Lecture XXXI

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, – I know you are aware in regard to your own relations, whether with people or things, of the importance of your starting-point. This was also the case with psycho-analysis. It has not been a matter of indifference for the course of its development or for the reception it met with that it began its work on what is, of all the contents of the mind, most foreign to the ego – on symptoms. Symptoms are derived from the repressed, they are, as it were, its representatives before the ego; but the repressed is foreign territory to the ego – internal foreign territory – just as reality (if you will forgive the unusual expression) is external foreign territory. The path led from symptoms to the unconscious, to the life of the instincts, to sexuality; and it was then that psycho-analysis was met by the brilliant objection that human beings are not merely sexual creatures but have nobler and higher impulses as well. It might have beenadded that, exalted by their consciousness of these higher impulses, they often assume the right to think nonsense and to neglect facts. You know better. From the very first we have said that human beings fall ill of a conflict between the claims of instinctual life and the resistance which arises within them against it; and not for a moment have we forgotten this resisting, repelling, repressing agency, which we thought of as equipped with its special forces, the ego-instincts, and which coincides with the ego of popular psychology. The truth was merely that, in view of the laborious nature of the progress made by scientific work, even psycho-analysis was not able to study every field simultaneously and to express its views on every problem in a single breath. But at last the point was reached when it was possible for us to divert our attention from the repressed to the repressing forces, and we faced this ego, which had seemed so self-evident, with the secure expectation that here once again we should find things for which we could not have been prepared. It was not easy, however, to find a first approach; and that is what I intend to talk to you about to-day. I must, however, let you know of my suspicion that this account of mine of ego-psychology will affect you differently from the introduction into the psychical underworld which preceded it. I cannot say with certainty why this should be so. I thought first that you would discover that whereas what I reported to you previously were, in the main, facts, however strange and peculiar, now you will be listening principally to opinions – that is, to speculations. But that does not meet the position. After further consideration I must maintain that the amount of intellectual working-over of the factual material in our ego-psychology is not much greater than it was in the psychology of the neuroses. I have been obliged to reject other explanations as well of the result I anticipate: I now believe that it is somehow a question of the nature of the material itself and of our being unaccustomed to dealing with it. In any case, I shall not be surprised if you show yourselves even more reserved and cautious in your judgement than hitherto. The situation in which we find ourselves at the beginning of our enquiry may be expected itself to point the way for us. We wish to make the ego the matter of our enquiry, our very own ego. But is that possible?After all, the ego is in its very essence a subject; how can it be made into an object? Well, there is no doubt that it can be. The ego can take itself as an object, can treat itself like other objects, can observe itself, criticize itself, and do Heaven knows what with itself. In this, one part of the ego is setting itself over against the rest. So the ego can be split; it splits itself during a number of its functions – temporarily at least. Its parts can come together again afterwards. That is not exactly a novelty, though it may perhaps be putting an unusual emphasis on what is generally known. On the other hand, we are familiar with the notion that pathology, by making things larger and coarser, can draw our attention to normal conditions which would otherwise have escaped us. Where it points to a breach or a rent, there may normally be an articulation present. If we throw a crystal to the floor, it breaks; but not into haphazard pieces. It comes apart along its lines of cleavage into fragments whose boundaries, though they were invisible, were predetermined by the crystal’s structure. Mental patients are split and broken structures of this same kind. Even we cannot withhold from them something of the reverential awe which peoples of the past felt for the insane. They have turned away from external reality, but for that very reason they know more about internal, psychical reality and can reveal a number of things to us that would otherwise be inaccessible to us.

