Super ego. In Freud's model, the final element of personality to develop is the superego. According to Cherry, "The superego is the aspect of personality that holds all of our internalized moral standards and ideals that we acquire from both parents and society -- our sense of right and wrong. The superego provides guidelines for making judgments" (2010, para. 3). Freud believed that the superego first starts to emerge during early childhood, typically at age 5 years or so (Cherry, 2010). The super ego is comprised of two parts as follows:
1. The ego ideal includes the rules and standards for good behaviors. These behaviors include those which are approved of by parental and other authority figures. Obeying these rules leads to feelings of pride, value and accomplishment.
2. The conscience includes information about things that are viewed as bad by parents and society. These behaviors are often forbidden and lead to bad consequences, punishments or feelings of guilt and remorse (Cherry, 2010, para. 5).
In contrast to the id, which is present from birth and operates at the primal level, and from the ego that develops to help people make sense of the world around them, the superego coordinates all of the other components of personality to function in the real world. In this regard, Cherry notes that, "The superego acts to perfect and civilize our behavior. It works to suppress all unacceptable urges of the id and struggles to make the ego act upon idealistic standards rather that upon realistic principles. The superego is present in the conscious, preconscious and unconscious" (2010, para. 5). At the neurological level, the super-ego functions in two separate ways:
1. It disturbs and inhibits ego-syntonic behaviour, which is a priori in conformity with the requirements of reality, by equating this, as the result of faulty reality-testing, with actions which it has learned to criticize in the past and by dealing with it in the way it dealt with them.
2. Concomitantly, by means of self-punishment, it permits autoplastic, symbolic gratification of precisely those condemned wishes (Bergmann, 1976, p. 100).
This means that the super ego is capable of learning what works and what does not and the focus of therapeutic interventions would be to identify the former and use more of that in the person's day-to-day life. While Freud's id, ego and superego model provide some useful insights concerning the inner workings of the human psyche, the psychosocial development model can help understand how people develop over time and what critical milestones they must achieve to grow and mature in positive ways and these issues are discussed further below.
Erik Erikson's psychosocial development model
Erikson was clearly influenced by Freud's concepts of the id, ego and superego, but he departed from this model in favor of one that he believed more accurately represented how people respond to the external events in their lives and what therapists could do to help them in the process. For instance, according to Hoare, "Erikson was a second-stage psychoanalytic thinker, one who was trained in Freud's Vienna Institute but who quickly departed the rigidity of Freudian dogma. He then revolutionized both psychoanalytic and developmental thought" (2002, p. 3).
Erikson stage-model of psychosocial development underwent a number of changes and refinements over the years as he researched the concepts further, with the final version being shown in Table 1 below.
Erikson's final version of psychosocial stages
Resolution or "virtue"
Culmination in old age
Infancy (0-1 year)
Basic trust vs. mistrust
Appreciation of interdependence and relatedness
Early childhood (1-3 years)
Autonomy vs. shame
Acceptance of the cycle of life, from integration to disintegration
Play age (3-6 years)
Initiative vs. guilt
Humor; empathy; resilience
School age (6-12 years)
Industry vs. Inferiority
Humility; acceptance of the course of one's life and unfulfilled hopes
Adolescence (12-19 years)
Identity vs. confusion
Sense of complexity of life, merging of sensory, logical and aesthetic perception
Early adulthood (20-25 years)
Intimacy vs. isolation
Sense of the complexity of relationships, value of tenderness and loving freely
Adulthood (26-64 years)
Generativity vs. stagnation
Existential identity, a sense of integrity strong enough to withstand physical disintegration
Source: Dewey, 2007
These well-known developmental stages have been the focus of a great deal of research over the years, and Erikson is certainly not without his detractors. Nevertheless, these developmental stages and their corresponding crises do provide a useful way of understanding how and why people respond to the challenges they experience during the life span. According to Coll and Hass (2006), although each of Erikson's life stages has some profound challenges that must be overcome to successfully move on to the next stage, perhaps the most turbulent developmental period for most people is adolescence, which these authors further differentiate into three discrete periods:
1. Early adolescence, ages 12-14 years;
2. Mid-adolescence, ages 15-17 years; and,
3. Late adolescence, ages 18-22 years.
These authorities emphasize that these age period distinctions are "particularly important to counselors because it is probably the most challenging and complicated period of life" (Coll & Hass, 2006, p. 208). Not only does this period in life present numerous developmental challenges, the extent to which these challenges are successfully resolved will form the basis for future developmental directions as well. In this regard, Erikson describes the overlapping and step-wise fashion in which people navigate their way from one stage to the next: "Mature adulthood, however, emerges from young adulthood, which, psychosexually speaking, depends on a postadolescent genital mutuality as a libidinal model of true intimacy. An immense power of verification pervades this meeting of bodies and temperaments after the hazardously long human preadulthood" (1997, p. 70).
Likewise, Erikson describes the inextricable relationship between one stage of life and the next in terms of its implications for psychosocial development: "Young adults emerging from the adolescent search for a sense of identity can be eager and willing to fuse their identities in mutual intimacy and to share them with individuals who, in work, sexuality, and friendship promise to prove complementary. One can often be 'in love' or engage in intimacies, but the intimacy now at stake is the capacity to commit oneself to concrete affiliations which may call for significant sacrifices and compromises" (1997, p. 70).
Taken together, Freud's id, ego and superego model and Erikson's psychosocial development model can both help inform counselors and therapists. These practitioners can use these paradigms together with other analytical models to help forge the therapeutic relationship, establish trust and develop the sense of empathy that are all essential elements in achieving positive clinical outcomes. Erikson's model is perhaps more accessible to many practitioners given its straightforward presentation of the various life developmental stages and their corresponding metrics, but even Erikson conceded that it is not possible to pigeonhole everyone into these neat categories. Nevertheless, Erikson's model in particular does provide a general way of identifying where an individual may be on the developmental continuum, and empirical observations indicate these stages hold true for many if not most people.
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Cherry, K. (2010). The id, ego and super ego. About.com: Psychology. Retrieved from http://
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Education and Development, 45(2), 208-210.
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Hoare C.H. (2002). Erikson on development in adulthood: New insights from the unpublished papers. New York: Oxford University Press.
A Comparison of Theoretical Perspectives of Sigmund Freud and Erik Erikson
Id. The id is the foundation for the other components of individual personality since it is the only one of the three elements of personality that is present from birth. This component of personality is entirely unconscious and includes of the instinctive and primitive behaviors.
Ego. This component is responsible for making sense of the real world. The ego develops from the id and ensures that the impulses of the id can be expressed in an acceptable fashion in real-world settings; the ego functions in both the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious mind.
Super Ego. The final element to develop is the superego which holds all internalized moral standards and ideals that are acquired from both parents and society, e.g., a sense of right and wrong; the superego provides guidelines for making judgments. Freud believed that the superego first starts to emerge during early childhood, typically at age 5…
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