Freud's First and Second Topics

George Alvarez 18-10-2023
George Alvarez

In Freud's work, there are two major ways of looking at the structure of the mind: the first topic and the second topic. Therefore, in this article we will present a synthesis of these Freudian conceptions.

In addition, we will also delve into Freud's two topical or theoretical phases, recognizing the three elements that make up the division of the human mind in each of these phases.

Freud's First Topic: topographical theory

In the first part of Freud's work, called First Topic or Topographical Theory the Psychic Apparatus is seen as divided into three instances (classes), namely:

  • the unconscious (Ics)
  • the pre-conscious (Pcs)
  • aware(Cs)

It is worth mentioning that the expression "topical" comes from "topos", which in Greek means "place", hence the idea that these systems would occupy place (topos) Therefore, each one with a specific function within the device.

1. the unconscious (Ics)

This instance is the entry point of the psychic apparatus. It has a way of functioning governed by its own laws, that is, that escape the reasoning understandings of the conscious In addition, it is considered the most archaic part of the psyche also built of mnemic traces (primitive memories).

To be clear, it is in the unconscious (Ics), of mysterious, obscure nature, that passions, fear, creativity, and life and death themselves can spring up. It is also where the pleasure principle is ruled.

Finally, Isc does not present a "rational logic." In it there is no mode of time, space, uncertainty or doubt.

The role of dreams in the understanding of the Freudian apparatus

Dreams have a fundamental role in the understanding of the Freudian apparatus, because the "communication" in dreams would be thanks to the primary process and its mechanisms of:

  • condensation;
  • displacement;
  • and representation.

2. the Pre-conscious (Pcs)

This instance, considered by Freud as a "contact barrier", serves as a kind of filter so that certain contents may (or may not) reach the conscious level.

We understand that the contents present in the Pcs are available to the Conscious It is in this instance that language is structured and, in this way, is able to contain the "representations of the word", which consists of a set of memories of words and how they were meant by the child.

Therefore, the preconscious is the part that is in the middle of the road In other words, it is the part of the mind that gathers information in order to reach the conscious part.

3. the conscious (Cs)

The conscious is differentiated from the unconscious by the way in which it is operated through its codes and laws. To Cs is attributed everything that is immediately available to the mind.

In this way, we can think that the formation of the conscious would be given by the junction of "the representation of the thing" and the "representation of the word". In other words, there is an investment of energy in a certain object and then its appropriate outlet for satisfaction.

The psychic energy

The psychic energy is not directed by the representations, it is bound to a specific representation. That is, conscious primary processes (Ics) form their communication through the organization of these representations.

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In this way, it is possible:

  • establish lines of reasoning;
  • present perceptions and ponderings;
  • respect for the principle of reality.

Consciousness and Reality

Therefore, the conscious is the part of our psyche that has a sense of the reality of our immediate environment. It is the zone responsible for contact with the outside world.

Moreover, here governs the reality principle, because the conscious mind seeks a behavior adapted to social reality, since it is not governed by the pleasure principle. The latter is partially suspended.

Freud's Second Topic: structural theory

Realizing that his old model had limitations that prevented a more expressive understanding of psychoanalytic findings, Freud proposed a new model for the psychic apparatus.

In this new model, Freud expands his understanding of the dynamics of the psychic instances and states a new way of understanding, called Structural model of the psychic apparatus .

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In it, Freud will suggest the formulation of a model that no longer focuses on a virtual understanding, but rather on psychic structures or classes:

  • ID;
  • EGO;
  • and SUPEREGO.


Among the structures presented by Freud, the ID is the most archaic or primitive, not only because it is the most "wild", but also because it is the one that develops first. The id is a kind of reservoir of chaotic and irrational impulses, constructive and destructive and not harmonized among themselves or with the external reality. That is, it is an agglomeration of impulses that we could say "instinctive" and "wild",Without organization and without direction.

It is as if the id were the energy reservoir of our psychic life, while the other instances would organize this energy in the best possible way.