We describe one group of these patients as suffering from delusions of being observed. They complain to us that perpetually, and down to their most intimate actions, they are being molested by the observation of unknown powers – presumably persons – and that in hallucinations they hear these persons reporting the outcome of their observation: ‘now he’s going to say this, now he’s dressing to go out’ and so on. Observation of this sort is not yet the same thing as persecution, but it is not far from it; it presupposes that people distrust them, and expect to catch them carrying out forbidden actions for which they would be punished. How would it be if these insane people were right, if in each of us there is present in his ego an agency like this which observes and threatens to punish, and which in them has merely become sharply divided from their ego and mistakenly displaced into external reality? I cannot tell whether the same thing will happen to you as to me. Ever since, under the powerful impression of this clinical picture, I formed the idea that the separation of the observing agency from the rest of the ego might be a regular feature of the ego’s structure, that idea has never left me, and I was
driven to investigate the further characteristics and connections of the agency which was thus separated off. The next step is quickly taken. The content of the delusions of being observed already suggests that the observing is only a preparation for judging and punishing, and we accordingly guess that another function of this agency must be what we call our conscience. There is scarcely anything else in us that we so regularly separate from our ego and so easily set over against it as precisely our conscience. I feel an inclination to do something that I think will give me pleasure, but I abandon it on the ground that my conscience does not allow it. Or I have let myself be persuaded by too great an expectation of pleasure into doing something to which the voice of conscience has objected and after the deed my conscience punishes me with distressing reproaches and causes me to feel remorse for the deed. I might simply say that the special agency which I am beginning to distinguish in the ego is conscience. But it is more prudent to keep the agency as something independent and to suppose that conscience is one of its functions and that self- observation, which is an essential preliminary to the judging activity of conscience, is another of them. And since when we recognize that something has a separate existence we give it a name of its own, from this time forward I will describe this agency in the ego as the ‘super-ego’. I am now prepared to hear you ask me scornfully whether our ego-psychology comes down to nothing more than taking commonly used abstractions literally and in a crude sense, and transforming them from concepts into things – by which not much would be gained. To this I would reply that in ego-psychology i will be difficult to escape what is universally known; it will rather be a question of new ways of looking at things and new ways of arranging them than of new discoveries. So hold to your contemptuous criticism for the time being and await further explanations. The facts of pathology give our efforts a background that yo would look for in vain in popular psychology. So I will proceed. Hardly have we familiarized ourselves with the idea of a super-ego like this which enjoys a certain degree of autonomy, follows its own intentions and is independent of the ego for its supply of energy, than a clinical picture forces itself on our notice which throws a striking light on the severity of this agency and indeed its cruelty, and on its changing relations to the ego. I am thinking of the condition of melancholia, or, more precisely, of melancholic attacks, which you too will have heard plenty about, even if you are not psychiatrists. The most striking feature of this illness, of whose causation and mechanism we know much too little, is the way in which the super-ego – ‘conscience’, you may call it, quietly – treats the ego. While amelancholic can, like other people, show a greater or lesser degree of severity to himself in his healthy periods, during a melancholic attack his super-ego becomes over-severe, abuses the poor ego, humiliates it and ill-treats it, threatens it with the direst punishments, reproaches it for actions in the remotest past which had been taken lightly at the time – as though it had spent the whole interval in collecting accusations and had only been waiting for its present access of strength in order to bring them up and make a condemnatory judgement on their basis. The super-ego applies the strictest moral standard to the helpless ego which is at its mercy; in general it represents the claims of morality, and we realize all at once that our moral sense of guilt is the expression of the tension between the ego and the super-ego. It is a most remarkable experience to see morality, which is supposed to have been given us by God and thus deeplyimplanted in us, functioning as a periodic phenomenon. For after a certain number of months the whol moral fuss is over, the criticism of the super-ego is silent, the ego is rehabilitated and again enjoys all the rights of man till the next attack. In some forms of the disease, indeed, something of a contrary sort occurs in the intervals; the ego finds itself in a blissful state of intoxication, it celebrates a triumph, as though the super-ego had lost all its strength or had melted into the ego; and this liberated, manic ego permits itself a truly uninhibited satisfaction of all its appetites. Here are happenings rich in unsolved riddles!


No doubt you will expect me to give you more than a mere illustration when I inform you that we have found out all kinds of things about the formation of the super-ego – that is to say, about the origin of conscience. Following a well-known pronouncement of Kant’s which couples the conscience within us with the starry Heavens, a pious man might well be tempted to honour these two things as the masterpieces of creation. The stars are indeed magnificent, but as regards conscience God has done an uneven and careless piece of work, for a large majority of men have brought along with them only a modest amount of it or scarcely enough to be worth mentioning. We are far from overlooking the portion of psychological truth that is contained in the assertion that conscience is of divine origin; but the thesis needs interpretation. Even if conscience is something ‘within us’, yet it is not so from the first. In this it is a real contrast to sexual
life, which is in fact there from the beginning of life and not only a later addition. But, as is well known, young children are amoral and possess no internal inhibitions against their impulses striving for pleasure.
The part which is later taken on by the super-ego is played to begin with by an external power, by parental authority. Parental influence governs the child by offering proofs of love and by threatening punishments
which are signs to the child of loss of love and are bound to be feared on their own account. This realistic anxiety is the precursor of the later moral anxiety. So long as it is dominant there is no need to talk of a super-ego and of a conscience. It is only subsequently that the secondary situation develops (which we are all too ready to regard as the normal one), where the external restraint is internalized and the super-ego
takes the place of the parental agency and observes, directs and threatens the ego in exactly the same way as earlier the parents did with the child.The super-ego, which thus takes over the power, function and even the methods of the parental agency, is however not merely its successor but actually the legitimate heir of its body. It proceeds directly out of it, we shall learn presently by what process. First, however, we must dwell upon a discrepancy between thetwo. The super-ego seems to have made a one-sided choice and to have picked out only the parents strictness and severity, their prohibiting and punitive function, whereas their loving care seems not to havebeen taken over and maintained. If the parents have really enforced their authority with severity we can easily understand the child’s in turn developing a severe super-ego. But, contrary to our expectation,experience shows that the super-ego can acquire the same characteristic of relentless severity even if the upbringing had been mild and kindly and had so far as possible avoided threats and punishments. We shallcome back later to this contradiction when we deal with the transformations of instinct during the formationof the super-ego. I cannot tell you as much as I should like about the metamorphosis of the parental relationship into thesuper-ego, partly because that process is so complicated that an account of it will not fit into the frameworkof an introductory course of lectures such as I am trying to give you, but partly also because we our selves do not feel sure that we understand it completely. So you must be content with the sketch that follows.


