Id, ego, superego. You’d have heard of those terms for they are the three divisions of human psyche as given in Freudian psychology. The three universal dimensions of every human being—the utterly bestial, the practical human and the perfect divine. Those aren’t tight compartmentalisations but fluid concepts that hold true for humanity as a whole. Every individual has an ‘id’ governed by desires — primarily sexual and aggressive — as well as subconscious memories, hidden longings and instinctive urges. Most human actions are motivated by the need to fulfil these desires. But the other part of our psyche within the subconscious range is the superego — at the opposite end of the spectrum from id.

The superego is driven by ethics and morals — a spiritual plane of existence. While the id seeks sole gratification of the self, the superego focuses on the individual’s relation to and concern for others. But the manner in which we go about carrying out the commands of either of these two is handled by the conscious ‘ego’— the rational part of human consciousness that focuses on the plain facts. The ego operates according to the reality principle, working out realistic ways of satisfying the id’s demands, often compromising or postponing satisfaction to avoid negative consequences. The superego, on the other hand, persuades the ego to turn to moralistic goals rather than simply realistic ones and to strive for perfection.

Freud denoted these in the ‘floating iceberg’ diagram—where human consciousness is depicted as an iceberg floating upon the oceans. The id and the superego both make up the ‘submerged’ section of the iceberg — the unconscious mind — while the ego is partly conscious and partly unconscious. In effect, what we see above the surface —which alone appears real to us — is merely the tip of the iceberg.

In simple terms, human perception of the own self is grossly inaccurate and erroneous. What we perceive in ourselves is only a fraction of what we truly are — for we tend to mentally block the acknowledgement of faults in ourselves, creating a self image that is exceedingly positive. Other’s perception of us is also only partially correct, for there are facets of ourselves known only to us — and at times we might exhibit responses and actions that surprise even our own selves, for they spring deep from our subconscious mind.

The id, ego and superego together balance out human personality — separating us from animalkind. The id alone would turn the human race into a species unleashing upon each other the kind of cruelty that no beast could ever dream up — for human desires range far beyong mere hunger and sexual need. Human desires encompass the entire spectrum of greed, ambition, need for supremacy, need for control — leading to disastrous consequences not just for their own species but for the entire planet. The superego creates empathy, compassion and a willingness to sacrifice for love — and that is what becomes our saving grace.

The superego creates the urge for selflessness, through which people often supercede self-interest and work for the betterment of humanity. However, it is the ego that balances out these two — for even superego needs to be kept in check. If left to its own devices, the superego would create hermits and sages of all men and women. It’s the ego that draws them back into reality, enables them to carry out both the urges of id and superego, to retain human desire and yet not sacrifice humanity. Balance, in the end, remains the catchword, for balance is what makes you truly, ideally human.

Zehra Naqvi