Therefore, the ID has the following characteristics:

  • does not make plans and does not wait;
  • has no chronology (past or future), it is always present;
  • being present, seeks an immediate satisfaction for impulses and tensions;
  • does not accept frustration and knows no inhibition;
  • has no contact with the limits imposed by reality;
  • seeks satisfaction in fantasy;
  • can have the same effect as concrete action to achieve a goal;
  • is all unconscious.


Psychic instance that is called by the Ego to control the Id. That is, the SUPEREGO is a modification or specialization of the EGO that aims to prevent the impulses of the Id from materializing as they are. The superego is responsible for imposing sanctions, norms, standards, and idealizations, and is formed by the introjection of the contents that come from the parents.

Say that the superego is a specialization of the ego It does not mean the maturation of a specific organ of the ego, but a psychic maturation (biological and social) that organizes the mental work in this direction.

O superego is part conscious, part unconscious .

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  • Example of awareness: when you express "it is forbidden to kill".
  • Example of unconsciousness: standards of conduct and dress that you think are a "natural" choice and about which you never thought they were determined from the outside.

Furthermore, the SUPEREGO seeks regulative moral perfection and tends to repress any and all infractions that might cause harm to the mind.

The superego is related to the Oedipus Complex because its functioning mechanism develops mainly from the Oedipal age (around 3 years of age to early adolescence). It is an age when the child needs it:

  • understand the father as the guarantor of rules (limits, schedules, discipline, etc.) restraining his drive;
  • adopt a reverential respect for the father as an example of a hero, no longer a rival; and
  • introjecting the prohibition of incest (giving up the mother as sexual object).

Then the child grows up and, in the passage to adolescence, discovers that society has many other moral rules and sources of admiration, different from what he experienced in the family environment, but with a simulating mechanism, to which the superego is already accustomed. A the importance of the Oedipus for psychosocial development is very big, because it will be the subject's first experience with his superego: the interdictions and legitimized ideals .

Later, this adolescent will already have a more complex superego, with interdictions and heroes coming from elsewhere, so that he can distance himself from his mother and father. This autonomy from the family and the introjection of a complex superego are quite typical of adolescence: the parents usually don't like the adolescent's affection from the cradle, but this is a sign of a well-resolved Oedipus and of a maturationpsychic of the child.

We can say that superego has three goals :

  • inhibit (through punishment or feelings of guilt) any impulse contrary to the rules and ideals he dictates (moral conscience);
  • forcing the ego to behave in a moral (even if irrational) manner;
  • lead the individual to perfection, whether in gestures or thoughts.

It is very important to say that a rigid superego makes one sick and is one of the main causes of neuroses, anguishes, anxieties Psychoanalytic therapy will work against a rigid superego.

This is done by allowing:

  • conditions for the analyzed to know himself;
  • Give in a little more to your own desires, establishing a personality that is less in conflict with yourself;
  • even if it goes against the ideas and standards suggested by the family and society.
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By this, we mean that understanding the existence of a superego does not mean accepting all the rules, laws, beliefs and standards of a given society .

On the contrary, it means to understand that social life demands conventions to avoid barbarism (that is, the dominance of the strongest), even when these conventions are not expressed or written down, but that these conventions are not sempiternal, immutable.


For Freud, the birth of the Ego comes from early childhood These experiences, which take the form of orientations, sanctions, orders and prohibitions, will cause the child to register these subjective emotions in the unconscious, emotions that will give "body" to its psychic and egoic structure.

The ego is in the middle of the road between the other two elements. The ego is the middle of the seesaw between the individual desire satisfaction side (id) and the social satisfaction side that social life can bring if you are willing to follow certain standards (superego).

Just as the superego is, so is the ego:

  • conscious part: when we reason when speaking in public, for example;
  • unconscious part: like the ego's defense mechanisms.

The mediating function of the Ego

Made up of old mnemic traces (affective memories from childhood), the Ego has its greatest conscious part but also occupies a space in the unconscious.

