Ego, Id, & Super-Ego – A to Z Challenge, Literary Terms

EIt is now a new week of A to Z Challenge. Last week was quite informative, offering us new insights into the world and how to apply that to our writing. Well, that was only the beginning. This week will give you a new way to think about everything.

Today we discuss 3 terms that are very very close to each other. Ego, Id, and Super-Ego. So, strap your thinking caps on and keep your hands inside the cart at all times.

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Ego, Id, and Super-Ego are three parts of the structural model of the psyche as defined by Sigmund Freud. They are hypothetical constructs that help defined our how our mind works.

It is important to note that these 3 concepts, though highly used in psychology, are highly symbolic concepts about the mind and do not correspond to actual structures of the brain. It is basically how a psychologist sees the mind, versus the structures is how a neurologist views your brain. Basically brain vs mind.

Despite the name of the article, we’ll go in order of Id, to Ego, to Super-Ego.


Id, is the part of our personality that contains our basic human instinctual drives. Of the three components, it is the only one present at birth. It is our source of bodily needs, wants, desires, and impulse, including our sexual and aggressive drives. The Id also contains our libido.

The Id acts according to the pleasure principle. Basically, it seeks pleasure and avoids pain in order to satisfy biological and psychological needs. The Id generally seeks immediate gratification.

A newborn child only has an Id, which explains why they act on instinct and impulses, and basically demand immediate satisfaction. The Id lacks concepts of Good and Bad. Lack morality.


In neuroscience, the Id is seen as the lower functions of the mind and the amygdala, controlling basic urges and fight-or-flight responses.


Ego acts according to the reality principle. Basically that it asses reality and acts accordingly.

In reference to the Ego, Freud had this to say:

“attempts to mediate between id and reality, it is often obliged to cloak the Ucs. [Unconscious] commands of the id with its own Pcs. [ Preconscious ] rationalizations, to conceal the id’s conflicts with reality, to profess … to be taking notice of reality even when the id has remained rigid and unyielding.”

What!? Sounds like gibberish to me.

Let’s try to break this down a little bit. First off, it makes reference to reality, which is the conscious mind. However, to function within reality, Id’s instinctual and gratification nature conflicts with this. So the Ego has to balance these two, and uses the Preconscious to do that.

The Preconscious are basically unrepressed unconscious thoughts at any given time. Basically, thoughts that we can easily recall. Unconscious mind are thoughts that forgotten memories and automated functions of the mind. The Id resides in the Unconscious mind.


The ego is simply a medium between reality and our basic instincts. A good example of this is being in a store and not grabbing those donuts and shoving them in your mouth because you’re hungry and desire sweets. Rather, buying them first and eating them at home.

Ego is our organized part of our personality. As Freud stated, Ego is a set of functions that include defense, tolerance, reality testing, control, planning, synthesis of information, intellectual, and memory.

Conscious awareness resides in the Ego, but as mentioned before, it does more than just that. It separates out what is real and helps us organize all the data to make sense of it and the world around us.

However, the Ego’s job is hardly easy. It has to balance everything and deal with the real world, the Id’s basic desires, the Super-Ego, and try to make all of them happy. I’m getting aneurism just thinking about it.

In a way, the Ego is the oldest child, dealing with his domineering parents (Super-Ego) while protecting the bad influence younger child (Id). The Ego tries to keep everyone happy, while being egged on by the Id and getting a serious guilt trip from the Super-Ego.

Thankfully, Ego has a defense mechanism (mine is called sarcasm). The defense mechanism interacts with the Id’s behavior when it conflicts with realities sense of society’s morals, norms, and taboos. Also the individual’s sense of morals, norms, and taboos. It also handles reality when it becomes uncomfortable and threatens the well being of the mind, as well as protection from the Super-Ego when it tries to overwhelm the Ego or conflicts with the Id.

A few of the defense mechanisms the Ego has are:

  • Denial – rejecting uncomfortable facts
  • Displacement – creating new goals in place of dangerous ones
  • Fantasy – escaping in a fantasy world to avoid reality
  • Compensation – cover up perceived weakness
  • Projection – denying the existence of undesirable impulses and attributing them to others
  • Rationalization – trying to logically explain away behaviors or feelings
  • Repression – Taking away ones pleasurable instincts
  • Suppression – stop thinking about a thought
  • Dissociation – detach yourself from physical and emotional experiences
  • Idealization – attributing exaggerated positive qualities to everyone
  • Identification – imbue yourself with a quality you like about another person
  • Somatisation – generation of physical symptoms of psychiatric condition

Quite a list. Of course, all of these are much more complicated than that, but to list them all in full detail, would be worth the value of a book.

In my article last year of Learned Helplessness, it was discussed that the mind will strip itself in order to survive. In many ways, this is the effect of a defense mechanism. Learning to adapt to a given situation, to the point of being helpless even if given a way out.

In that article, I discussed Red vs Blue in reference to the Alpha AI. Alpha was tortured mentally, and had to remove parts of his personality. Such as his logic (Delta) so he couldn’t analyze what he was going through. He also lost his ability to trust (Theta), his creativity (Sigma), deceit (Gamma), rage (Omega), and lastly memories of what it endured (Epsilon). Each of these components were then turned into fragment AI’s. Alpha doing this can be seen as a defense mechanism, and losing his mind.

What was left behind was a program that could barely function as a person, who we originally knew as Church. In many ways, Church lacked an Id and Super-Ego.