The basis of the process is what is called an ‘identification’ – that is to say, the assimilation of one ego to another one, as a result of which the first ego behaves like the second in certain respects, imitates it and in
a sense takes it up into itself. Identification has been not unsuitably compared with the oral, cannibalistic incorporation of the other person. It is a very important form of attachment to someone else, probably thevery first, and not the same thing as the choice of an object. The difference between the two can be expressed in some such way as this. If a boy identifies himself with his father, he wants tobe like his father;
if he makes him the object of his choice, he wants tohave him, to possess him. In the first case his ego isaltered on the model of his father; in the second case that is not necessary. Identification and object-choice
are to a large extent independent of each other; it is however possible to identify oneself with someone whom, for instance, one has taken as a sexual object, and to alter one’s ego on his model. It is said that the
influencing of the ego by the sexual object occurs particularly often with women and is characteristic of
femininity. I must already have spoken to you in my earlier lectures of what is by far the most instructive
relation between identification and object-choice. It can be observed equally easily in children and adults, in
normal as in sick people. If one has lost an object or has been obliged to give it up, one often compensates
oneself by identifying oneself with it and by setting it up once more in one’s ego, so that here object-choice
regresses, as it were, to identification.

 I myself am far from satisfied with these remarks on identification; but it will be enough if you can grant

me that the installation of the super-ego can be described as a successful instance of identification with the
parental agency. The fact that speaks decisively for this view is that this new creation of a superior agency
within the ego is most intimately linked with the destiny of the Oedipus complex, so that the super-ego
appears as the heir of that emotional attachment which is of such importance for childhood. With his
abandonment of the Oedipus complex a child must, as we can see, renounce the intense object-cathexes
which he has deposited with his parents, and it is as a compensation for this loss of objects that there is
such a strong intensification of the identifications with his parents which have probably long been present in
his ego. Identifications of this kind as precipitates of object-cathexes that have been given up will be
repeated often enough later in the child’s life; but it is entirely in accordance with the emotional importance
of this first instance of such a transformation that a special place in the ego should be found for its outcome.
Close investigation has shown us, too, that the super-ego is stunted in its strength and growth if the
surmounting of the Oedipus complex is only incompletely successful. In the course of development the
super-ego also takes on the influences of those who have stepped into the place of parents – educators,
teachers, people chosen as ideal models. Normally it departs more and more from the original parental
figures; it becomes, so to say, more impersonal. Nor must it be forgotten that a child has a different
estimate of its parents at different periods of its life. At the time at which the Oedipus complex gives place
to the super-ego they are something quite magnificent; but later they lose much of this. Identifications then
come about with these later parents as well, and indeed they regularly make important contributions to the
formation of character; but in that case they only affect the ego, they no longer influence the super-ego,
which has been determined by the earliest parental imagos.

I hope you have already formed an impression that the hypothesis of the super-ego really describes a
structural relation and is not merely a personification of some such abstraction as that of conscience. One
more important function remains to be mentioned which we attribute to this super-ego. It is also the vehicle
of the ego ideal by which the ego measures itself, which it emulates, and whose demand for ever greater
perfection it strives to fulfil. There is no doubt that this ego ideal is the precipitate of the old picture of the
parents, the expression of admiration for the perfection which the child then attributed to them.

