One way of viewing conflict is to imagine potential struggles among and between agencies (i.e. id, ego, and superego) of the human mind, a mind that is in constant conflict with itself. Psychoanalytic theory holds that conflict is the primary cause of anxiety and unhappiness. For example, ‘the id may be in conflict with the ego’: one may have to make a choice between an immediate and gratifying object/reward or defer and wait for more appropriate or significant ones. The ‘id may also be in conflict with the superego’; for example, while hunger and sexual impulses seek gratification (i.e. the id seeks expression, regardless of circumstance), the superego may push back by imposing limits and consequences. Here we are propelled by the force of desire and pulled by the force of conscience. Or there may be ‘conflict between the ego and the superego’. Here, everyday, we make choices between acting in realistic ways or by complying with rigidly imposed and unrealistic standards (e.g. always telling the truth). Or the ‘id and ego may be in conflict with the superego’. The demands of the id and the demands of the superego often conflict because the ego does its work through unconscious defence mechanisms. Here, for example, we may choose to altogether avoid conflict rather than retaliate against a more vulnerable person.
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