In neuroscience, the ego is thought of as the main processing regions of the brain. Example would be the frontal cortex, as it is particularly important in explicit decision-making.


Super-ego is basically what we learn from our parents and environment on how to act. Though it is not just parents, but anyone who has been the role of teacher, including role models.

The superego is all about perfection. It organizes the personality structure from the unconscious and conscious self, ego ideals, and high end goals while prohibiting our drives, fantasies, feelings, and actions. It punishes bad behavior with negative feelings, such as guilt. It’s our inner critic telling us what we want, stinks.


Of course, the Superego and Id don’t get along. While the Id wants to act on it’s impulse, Super-ego wants to act in a socially appropriate manner. It is the Super-ego where we get our sense of right and wrong.

There’s a whole thing here about the Oedipus complex, but I really don’t subscribe to that. I won’t be discussing it.

In neuroscience, the superego is seen in the inhibitory processes of the brain which influences how we interpret information.

Helping Writers

Understanding the concept of the mind can help understand how characters can react in any given situation as we understand their personality, but there is something more we can take from today’s article, and that is called the Freudian Trio.

Since the Ego, Id, and Super-Ego are 3 competing elements of the human psyche, and characters in fiction can represent parts of ourselves, it makes a lot of sense that that we can have a trio of characters that represent each part of the human psyche. We actually see this a lot, but it is better known as: The McCoy (Id), The Spock (Super-Ego), and The Kirk (Ego). Remember that ego != egotistical. (!= means not, I was once a programmer).


The Freudian Trio consists of three characters that rely on each other, with one being highly logical and emotionless, another being highly emotional and instinctual, with one acting as a mediator to the other two. The mediator is often a leader, though any of the others can be a leader, so long as they are open minded enough to consider opposing ideas better than their own (which is not easy to do). The McCoy is likely to be the leader if the Kirk is not, as he is likely to be more compassionate compared to the Spock.



The McCoy character is the emotional and humanist character. He primarily cares about others and their well being like the ego, but does so on a deeper level. He cares for what is the right thing right now. Often doesn’t consider or care for the short-term or long-term consequences to his actions. Wearing his heart on his sleeve can lead to disastrous consequences, even with the best intentions.

“The path to hell is paved with good intentions.”

It’s not to say that the Spock can’t also be compassionate, but he acts within the confines of logic first, and can be more detached than the McCoy can.

Despite his emotional recklessness, he can still be quite admirable of a character. He maintains his moral beliefs and does not falter when others demand he does. ‘Acceptable losses’ is a sin against humanity. When it comes to people, he doesn’t see numbers on a page, he sees faces, and each face deserves the right to live and the right to be saved.


  • Anakin Skywalker in the prequels
  • Captain America from the Marvel Cinematic Universe
  • Katara from Avatar: The Last Airbender



The Spock is a character who is always thinking before acting. And when not doing that, he’s thinking about thinking. The Spock has a tendency to adhere to the rules and uses reasoning and greater good for their decisions. Solutions tend to be balanced and well-thought out.

To this, they are more concern with the end results than the circumstances of the problem. Everyone is expendable, and if you’re in the way, you are part of the problem. He holds this high standard even to himself.

What makes the Spock likeable is that he is willing to bend a bit and consider the Third Option. He doesn’t make an order he is not willing to follow himself, and is extremely cool under pressure.


  • Dr. Egon Spengler from Ghostbusters (Harold Ramis deliberately played Egon, Spock-like)
  • Black Widow from the Marvel Cinematic Universe
  • Temperance Brennan from Bones
  • Sokka from Avatar: The Last Airbender



The Kirk must find balance between the McCoy and the Spock, two opposing personalities, likely choosing one over the other, and on occasion, choosing a third option to compliment the other two.

Naturally the Kirk is the leader as he proves to be a happy medium between the other two, and finding great value in their opposing viewpoints. He has a touch of both of them in himself, but more balance. He has a critical mind but not too logical, and compassion without being overly emotional.

In the episode “The Enemy Within” we got to see a split of personality for the Kirk. Both lacked ego. The ‘Good Kirk’ seemed more Super-Ego with a light touch of Id, where as the ‘Bad Kirk’ was more about the Id, and a bit of the Super-Ego. It’s these two embodiments combined that gives us a sense of who the Kirk is.


  • Obi-Wan Kenobi for most of Star Wars
  • Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe
  • President Bartlett from The West Wing

An Interesting Note

In the new Star Trek films, the Kirk and the McCoy were swapped for the characters of Kirk and McCoy. Kirk was more of the emotional one where as McCoy was the balance for Kirk and Spock. However, if you focus instead on Kirk, Spock, and Uhura (as these three seem closer than the original three), Uhura takes on the mantle of the McCoy and Kirk retains the Kirk role.


There are a variety of Power Trio’s you can write, though Freudian Trio is the most popular. It’s rare for a single character in narrative to represent a complete construct of a person and are at best 2 or 3 elements of a whole person.

Understanding how the mind works is very important, especially in response to personality and Self-Serving Bias, but it is equally important to understand how your characters relate to each other. How do the compliment each other and how do they compete against each other? How does anything get done and who is the leader of the trio? Things to consider in your story.

Help Keep This Site Running

This site is a great achievement for me, but due to being unable to work, I may not be able to keep this site running. With your help, I might be able to.

I need $125 by October 30th, 2017. Anything you can give will help.

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