Psychic Structure or Psychosocial Homeostasis
In Freud’s psychic structure, I see psychosocial homeostasis. Psychosocial development speaks to psychological needs (e.g., autonomy, self-efficacy) as well as social needs (belonging, intimacy), which are readily in tension with each other. Psychosocial tension occurs whenever psychological (or ego) needs take precedence over social needs, or when social needs take precedence over psychological needs. Attention is occasionally turned inward to internal resources to address needs, and at times turned outward to external resources for redressing needs. Both internal and external resources are necessary to survive and thrive. The wellness wheel illustrates this tension between internal and external resource seeking, and the naturally tendency to keep these in relative balance for optimal functioning. Psychosocial homeostasis refers to this stabilizing of complementary internal and external resources to sustain life. A process that appears simplified in Freud’s typology.
Id. Freud’s characterization of the id sounds like psychological needs (focusing on what Carol Gilligan refers to as the separate/objective self) assuming priority over social needs (which focus on what Gilligan refers to as the connected self). The psychoanalytic narrative of shame underpinning this construct of the id betrays Western polarization of psychological and social needs. Superego. Freud’s characterization of the superego sounds like social needs (focusing on the connected self) assuming priority over psychological needs (focusing on the separate/objective self). Here we see the complementary wing in this narrative, a shared historical experience of shame Freud arguably upended.
Ego. What Freud attributes here as structure could be viewed more as function. The more dichotomized one’s psychological and social needs, the more pull can be anticipated by the homeostatic forces of nature. As soon as she feels safe around mother, the toddler wanders nearby to explore her world, but readily returns to that familiar security. Such psychosocial homeostasis occurs naturally, without ego defenses or shame.
Back to the wellness wheel typology, psychosocial homeostasis tends to vacillate more wildly between ego or psychological needs and social needs where there is less integration between one’s internal and external resources. Where there is least disclosure of oneself, there appears to be more divergence between the “id” and “superego” of psychosocial polarization. Where one can safely disclose more of their whole self, and integrate this into their authentic being, the less vacillation there tends to be between ego and social needs. The triangle diagram helps to illustrate this dynamic of distance between ego and social need integration.
Amidst the social upheavals following the repressive Victorian Era, psychosocial polarization appears to have presented itself in the psychoses observed by Freud and his pioneering colleagues. What we view as mental illness, posited in the individual, could be symptomatic of an evolving culture that is less and less conducive to equitable psychosocial homeostasis.
Consequently, the dynamics of psychosocial homeostasis grows more painfully visible. But Western biases continue to obscure this social dimension in favor of the Western ideal of individuation. By demarcating a structure of the individual, Freud cast a template that continues to render the larger contributory social structure as generally invisible to the challenges of sustainable wellness.