It is, therefore, the main psychic instance that has the function of mediating, integrating, and harmonizing:

  • the constant impulses of the ID;
  • the demands and threats of the SUPEREGO;
  • in addition to the demands coming from the outside world.

The reality principle

The ego develops from the ID in order to allow its impulses to be efficient, that is, taking into account the external world: it is the so-called reality principle It is this principle that introduces reason, planning and waiting into human behavior.

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Therefore, the satisfaction of drives is delayed until such time as reality allows them to be satisfied with a maximum of pleasure and a minimum of negative consequences.

Comparing the first and second Freudian topics

A topographic theory (conscious, preconscious and unconscious) is distinguished from Freud's structural theory (ego, id, superego).

Even after Freud elaborated the structural theory (second topic), he continued adopting in his works the concepts of conscious and unconscious (first topic).

Juxtaposing the first and second freudian topics in a single image and considering Freud's metaphor (or allegory) of the iceberg (i.e., only a part out of the water represents the mind accessible to conscious awareness, all the rest is submerged in preconsciousness and, mostly, unconsciousness), we would have:

From the analysis of the image above, it is important to note that if we want to relate one Freudian theory to the other:

  • O id is ALL unconscious (all submerged),
  • but the unconscious is not whole Id (a part of what is submerged is also ego and superego);
  • The unconscious encompasses Whole Id and parts of the superego and ego .

Don't you think:

  • Only the id is unconscious: if this were so, why would Freud create another theory? He would only say that they are the same things, with other names.
  • The Unconscious is a precisely delimited "place" in the brain (although there are studies in neurology that point out more "conscious" and other more "unconscious" brain regions.

From the perspective of human psychic development:

  • O id (all unconscious) is the most primitive and savage part, it is the source of psychic energy, has its own language, and is all unconscious. In the beginning, we are just impulses and desires driven to an immediate satisfaction.
  • O ego (part conscious, part unconscious) develops as a part of the id, from the moment the subject begins its personalization as an "I" (ego), as a mind-body unit and as distinct from other people and things. A perhaps later task of the ego will be to be a mediator between the impulses of the id and the interdictions and idealizations of the superego.
  • O superego (part conscious, part unconscious) is a specialization of the ego to moral and idealized standards. It develops mainly from the advent of the Oedipus, when the subject begins to confront the interdictions and to idealize standards and heroes.

So, if we have to compare the theories of Freud's two topics, we would say that:

  • The Id is ALL unconscious.
  • The ego is part conscious (of rational logic and what we are thinking now, for example) and part unconscious (of ego defense mechanisms, for example).
  • The superego is part conscious (the moral rules we are aware exist, such as "don't kill") and part unconscious (the beliefs and values we hold and believe to be natural, for example contained in language, speech, religion, the way we dress, the way we differentiate genders, etc.).
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So, it is possible to say that ego and superego are part conscious and part unconscious being the Whole unconscious Id .

Final considerations

Interested in learning more about Freud's first topic and second topic? By enrolling in our Clinical Psychoanalysis course, you will learn even more. The price is super affordable, plus it's online and you can learn from the comfort of your own home, so hurry up and enroll now!

This article was created, revised and expanded by Paulo Vieira and the content team at Training Course in Clinical Psychoanalysis from contributions of student Cinzia Clarice's initial text.

George Alvarez

George Alvarez is a renowned psychoanalyst who has been practicing for over 20 years and is highly regarded in the field. He is a sought-after speaker and has conducted numerous workshops and training programs on psychoanalysis for professionals in the mental health industry. George is also an accomplished writer and has authored several books on psychoanalysis that have received critical acclaim. George Alvarez is dedicated to sharing his knowledge and expertise with others and has created a popular blog on Online Training Course in Psychoanalysis that is widely followed by mental health professionals and students around the world. His blog provides a comprehensive training course that covers all aspects of psychoanalysis, from theory to practical applications. George is passionate about helping others and is committed to making a positive difference in the lives of his clients and students.