“I am a potato.”
“My mind is buzzing with anxious thoughts all the time.”
“The management and its useless meetings sends me through the roof every day.”
“My life is in shambles!”
“Fear has a strong grip over me.”
“I desperately need someone to hold my hand.”
Have you heard yourself say something similar in a state of despondency? I know, I have.
According to Sigmund Freud, our state of despondency results from a clash between our id, ego and superego. And, according to me, we exacerbate our sense of despondency by using ‘figures of speech’ in our conversation with our self and with others.
Yes, you heard me right! But before I tell you what I think and why I think so, let me tell you a bit more about Freud’s theory on id, ego and superego.
According to Freud, the mind is divided into three parts; id, ego and superego (Tacchi).
Each and every one of us has experienced desire at some point of time in our life. This desire could be a craving for food, a desire for fame, a desire for money or a desire to accomplish or fulfil a purpose in our life. What happens when our desire is fulfilled? We experience pleasure.
The part of our mind, that is called ‘id’, “is driven by the pleasure principle” (Tacchi).
So when I have a desire, say for ice cream, the id is going to tell me to go and get the ice cream immediately and experience the pleasure. When I have the option of exercising or to sit on a couch and watch Netflix, id tells me to ditch exercise and go for Netflix as it is going to offer me immediate pleasure without any effort.
Similarly, it is possible that I have had a bad day at work. My manager has been kind enough to burden me with an unbearable amount of work with an equally unbearable smile and courtesy. The project I had been frantically working on for the past week has died. In spite of all this, I manage to pick myself up, dress up and attend a wedding only to find my dress ruined by curry, delightfully flung at me by a toddler. What am I feeling now? I want to cry, sit and howl. Crying would be pleasurable to me in this situation, as I need an outlet for my feelings. Id is telling me to start crying immediately. But this is where, Freud says, the second part of my mind, ‘ego’ (Tacchi) could step in. My ego steps in and tells me, Trishna, you simply cannot cry now. You are in a social gathering! You cannot cry in front of people and make a fool of yourself! Just hold on, wait until you are home and then you can cry as much as you want.
What has the ego done? It has delayed the pleasure that id was seeking by giving it reasons. Id knows that what it desires, it will get, albeit a little delayed and in a socially appropriate way.
However, there are some situations that need more than a delay. They need an intervention. When that unbearable manager with the unbearable smile was piling me with unbearable work, id told me to pick up my laptop and fling it hard at his face. When that toddler flung curry at me, my id told me, to simply pick up my bowl of curry and overturn it on his head. Immediate pleasure and satisfaction! But did I do it? No!
This is because of the third part of the mind outlined by Freud, which is ‘superego’ (Tacchi). Superego told me, no Trishna, flinging a laptop at your manager is not the right thing to do. Superego reasoned and explained that children are innocent and don’t know what they are doing.
What has the superego done? It has given me the ability to differentiate between “right and wrong” and modify actions prompted by my id and ego (Tacchi).
Nevertheless, we do not always do the right thing; we do not always behave in a socially appropriate way. Freud believed that, whenever, there is a clash between our id, ego and superego, we may experience emotions ranging from sadness, anxiety, despondency, depression and even leading to neurosis. For example when I know I should be working and not spending hours and hours on YouTube, I feel guilty. Why? Because superego told me that working was the right thing to do. However, id overrode the superego and made me seek immediate pleasure in watching YouTube. As “Freud suggested”, when “the drives of the id override the superego, guilt is experienced” (Tacchi).
Similarly, I don’t want my life to be in shambles! I want to earn an enormous amount of money. These are some of my desires and my id tells me to get my life in order now! Id tells me to have a million dollars in my account now! Id tells me that I can be happy and find pleasure only when these things happen. However, ego tells me, that yes you can get your life in order but you have to work for it! Ego tells me that you can have an enormous amount of money in your account but once again you have to work for it and it might take some time! My ego overrides my id. Id knows that what it desires might be fulfilled but does not know when. It is this uncertainty that eventually makes me anxious. The greater the uncertainty in fulfilling my desire and getting pleasure, the greater will be my anxiety.
What I never realised is that I am constantly having a conversation with myself. My id, ego and superego are constantly interacting with each other. The language that each of them uses for this conversation also has an enormous impact on who dominates the other and on my final course of action.
When I say my mind is buzzing with anxious thoughts, the word buzzing creates an image of a number of bees swarming haphazardly. While, this is an impressive use of language, this imagery does not help my state of heightened anxiety. When I vent my frustration by telling a friend that the manager’s conduct sends me through the roof, my use of a hyperbole not only conveys my frustration, but also exaggerates it for the amusement of my friend, as well as exaggerating it in my mind. Employing the use of metaphors and telling myself I am a potato reduces my self-esteem, whereas, personifying fear and feeling fear gripping me exacerbates my horror.
On the other hand, using a synecdoche and telling myself, I need someone to hold my hand in life, makes me realise and accept that I need help. Using a simile and telling myself, I have the energy to shine as brightly as the sun gives me confidence and belief in myself.
Next time I find myself thinking I am sad and depressed or feeling anxious, I am going to take a moment to sit back, think and if possible even write and answer, what kind of a conversation are my id, ego and superego having with each other? What kind of language are they using? What effect is it creating on me? How can I change their language? What can I do to get my id, ego and superego in a state of balance?
Answering these questions have helped me to clear the clouds from my mind from time to time and I hope they will be of value to you too. Nevertheless, there are times when we need help and in those times please do not forget to use a synecdoche and call out for a “guiding hand”.
Have a nice day thinking and reflecting!
In obeisance to the divine in you,
-Tacchi, Mary Jane and Jan Scott. Depression: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2017.
-Photo byÂ Uday MittalonÂ Unsplash
-Photo byÂ DaYsOonÂ Unsplash