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are often discussed when describing the psychoanalytic approach; namely, the structure of personality, the iceberg theory of unconsciousness, and the psychosexual personality development. According to Freud, human personality is made up of three integrating components.

The id is born at birth. The id consists of all human psychic energy and instincts. It operates according to the pleasure principle, meaning it focuses on gaining pleasure at any cost in order to satisfy instinctual needs regardless of moral or logic reasons.  The gratification of needs is aimed at reducing tension and avoiding pain. As one grows up and interact with parents and significant others, one learns to mediate or balance between instincts calls and the demands from the environment.

This second component of personality, ego, is ruled by reality principle, where it reasons realistically and logically and formulate plans on how to satisfy needs in socially acceptable ways.

Superego, the third component of personality, consists of learned principles of right and wrong in order to control instinctual gratification and behaviour. It includes a person’s ideal moral code, and strives not for pleasure but for perfection. The collections of moral codes are gained from the standards imposed by parents and society. When one follows the moral code, one gets rewards, otherwise one experiences punishment and feelings of guilt. When the three components of personality conflict with each other, a person will experience anxiety.

Defence mechanism

Cause of anxiety

Means of coping



Anxious about one’s real or imagined weakness

Emphasise desirable traits or try to excel in area of weakness or in other areas

Failing to impress the football coach, Amin strives to excel in badminton


Faced with painful or unpleasant reality

Refuse to perceive or accept reality

A woman refused to accept her husband’s untimely death


Unable to express emotions to a person

Shift or let off the emotions  to a substitute person or object

Unable to express anger at her husband, Mei Ling shouts at her children


Anxious about a stressful problem

Think or talk about the situation in impersonal and technical or intellectual terms

Doctors and nurses avoid being overwhelmed with emotions by explaining to patients and family members about illness and death using intellectual terms


Anxious about one’s own feelings, shortcomings, or unacceptable impulses

Attribute the feelings, shortcomings, or unacceptable impulses to others

Joyce accuses Ali of cheating in the exam when in fact she was the one who committed the offence


Anxious about committing a behaviour

Justify the behaviour by giving a rational and reasonable, but often false reason

Kumar blamed the traffic jam as the reason for arriving late for class

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