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©1998-2019 Maria Helena Rowell

III. Classic Psychoanalytic Theory

1. Unconscious, Pre-conscious, Conscious
2. Id, Ego, Superego
3. Anxiety
4. Defense Mechanisms


In his earlier topographical division of the psyche, Freud distinguished among different levels of consciousness:

the conscious deals with awareness of present perceptions, feelings, thoughts, memories, fantasies at any particular moment;
the pre-conscious is related to data that can readily be brought to consciousness;
the unconscious refers to data retained but not easily available to the individual's conscious awareness or scrutiny.

Freud developed the psychoanalytic theory based on his clinical experience. Central to this theory is the postulated existence of the unconscious as:

a) a repository for traumatic repressed memories;
b) the source of anxiety-provoking drives, which are socially or ethically unacceptable to the individual.

Unconscious motivations are available to consciousness in a disguised form. Dreams and slips of the tongue, for instance, are concealed examples of unconscious content not confronted directly.

Lately, many biopsychological explorations have shed new light on the validity of psychoanalytic ideas about the unconscious.



According to Freud's structural theory of the mind, the id, the ego and the superego function in different levels of consciousness. There is a constant movement of memories and impulses from one level to another.

The id is the unconscious reservoir of drives, which are constantly active. Ruled by the pleasure principle, the id demands immediate satisfaction of its urges, regardless of undesirable effects.

The ego operates mainly in conscious and preconscious levels, although it also contains unconscious elements because both the ego and the superego evolved from the id. Ruled by the reality principle, the ego takes care of the id urges as soon as the adequate circumstance is found. Inappropriate desires are not satisfied but repressed.

Only partially conscious, the superego serves as a censor on the ego functions and comprises the individual's ideals derived from the values of his family and society, being the source of guilty feelings and fear of punishment.


Psychoanalysis/ Index Definition History Hysteria Hypnosis 1 2 3 (theory)