An Outline Of Psychoanalysis – Freud (1940)

Chapter II The Theory of the Instincts

THE power of the id expresses the true purpose of the individual organism’s life. This consists in the satisfaction of itsinnate needs. No such purpose as that of keeping itself alive or of protecting itself from dangers by means of anxiety canbe attributed to the id. That is the task of the ego, whose business it also is to discover the most favourable and leastperilous method of obtaining satisfaction, taking the external world into account. The super-ego may bring fresh needs tothe fore, but its main function remains the limitation of satisfactions. The forces which we assume to exist behind the tensions caused by the needs of the id are calledinstincts. They represent the somatic demands upon the mind.

Though they are the ultimate cause of all activity, they are of a conservative nature; the state, whatever it may be, which an organism has reached gives rise to a tendency to re- establish that state so soon as it has been abandoned. It is thus possible to distinguish an indeterminate number of instincts, and in common practice this is in fact done- For us, however, the important question arises whether it may not be possible to trace all these numerous instincts back to a few basic ones. We have found that instincts can change their aim (by displacement) and also that they can replace one another—the energy of one instinct passing over to another. This latter process is still insufficiently understood. After long hesitancies and vacillations we have decided to assume the existence of only two basic instincts,Eros andthe destructive instinct. (The contrast between the instincts of self- preservation and the preservation of the species, as well as the contrast between ego-love and object-love, fall within Eros.)

The aim of the first of these basic instincts is to establish ever greater unities and to preserve them thus—in short, to bind together; the aim of the second is, on the contrary, to undo connections and so to destroy things. In the case of the destructive instinct we may suppose that its final aim is to lead what is living into an inorganic state. For this reason we also call it thedeath instinct. If we assume that living things came later than inanimate ones and arose from them, then the death instinct fits in with the formula we have proposed to the effect that instinctstend towards a return to an earlier state. In the case of Eros (or the love instinct) we cannot apply this formula. To do sowould presuppose that living substance was once a unity which had later been torn apart and was now striving towardsre-union.

In biological functions the two basic instincts operate against each other or combine with each other. Thus, the actof eating is a destruction of the object with the final aim of incorporating it, and the sexual act is an act of aggressionwith the purpose of the most intimate union. This concurrent and mutually opposing action of the two basic instinctsgives rise to the whole variegation of the phenomena of life. The analogy of our two basic instincts extends from thesphere of living things to the pair of opposing forces—attraction and repulsion—which rule in the inorganic world.

Modifications in the proportions of the fusion between the instincts have the most tangible results. A surplus of sexual aggressiveness will turn a lover into a sex-murderer, while a sharp diminution in the aggressive factor will make him bashful or impotent. There can be no question of restricting one or the other of the basic instincts to one of the provinces of the mind. They must necessarily be met with everywhere. We may picture an initial state as one in which the total available energy of Eros, which henceforward we shall speak of as‘libido’, is present in the still undifferentiated ego-idand serves to neutralize the destructive tendencies which are simultaneously present. (We are without a term analogous to‘libido’ for describing the energy ofthe destructive instinct.) At a later stage it becomes relatively easy for us to follow the vicissitudes of the libido, but thisis more difficult with the destructive instinct. So long as that instinct operates internally, as a death instinct, it remains silent; it only comes to our notice when it is diverted outwards as an instinct of destruction.

It seems to be essential for the preservation of the individual that this diversion should occur; the muscular apparatus serves this purpose. When the super-ego is established, considerable amounts of the aggressive instinct are fixated in the interior of the ego and operate there self-destructively. This is one of the dangers to health by which human beings are faced on their path to cultural development. Holding back aggressiveness is in general unhealthy and leads to illness (to mortification). A person in a fit of rage will often demonstrate how the transition from aggressiveness that has been prevented to self-destructiveness is brought about by diverting the aggressiveness against himself: he tears his hair or beats his face with his fists, though he would evidently have preferred to apply this treatment to someone else. Some portion of self-destructiveness remains within, whatever the circumstances; till at last it succeeds in killing the individual, not, perhaps, until his libido has been used up or fixated in a disadvantageous way.

Thus it may in general be suspected that theindividual dies of his internal conflicts but that the species dies of its unsuccessful struggle against the external world if the latter changes in a fashion which cannot b adequately dealt with by the adaptations which the species has acquired. It is hard to say anything of the behaviour of the libido in the id and in the super-ego. All that we know about it relates to the ego, in which at first the whole available quota of libido is stored up.

We call this state absolute, primary narcissism. It lasts till the ego begins to cathect the ideas of objects with libido, to transform narcissistic libido into object- libido. Throughout the whole of life the ego remains the great reservoir from which libidinal cathexes are sent out to objects and into which they are also once more withdrawn, just as an amoeba behaves with its pseudopodia.It is only when a person is completely in love that the main quota of libido is transferredon to the object and the object to some extent takes the place of the ego. A characteristic of the libido which is importantin life is itsmobility, the facility with which it passes from one object to another. This must be contrasted with thefixationof the libido to particular objects, which often persists throughout life. 

There can be no question but that the libido has somatic sources, that it streams to the ego from various organs and parts of the body. This is most clearly seen in the case of that portion of the libido which, from its instinctual aim, is described as sexual excitation. The most prominent of the parts of the body from which this libido arises are known by the name of “erotogenic zones’, though in fact the whole body is an erotogenic zone of this kind. The greater part of what we know about Eros —that is to say, about its exponent, the libido—has been gained from a study of the sexual function, which, indeed, on the prevailing view, even if not according to our theory, coincides with Eros. We have been able to form a picture of the way in which the sexual urge, which is destined to exercise a decisive influence on our life, gradually develops out of successive contributions from a number of component instincts, which represent particular erotogenic zones.

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