Because Freud understood all personality functioning as derived from instinctive energy, knowing the fundamental principles regulating instincts provides a basic framework for understanding personality. These can be summarized as four basic aspects of instincts: source, pressure, aim, and object.
1. Source. All psychic energy is derived from biological processes in some part or organ of the body. There is no separate, exclusively mental energy. The amount of energy a person has does not change throughout a lifetime, although it is transformed so that it is "invested" differently. At first, psychic energy is directed toward biological needs. As development occurs, this same energy can be redirected into other investments, such as interpersonal relationships and work.
2. Pressure. The pressure of an instinct refers to its force or motivational quality. It corresponds to the strength of the instinctual drive; it is high when the drive is not satisfied and falls when the need is met. For example, a hungry infant has a high pressure of the hunger drive; one just fed has hunger at a low pressure. When the pressure is low, the instinct may not have noticeable effects; but when the pressure is high, it may break through, interrupting other activities. A hungry baby wakes up, for example.
3- Aim. Instincts function according to a principle of homeostasis, or steady state, a principle borrowed from biology. Instincts aim to preserve the ideal steady state for the organism. Changes moving away from this steady state are experienced as tension. The aim of all instincts is to reduce tension, which is pleasurable. (Think of the good feeling of eating when you are hungry.) Instincts operate according to what Freud called the pleasure principle; they aim simply to produce pleasure by reducing tension, immediately and without regard to reality constraints.
Tension reduction occurs when the original biological instinct is directly satisfied—for example, when a hungry infant is fed or when a sexually aroused adult achieves orgasm. It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that only direct biological drive satisfaction can reduce tension. Some transformations of libido also allow tension reduction. An artist may experience tension reduction when a creative problem is solved. In his film-making, Charlie Chaplin (1964) stated, The solution [to a creative problem] would suddenly reveal itself, as if a layer of dust had been swept off a marble floor—there it was, the beautiful mosaic I had been looking for. Tension was gone (p. 188; emphasis added).
Such healthy, socially acceptable ways of reducing tension are termed sublimation. However, indirect expressions of libido do not always reduce the pressure of the instinct. Thus a chronic deviation from a restful, homeostatic state occurs in individuals who have not found ways to reduce tension, such as neurotics.
4. Object. The object of an instinct is the person or thing in the world that is desired so that the instinct can be satisfied. For example, the object of the hunger drive of an infant is the mother's breast: It brings satisfac tion. The object of a sexually aroused adult is a sexual partner. Investment of psychic energy in a particular object is called cathexis.
What kind of partner? It is with respect to the object of an instinct that there is the most variation, the most influence of experience on a person's fundamental motivations. Some sexually aroused men look for a woman just like Mother; others look for a veiy different kind of woman or for a man, or even for underwear or a child or any of a vast assortment of sexual objects. Women, of course, also vaiy widely in their choice of sexual objects.
The fact that libido is capable of being directed toward so many diverse objects, not fixed biologically, is termed the plasticity of the instinct. This plasticity is much greater in humans than in lower animals, who seem to come with instincts "prewired" to veiy specific objects. Learning from experience—selecting objects from the possibilities in the environment and learning to adapt to reality—occurs in the ego. The id, in contrast, functions according to a veiy primitive mechanism, called primary process.
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