I am sure you have heard a great deal of the sense of inferiority which is supposed particularly to
characterize neurotics. It especially haunts the pages of what are known asbelles lettres. An author who
uses the term ‘inferiority complex’ thinks that by so doing he has fulfilled all the demands of psycho-analysis
and has raised his composition to a higher psychological plane. In fact ‘inferiority complex’ is a technical
term that is scarcely used in psycho-analysis. For us it does not bear the meaning of anything simple, let
alone elementary. To trace it back to the self-perception of possible organic defects, as the school of what
are known as ‘Individual Psychologists’ likes to do, seems to us a short-sighted error. The sense of
inferiority has strong erotic roots. A child feels inferior if he notices that he is not loved, and so does an
adult. The only bodily organ which is really regarded as inferior is the atrophied penis, a girl’s clitoris. But
the major part of the sense of inferiority derives from the ego’s relation to its super-ego; like the sense of
guilt it is an expression of the tension between them. Altogether, it is hard to separate the sense of
inferiority and the sense of guilt. It would perhaps be right to regard the former as the erotic complement to
the moral sense of inferiority. Little attention has been given in psycho-analysis to the question of the
delimitation of the two concepts.

 If only because the inferiority complex has become so popular, I will venture to entertain you here with a

short digression. A historical personality of our own days, who is still alive though at the moment he has
retired into the background, suffers from a defect in one of his limbs owing to an injury at the time of his
birth. A very well-known contemporary writer who is particularly fond of compiling the biographies of
celebrities has dealt, among others, with the life of the man I am speaking of. Now in writing a biography it
may well be difficult to suppress a need to plumb the psychological depths. For this reason our author has
ventured on an attempt to erect the whole of the development of his hero’s character on the sense of
inferiority which must have been called up by his physical defect. In doing so, he has overlooked one small
but not insignificant fact. It is usual for mothers whom Fate has presented with a child who is sickly or
otherwise at a disadvantage to try to compensate him for his unfair handicap by a superabundance of love.
In the instance before us, the proud mother behaved otherwise; she withdrew her love from the child on
account of his infirmity. When he had grown up into a man of great power, he proved unambiguously by his
actions that he had never forgiven his mother. When you consider the importance of a mother’s love for the
mental life of a child, you will no doubt make a tacit correction of the biographer’s inferiority theory.

But let us return to the super-ego. We have allotted it the functions of self-observation, of conscience and
of the ideal. It follows from what we have said about its origin that it presupposes an immensely important
biological fact and a fateful psychological one: namely, the human child’s long dependence on its parents
and the Oedipus complex, both of which, again, are intimately interconnected. The super-ego is the
representative for us of every moral restriction, the advocate of a striving towards perfection – it is, in short,
as much as we have been able to grasp psychologically of what is described as the higher side of human
life. Since it itself goes back to the influence of parents, educators and so on, we learn still more of its
significance if we turn to those who are its sources. As a rule parents and authorities analogous to them
follow the precepts of their own super-egos in educating children. Whatever understanding their ego may
have come to with their super-ego, they are severe and exacting in educating children. They have forgotten
the difficulties of their own childhood and they are glad to be able now to identify themselves fully with their
own parents who in the past laid such severe restrictions upon them. Thus a child’s super-ego is in fact
constructed on the model not of its parents but of its parents’ super-ego; the contents which fill it are the
same and it becomes the vehicle of tradition and of all the time-resisting judgements of value which have
propagated themselves in this manner from generation to generation. You may easily guess what important
assistance taking the super-ego into account will give us in our understanding of the social behaviour of
mankind – in the problem of delinquency, for instance – and perhaps even what practical hints on education.
It seems likely that what are known as materialistic views of history sin in under-estimating this factor. They
brush it aside with the remark that human ‘ideologies’ are nothing other than the product and superstructure
of their contemporary economic conditions. That is true, but very probably not the whole truth. Mankind
never lives entirely in the present. The past, the tradition of the race and of the people, lives on in the
ideologies of the super-ego, and yields only slowly to the influences of the present and to new changes;
and so long as it operates through the super-ego it plays a powerful part in human life, independently of
economic conditions.
In 1921 I endeavoured to make use of the differentiation between the ego and the super-ego in a study of
group psychology. I arrived at a formula such as this: a psychological group is a collection of individuals
who have introduced the same person into their super-ego and, on the basis of this common element, have
identified themselves with one another in their ego. This applies, of course, only to groups that have a
leader. If we possessed more applications of this kind, the hypothesis of the super-ego would lose its last
touch of strangeness for us, and we should become completely free of the embarrassment that still comes
over us when, accustomed as we are to the atmosphere of the underworld, we move in the more
superficial, higher strata of the mental apparatus. We do not suppose, of course, that with the separation off
of the super-ego we have said the last word on the psychology of the ego. It is rather a first step; but in this
case it is not only the first step that is hard.


