The Psyche in Psychology

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The suffic "-ology" is a suffix that means “field of study.” Sometimes, you can guess what “-ology” words mean. Zoology is the study of animals. Symbology is the study (or use) of symbols. Scatology is the study of fecal matter. (Someone’s got to study it.)

Practical Pie is all about psychology. Can you guess the origin of the word psychology?

If you guessed “the human mind,” you’re right! If you guessed “The Psyche,” you’re right!

I'm going to break down the definition of “the Psyche” in psychology and top theories about the Psyche. Not all psychologists have the same view on the Psyche, but it’s important to understand these different points of view and how they’ve evolved (or been rejected) over time.

What Is The Psyche?

Psychologists define the psyche as what we generally refer to as the “mind.” This doesn't mean the brain. Knowing the different parts of the brain may be linked to different emotions and behaviors, but there’s something beyond the biology of what’s in our head.

The mind is the thoughts you hear in your head. It’s the conscious decisions you make to get up in the morning, apply for a job, or choose a life partner. It’s also the unconscious mind.

The definition of the psyche has changed throughout history. Different philosophers and psychologists have different takes on what the psyche covers.

Who Coined the Term Psyche?

The psyche is not always called “the psyche” when we look back at ancient philosophy. Plato consistently wrote about ψυχή, which has been translated into “psyche” or “soul.” Often, you’ll hear it translated as “soul.”

Are the Psyche and the Soul the Same?

Plato believed that the soul was behind the decisions made by man. This soul, he believed, is eternal, and separate from the physical body. The mind-body debate, examining these claims, is still central to psychology today.

Plato also believed that the soul was separated into three separate parts:

  • The rational soul seeks the truth through logic, facts, and reason.
  • The spirited soul uses emotions to make decisions and take action.
  • The appetitive soul covers physiological needs, like food and sex.

Aristotle, Plato’s student, followed in his footsteps. His three divisions of the soul, however, included souls that were found in vegetables and animals. He believed the “rational” soul was what made humans different from other creatures.

Freud and the Psyche

The number “three” appears quite a bit in theories of the psyche.

Let’s fast forward to the late 1800s. Sigmund Freud’s theories about the psyche also include a three-part split. This definition of the psyche is at the core of his work and at the core of psychoanalysis.

Freud believed that the psyche was separated into three parts: the ego, the id, and the superego.

The id is considered the most “primitive” part of the psyche, and remains in the unconscious mind. It contains aggressive instincts present in all human beings. These instincts include the instincts to procreate and continue the species, and also the desire to self-destruct and die. And you can’t reason with the id. It doesn’t change. It just wants to fulfill these desires.

Clearly, we’re not running around trying to have sex and die, so there’s a bit more to the psyche.

The next part of the psyche is the superego. This is the moral center of the psyche. If the id is the devil on your shoulder, the superego is the angel. It understands the morals and values of society and desires to adhere to them. The superego is the “Jiminy Cricket” of the psyche.

While the superego lies mainly in the unconscious mind, it can come out in the conscious mind. Have you ever felt guilty for not following the rules? For cheating? For doing something that doesn’t align with your morals and values? Freud would say that that’s the superego talking.

The last part of the psyche is the ego. The ego attempts to mediate between the id and the superego. The id wants to run around and satisfy primal urges. The superego wants to suppress those primal urges and fit in with the rules of society. It’s up to the ego to decide which part of the psyche is going to “win.”

Jung and the Psyche

Freud was a tremendous influence on a lot of psychologists. His ideas were revolutionary, although they are largely rejected now.

Not all psychologists at the time stayed true to every part of his theories. Carl Jung, for example, worked very closely with Freud for decades, but then started to separate himself from the psychologist around 1912.

Jung didn’t like Freud’s Oedipus Complex idea. He thought some of Freud’s theories were too focused on sexual libido. And he also had a different idea of what made up the psyche.

Jung’s idea of the psyche didn’t stray too far from Freud’s. He believed in the ego, or the conscious part of the mind. Jung also expanded on the idea of the development of the ego through self-archetypes.

“Underneath” the ego was the unconscious mind. Like Freud, Jung believed that the unconscious mind was filled with repressed memories that had a strong influence on a person’s behavior. But unlike Freud, Jung believed that there was more to the unconscious than repressed, personal memories. He also believed that repressed memories from a person’s ancestors were stored in the unconscious.

The Collective Unconscious

One of Jung’s more well-known theories is that of the collective unconscious. Jung believed that all people are born with inherited archetypes and traits within the collective unconscious. As a person develops, their environment influences which of these traits and archetypes are used to create the person’s personality. Within the collective conscious, and therefore the psyche, is the person’s potential. Jung believed that the psyche, or the Self, looked to fulfill that potential. While Freud believed that behavior was largely influenced by repressed memories of the past, Jung believed that repressed memories and future potential drove behavior.

Nowadays, cognitive psychologists refer to the Psyche as the mind. Jung and Freud’s theories aren’t universally accepted. As this new wave of psychology begins to examine the mind, or the psyche, we may discover new origins of our behaviors, influences, and even the inner workings of our souls.

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2020, June). The Psyche in Psychology. Retrieved from

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