Have you ever felt the urge to eat a lot when on a diet? You surely must have. But then, you must have curbed these urges in order to achieve a long-term fitness goal. The urge, here, is the pleasure principle, and the thought of a long-term benefit is the reality principle.
Sigmund Freud’s Definition
In technical terms, the reality principle refers to the mind’s ability to assess reality of the external world, and act upon it accordingly, as opposed to acting on the pleasure principle.
The reality principle originates from psychoanalysis―a theory postulated by Sigmund Freud that defines the way the human mind functions. Freud, in his theory, theoretically divides the mind into three sections―conscious, subconscious, and unconscious. A simple way to illustrate this is to imagine a huge iceberg with a small portion protruding above the water, and the rest underneath. The tip is the conscious section of the mind, the other two sections are submerged away from conscious realization.
Simply put, all human actions are governed by the mind. But, according to Freud, a majority of our mind functions unconsciously. Therefore, we know (are consciously aware of) very little about the reason behind all our behavior.
Freud’s Structural Model of Personality
Id and Super-ego
The super-ego basically refers to the conscience of a person. The sense of right and wrong, that often leads to feelings of guilt, anxiety, and inferiority. Super-ego is developed by the internalization of cultural rules, and morals, taught originally by parents. The motives of the super-ego always contradict to those of id’s. The super-ego strictly aims to behave in a socially (and culturally) acceptable and correct manner. Whereas, the id simply desires instant gratification of pleasurable needs.
Ego – Reality Principle
Mediating Between Id, Super-ego, and External World
In case the ego fails to satisfy the super-ego or the demands of the external world, it is punished by the super-ego with feelings of guilt, inferiority, and anxiety. To deal with such punishments, the ego employs certain defense mechanisms. These help cover up threatening impulses, thus overpowering the super-ego, and reducing anxiety.
How it Works in Real Life
If you steal, you can be caught (ego), and stealing is against your morals (super-ego); therefore stealing is a no-no. You can withdraw but, the reality says you do not have money in your account. You can borrow; this option is the safest as it is not wrong morally or realistically. So, you finally end up borrowing money, and eating in order to satiate your id.
In case you stole, and weren’t caught, the super-ego would punish the ego with feelings of guilt. In such a case, the ego would employ certain defense mechanisms in order to suppress the impulses of the super-ego.
A mature personality is characterized by the effective delay in gratification of desires by controlling one’s urges, and behaving in ways that are socially, and morally appropriate. Such a person is believed to have a well-defined ego, leading to a greater sense of responsibility and a strong morale.