Now, however, another problem awaits us – at the opposite end of the ego, as we might put it. It is
presented to us by an observation during the work of analysis, an observation which is actually a very old
one. As not infrequently happens, it has taken a long time to come to the point of appreciating its
importance. The whole theory of psycho-analysis is, as you know, in fact built up on the perception of the
resistance offered to us by the patient when we attempt to make his unconscious conscious to him. The
objective sign of this resistance is that his associations fail or depart widely from the topic that is being dealt
with. He may also recognize the resistancesubjectively by the fact that he has distressing feelings when he
approaches the topic. But this last sign may also be absent. We then say to the patient that we infer from
his behaviour that he is now in a state of resistance; and he replies that he knows nothing of that, and is
only aware that his associations have become more difficult. It turns out that we were right; but in that case
his resistance was unconscious too, just as unconscious as the repressed, at the lifting of which we were
working. We should long ago have asked the question: from what part of his mind does an unconscious
resistance like this arise? The beginner in psycho-analysis will be ready at once with the answer: it is, of
course, the resistance of the unconscious. An ambiguous and unserviceable answer! If it means that the
resistance arises from the repressed, we must rejoin: certainly not! We must rather attribute to the
repressed a strong upward drive, an impulsion to break through into consciousness. The resistance can
only be a manifestation of the ego, which originally put the repression into force and now wishes to maintain
it. That, moreover, is the view we always took. Since we have come to assume a special agency in the ego,
the super-ego, which represents demands of a restrictive and rejecting character, we may say that
repression is the work of this super-ego and that it is carried out either by itself or by the ego in obedience
to its orders. If then we are met by the case of the resistance in analysis not being conscious to the patient,
this means either that in quite important situations the super-ego and the ego can operate unconsciously, or
– and this would be still more important – that portions of both of them, the ego and the super-ego
themselves, are unconscious. In both cases we have to reckon with the disagreeable discovery that on the
one hand (super-) ego and conscious and on the other hand repressed and unconscious are far from

 And here, Ladies and Gentlemen, I feel that I must make a pause to take breath – which you too will

welcome as a relief – and, before I go on, to apologize to you. My intention is to give you some addenda to
the introductory lectures on psycho-analysis which I began fifteen years ago, and I am obliged to behave as
though you as well as I had in the interval done nothing but practise psycho-analysis. I know that that
assumption is out of place; but I am helpless, I cannot do otherwise. This is no doubt related to the fact that
it is in general so hard to give anyone who is not himself a psycho-analyst an insight into psycho-analysis.
You can believe me when I tell you that we do not enjoy giving an impression of being members of a secret
society and of practising a mystical science. Yet we have been obliged to recognize and express as our
conviction that no one has a right to join in a discussion of psycho-analysis who has not had particular
experiences which can only be obtained by being analysed oneself. When I gave you my lectures fifteen
years ago I tried to spare you certain speculative portions of our theory; but it is precisely from them that
are derived the new acquisitions of which I must speak to you to-day.

I return now to our topic. In face of the doubt whether the ego and super-ego are themselves unconscious
or merely produce unconscious effects, we have, for good reasons, decided in favour of the former
possibility. And it is indeed the case that large portions of the ego and super-ego can remain unconscious
and are normally unconscious. That is to say, the individual knows nothing of their contents and it requires
an expenditure of effort to make them conscious. It is a fact that ego and conscious, repressed and
unconscious do not coincide. We feel a need to make a fundamental revision of our attitude to the problem
of conscious-unconscious. At first we are inclined greatly to reduce the value of the criterion of being
conscious since it has shown itself so untrustworthy. But we should be doing it an injustice. As may be said
of our life, it is not worth much, but it is all we have. Without the illumination thrown by the quality of
consciousness, we should be lost in the obscurity of depth-psychology; but we must attempt to find our
bearings afresh.


There is no need to discuss what is to be called conscious: it is removed from all doubt. The oldest and
best meaning of the word ‘unconscious’ is the descriptive one; we call a psychical process unconscious
whose existence we are obliged to assume – for some such reason as that we infer it from its effects -, but
of which we know nothing. In that case we have the same relation to it as we have to a psychical process in
another person, except that it is in fact one of our own. If we want to be still more correct, we shall modify
our assertion by saying that we call a process unconscious if we are obliged to assume that it is being
activatedat the moment, thoughat the moment we know nothing about it. This qualification makes us
reflect that the majority of conscious processes are conscious only for a short time; very soon they become

latent, but can easily become conscious again. We might also say that they had become unconscious, if it

