If the teachers teach with awareness of functioning of id, ego and superego, they will understand why their students behave the way they do
The concepts of id, ego, and superego of Austria-born psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud are quite popular in the world and these tripartite elements seem to be working in every individual. However, the basic concepts of these three levels of personality may not have been well understood by many people involved in teaching here in Nepal. Understanding the functions of these elements will make teachers aware of three types of personality working in a person and can be useful in teaching learning activities. In an attempt to make the basic principles clear, without delving into jargons like Oedipus complex and Electra complex, I will try to describe id, ego and superego with some examples.
According to Freud, id is instinct-related and is present in us since birth. It is unconscious and free. It doesn’t distinguish between what is reality and what is fantasy. Id is like a horse. When it is let free, it can follow any path and go to any direction. It is based on pleasure principle. The traits of id are present in all creatures. It has all kinds of feelings such as greed, love, lust, hatred, hedonism, sexual desires, and evil feelings. Further, it is impatient, impulsive, irrational, and unrealistic. Its mantra is pleasure and wants to avoid pain. It doesn’t bother about the consequences it might face in the course of fulfilling its desires. Because it is impatient it wants its needs, wants and desires to be fulfilled right away. Let me relate the idea with my own childhood.
Once, I was hungry and couldn’t wait until my mother cooked all the food items. So I demanded I be served rice with only one type of curry or even just with milk. That was my id. Giving in to id sometimes can have grave consequences too. A decade ago in a teashop in Bhaisepati in Lalitpur, people were talking about how an ill person was forbidden to eat mangoes by his doctor but the patient couldn’t resist the temptation one evening only to be found dead the next morning.
The people who give in to the desires of id can involve in activities such as smoking, drinking, viewing pornography, daydreaming and masturbating. Further, they might make a decision just then and there and create a problem. Recently, an English teacher shared with me how his son demanded a motorbike just because he was stuck in traffic jam one day one a microbus on his way to college. He threatened he wouldn’t pursue his studies if his demand was not met.
How ego works
Unlike id, ego is based on reality and rationality. It holds the reign of id. However, like id, ego also seeks pleasure and avoids pains. Freud compares a horse with id and a rider with ego. While making a decision, ego takes into consideration the social realities and norms. Rules, regulations, and appropriateness matter for ego. In a way, ego is like a yam between id and superego. On the one hand, id wants its desires to be gratified instantly and on the other hand superego puts pious high standards to delay gratification. In such a situation, ego plays a role as a mediator or a negotiator between them. So it controls the demands put forward by instincts and the ideals put forward by superego and does its best to make a balanced decision to gratify id and to show loyalty to superego to some extent.
So how does ego work in an academic setting? In a Master’s level linguistics examination of semester system, some students failed the exam. Naturally, those students would like to pass their linguistics examination and the teacher, too, would like them to pass so that he would not be blamed by the administration. The id would demand that they be made pass right away. But the superego says to the students: ‘It’s not right that you pass when in reality you have failed.’ To the teacher it says: ‘It’s not right to give pass grade to students who have failed in reality.’ Now steps in the ego as a solution finder. To the students it says ‘you should sit for the examination again.’
Perfection and morality
Superego strives for the highest achievement. Perfection is its mantra. It sets rules as to how to behave and how to act. This is probably why it is also called a restricting agency. It is influenced by education and experiences received from one’s parents, society, school, college, and university. Further, social mores, norms, values, cultures, practices and religions also have impact on it. It might set ideals like respect and love your parents, love your brothers and sisters, be honest, help others, be compassionate, don’t steal, and eat only the fruit of your labour.
In the academic setting, a professor might say to a student that they should get GPA 4. If the student listened to the tutor and believed him/her, the student may aspire to achieve that highest goal. The religious or political ideals that are prevalent today are said to be the results of superego. In recent women festival Teej, lots of women fasted and went to Shiva temples in an attempt to meet the ideals set by their families, societies and religion. We can see ideals set in almost every sector. Even when choosing a girl or boy for marriage certain ideals are set. In a way, superego makes people progress. In other words, it inspires people to achieve more and go further. Because it sets the highest standards, people can do their best and achieve best.
If the teachers teach with the awareness of functioning of id, ego and superego, they will understand the functioning of their psyche and see and understand, to some extent, why students behave the way they do.
The author is freelance writer and life member of Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association (NELTA)