Paris: Gallimard.
Shulman, Michael E. (1987). On the problem of the id in psychoanalytic theory. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 68, 161-174.
In psychoanalytic theory, the most primitive, unconscious element of human personality.
Sigmund Freud believed that human personality consisted of three components: the id, the ego , and the superego . The id is the part of the personality that includes such basic biological impulses or drives as eating, drinking, eliminating wastes, avoiding pain , attaining sexual pleasure, and aggression . The id operates on the "pleasure principle," seeking to satisfy these basic urges immediately with no regard to consequences. Only when tempered through interaction with the ego (reality) and superego (conscience ) does the id conform to what is considered socially acceptable behavior.
According to Freud, anxiety is caused by the conflict between the id's powerful impulses and the modifying forces of the ego and superego. The more id-driven impulses are stifled through physical reality or societal norms, the greater the level of anxiety. People express their anxiety in various ways, including nervousness, displaced aggression, and serious anxiety disorders. Healthy personalities are those that have learned to balance the id, ego and superego forces.
Atkinson, Rita L.; Richard C. Atkinson; Edward E. Smith; and Ernest R. Hilgard. Introduction to Psychology. 9th ed. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987.
Zimbardo, Philip G. Psychology and Life. 12th ed. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, 1988.
ID • abbr. ∎ Idaho (in official postal use). ∎ identification or identity: they weren't carrying any ID | [as adj.] an ID card.
id / id/ • n. Psychoanalysis the part of the mind in which innate instinctive impulses and primary processes are manifest. Compare with ego and superego.
I'd / īd/ • contr. of ∎ I would or I should: I'd like a bath. ∎ I had: I'd agreed to go.