were at all certain that in the condition of latency they are still something psychical. So far we should have
learnt nothing new; nor should we have acquired the right to introduce the concept of an unconscious into
psychology. But then comes the new observation that we were already able to make in parapraxes. In order
to explain a slip of the tongue, for instance, we find ourselves obliged to assume that the intention to make
a particular remark was present in the subject. We infer it with certainty from the interference with his
remark which has occurred; but the intention did not put itself through and was thus unconscious. If, when
we subsequently put it before the speaker, he recognizes it as one familiar to him, then it was only
temporarily unconscious to him; but if he repudiates it as something foreign to him, then it was permanently
unconscious. From this experience we retrospectively obtain the right also to pronounce as something
unconscious what had been described as latent. A consideration of these dynamic relations permits us now
to distinguish two kinds of unconscious – one which is easily, under frequently occurring circumstances,
transformed into something conscious, and another with which this transformation is difficult and takes
place only subject to a considerable expenditure of effort or possibly never at all. In order to escape the
ambiguity as to whether we mean the one or the other unconscious, whether we are using the word in the
descriptive or in the dynamic sense, we make use of a permissible and simple way out. We call the
unconscious which is only latent, and thus easily becomes conscious, the ‘preconscious’ and retain the
term ‘unconscious’ for the other. We now have three terms, ‘conscious’, ‘preconscious’ and ‘unconscious’,
with which we can get along in our description of mental phenomena. Once again: the preconscious is also
unconscious in the purely descriptive sense, but we do not give it that name, except in talking loosely or
when we have to make a defence of the existence in mental life of unconscious processes in general.


You will admit, I hope, that so far that is not too bad and allows of convenient handling. Yes, but unluckily
the work of psycho-analysis has found itself compelled to use the word ‘unconscious’ in yet another, third,
sense, and this may, to be sure, have led to confusion. Under the new and powerful impression of there
being an extensive and important field of mental life which is normally withdrawn from the ego’s knowledge
so that the processes occurring in it have to be regarded as unconscious in the truly dynamic sense, we
have come to understand the term ‘unconscious’ in a topographical or systematic sense as well; we have
come to speak of a ‘system’ of the preconscious and a ‘system’ of the unconscious, of a conflict between
the ego and the systemUcs., and have used the word more and more to denote a mental province rather
than a quality of what is mental. The discovery, actually an inconvenient one, that portions of the ego and
super-ego as well are unconscious in the dynamic sense, operates at this point as a relief – it makes
possible the removal of a complication. We perceive that we have no right to name the mental region that is
foreign to the ego ‘the systemUcs’, since the characteristic of being unconscious is not restricted to it. Very
well; we will no longer use the term ‘unconscious’ in the systematic sense and we will give what we have
hitherto so described a better name and one no longer open to misunderstanding. Following a verbal usage
of Nietzsche’s and taking up a suggestion by Georg Groddeck, we will in future call it the ‘id’. This
impersonal pronoun seems particularly well suited for expressing the main characteristic of this province of
the mind – the fact of its being alien to the ego. The super-ego, the ego and the id – these, then, are the
three realms, regions, provinces, into which we divide an individual’s mental apparatus, and with the mutual
relations of which we shall be concerned in what follows.

But first a short interpolation. I suspect that you feel dissatisfied because the three qualities of the
characteristic of consciousness and the three provinces of the mental apparatus do not fall together into
three peaceable couples, and you may regard this as in some sense obscuring our findings. I do not think,
however, that we should regret it, and we should tell ourselves that we had no right to expect any such
smooth arrangement. Let me give you an analogy; analogies, it is true, decide nothing, but they can make
one feel more at home. I am imagining a country with a landscape of varying configuration – hill-country,
plains, and chains of lakes -, and with a mixed population; it is inhabited by Germans, Magyars and
Slovaks, who carry on different activities. Now things might be partitioned in such a way that the Germans,
who breed cattle, live in the hill-country, the Magyars, who grow cereals and wine, live in the plains, and the
Slovaks, who catch fish and plait reeds, live by the lakes. If the partitioning could be neat and clear-cut like
this, a Woodrow Wilson would be delighted by it; it would also be convenient for a lecture in a geography
lesson. The probability is, however, that you will find less orderliness and more mixing, if you travel through
the region. Germans, Magyars and Slovaks live interspersed all over it; in the hill-country there is
agricultural land as well, cattle are bred in the plains too. A few things are naturally as you expected, for fish
cannot be caught in the mountains and wine does not grow in the water. Indeed, the picture of the region
that you brought with you may on the whole fit the facts; but you will have to put up with deviations in the


You will not expect me to have much to tell you that is new about the id apart from its new name. It is the
dark, inaccessible part of our personality; what little we know of it we have learnt from our study of the
dream-work and of the construction of neurotic symptoms, and most of that is of a negative character and
can be described only as a contrast to the ego. 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. It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organization, produces
no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the
observance of the pleasure principle. The logical laws of thought do not apply in the id, and this is true
above all of the law of contradiction. Contrary impulses exist side by side, without cancelling each other out
or diminishing each other: at the most they may converge to form compromises under the dominating
economic pressure towards the discharge of energy. There is nothing in the id that could be compared with
negation; and we perceive with surprise an exception to the philosophical theorem that space and time are
necessary forms of our mental acts. There is nothing in the id that corresponds to the idea of time; there is
no recognition of the passage of time, and – a thing that is most remarkable and awaits consideration in
philosophical thought – no alteration in its mental processes is produced by the passage of 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; after the passage of decades they behave as though they had just
occurred. They can only be recognized as belonging to the past, can only lose their importance and be
deprived of their cathexis of energy, when they have been made conscious by the work of analysis, and it is
on this that the therapeutic effect of analytic treatment rests to no small extent.

New Introductory Lectures On Psycho-Analysis

Again and again I have had the impression that we have made too little theoretical use of this fact,
established beyond any doubt, of the unalterability by time of the repressed. This seems to offer an
approach to the most profound discoveries. Nor, unfortunately, have I myself made any progress here.
The id of course knows no judgements of value: no good and evil, no morality. The economic or, if you
prefer, the quantitative factor, which is intimately linked to the pleasure principle, dominates all its
processes. Instinctual cathexes seeking discharge – that, in our view, is all there is in the id. It even seems
that the energy of these instinctual impulses is in a state different from that in the other regions of the mind,
far more mobile and capable of discharge; otherwise the displacements and condensations would not occur
which are characteristic of the id and which so completely disregard thequality of what is cathected – what
in the ego we should call an idea. We would give much to understand more about these things! You can
see, incidentally, that we are in a position to attribute to the id characteristics other than that of its being
unconscious, and you can recognize the possibility of portions of the ego and super-ego being unconscious
without possessing the same primitive and irrational characteristics.


We can best arrive at the characteristics of the actual ego, in so far as it can be distinguished from the id
and from the super-ego, by examining its relation to the outermost superficial portion of the mental
apparatus, which we describe as the systemPcpt.-Cs. This system is turned towards the external world, it
is the medium for the perceptions arising thence, and during its functioning the phenomenon of
consciousness arises in it. It is the sense-organ of the entire apparatus; moreover it is receptive not only to
excitations from outside but also to those arising from the interior of the mind. We need scarcely look for a
justification of the view that the ego is that portion of the id which was modified by the proximity and
influence of the external world, which is adapted for the reception of stimuli and as a protective shield
against stimuli, comparable to the cortical layer by which a small piece of living substance is surrounded.
The relation to the external world has become the decisive factor for the ego; it has taken on the task of
representing the external world to the id – fortunately for the id, which could not escape destruction if, in its
blind efforts for the satisfaction of its instincts, it disregarded that supreme external power. In accomplishing
this function, the ego must observe the external world, must lay down an accurate picture of it in the
memory-traces of its perceptions, and by its exercise of the function of ‘reality-testing’ must put aside
whatever in this picture of the external world is an addition derived from internal sources of excitation. The
ego controls the approaches to motility under the id’s orders; but between a need and an action it has
interposed a postponement in the form of the activity of thought, during which it makes use of the mnemic
residues of experience. In that way it has dethroned the pleasure principle which dominates the course of
events in the id without any restriction and has replaced it by the reality principle, which promises more
certainty and greater success.


The relation to time, which is so hard to describe, is also introduced into the ego by the perceptual
system; it can scarcely be doubted that the mode of operation of that system is what provides the origin of
the idea of time. But what distinguishes the ego from the id quite especially is a tendency to synthesis in its
contents, to a combination and unification in its mental processes which are totally lacking in the id. When
presently we come to deal with the instincts in mental life we shall, I hope, succeed in tracing this essential
characteristic of the ego back to its source. It alone produces the high degree of organization which the ego
needs for its best achievements. The ego develops from perceiving the instincts to controlling them; but this
last is only achieved by the representative of the instinct being allotted its proper place in a considerable
assemblage, by its being taken up into a coherent context. To adopt a popular mode of speaking, we might
say that the ego stands for reason and good sense while the id stands for the untamed passions.
So far we have allowed ourselves to be impressed by the merits and capabilities of the ego; it is now time
to consider the other side as well. The ego is after all only a portion of the id, a portion that has been
expediently modified by the proximity of the external world with its threat of danger. From a dynamic point
of view it is weak, it has borrowed its energies from the id, and we are not entirely without insight into the
methods – we might call them dodges – by which it extracts further amounts of energy from the id. One such
method, for instance, is by identifying itself with actual or abandoned objects. The object-cathexes spring
from the instinctual demands of the id. The ego has in the first instance to take note of them. But by
identifying itself with the object it recommends itself to the id in place of the object and seeks to divert the
id’s libido on to itself. We have already seen that in the course of its life the ego takes into itself a large
number of precipitates like this of former object-cathexes. The ego must on the whole carry out the id’s
intentions, it fulfils its task by finding out the circumstances in which those intentions can best be achieved.
The ego’s relation to the id might be compared with that of a rider to his horse. The horse supplies the
locomotive energy, while the rider has the privilege of deciding on the goal and of guiding the powerful
animal’s movement. But only too often there arises between the ego and the id the not precisely ideal
situation of the rider being obliged to guide the horse along the path by which it itself wants to go.
There is one portion of the id from which the ego has separated itself by resistances due to repression.
But the repression is not carried over into the id: the repressed merges into the remainder of the id.

We are warned by a proverb against serving two masters at the same time. The poor ego has things even
worse: it serves three severe masters and does what it can to bring their claims and demands into harmony
with one another. These claims are always divergent and often seem incompatible. No wonder that the ego
so often fails in its task. Its three tyrannical masters are the external world, the super-ego and the id. When
we follow the ego’s efforts to satisfy them simultaneously – or rather, to obey them simultaneously – we
cannot feel any regret at having personified this ego and having set it up as a separate organism. It feels
hemmed in on three sides, threatened by three kinds of danger, to which, if it is hard pressed, it reacts by
generating anxiety. Owing to its origin from the experiences of the perceptual system, it is earmarked for
representing the demands of the external world, but it strives too to be a loyal servant of the id, to remain
on good terms with it, to recommend itself to it as an object and to attract its libido to itself. In its attempts to
mediate between the id and reality, it is often obliged to cloak theUcs. commands of the id with its own

Pcs. rationalizations, to conceal the id’s conflicts with reality, to profess, with diplomatic disingenuousness,

to be taking notice of reality even when the id has remained rigid and unyielding. On the other hand it is
observed at every step it takes by the strict super-ego, which lays down definite standards for its conduct,
without taking any account of its difficulties from the direction of the id and the external world, and which, if
those standards are not obeyed, punishes it with tense feelings of inferiority and of guilt. Thus the ego,
driven by the id, confined by the super-ego, repulsed by reality, struggles to master its economic task of
bringing about harmony among the forces and influences working in and upon it; and we can understand
how it is that so often we cannot suppress a cry: ‘Life is not easy!’ If the ego is obliged to admit its
weakness it breaks out in anxiety – realistic anxiety regarding the external world, moral anxiety regarding
the super-ego and neurotic anxiety regarding the strength of the passions in the id.
I should like to portray the structural relations of the mental personality, as I have described them to you,
in the unassuming sketch which I now present you with:


As you see here, the super-ego merges into the id; indeed, as heir to the Oedipus complex it has intimate
relations with the id; it is more remote than the ego from the perceptual system. The id has intercourse with
the external world only through the ego – at least, according to this diagram. It is certainly hard to say to-day
how far the drawing is correct. In one respect it is undoubtedly not. The space occupied by the unconscious
id ought to have been incomparably greater than that of the ego or the preconscious. I must ask you to
correct it in your thoughts.

And here is another warning, to conclude these remarks, which have certainly been exacting and not,
perhaps, very illuminating. In thinking of this division of the personality into an ego, a super-ego and an id,
you will not, of course, have pictured sharp frontiers like the artificial ones drawn in political geography. We
cannot do justice to the characteristics of the mind by linear outlines like those in a drawing or in primitive
painting, but rather by areas of colour melting into one another as they are presented by modern artists.
After making the separation we must allow what we have separated to merge together once more. You
must not judge too harshly a first attempt at giving a pictorial representations of something so intangible as
psychical processes. It is highly probable that the development of these divisions is subject to great
variations in different individuals; it is possible that in the course of actual functioning they may change and
go through a temporary phase of involution. Particularly in the case of what is phylogenetically the last and
most delicate of these divisions – the differentiation between the ego and the super-ego – something of the
sort seems to be true. There is no question but that the same thing results from psychical illness. It is easy
to imagine, too, that certain mystical practices may succeed in upsetting the normal relations between the
different regions of the mind, so that, for instance, perception may be able to grasp happenings in the
depths of the ego and in the id which were otherwise inaccessible to it. It may safely be doubted, however,
whether this road will lead us to the ultimate truths from which salvation is to be expected. Nevertheless it
may be admitted that the therapeutic efforts of psycho-analysis have chosen a similar line of approach. Its
intention is, indeed, to strengthen the ego, to make it more independent of the super-ego, 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.


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