Jefferson embodied my first concept of the “Self.” The Self for me represented the full development of all my potential.
The Self Is More Than a Renaissance Ideal
I realized then, of course, that I was more than my potential ideal self. I had a decent body, a fine mind, an earnest soul, good morals, little self-confidence, limited social skills, and no athletic ability whatsoever. I was capable of a decent level of academic achievement. I had, after all, survived my first year at a major Ivy League university with a quite respectable GPA.
However, I had distinct feelings of inferiority that I never spoke of to anyone. I also had serious sexual identity issues and a distinct feeling that some of my thoughts and interests would not be considered “normal.” They were not until the American Psychological Association decided in 1973 that they were and the American Psychiatric Association agreed in 1976.
My notion of the Renaissance Man plus all the rest constituted my “Self” for several decades. Then, at 41, I enrolled in social work school and discovered an entirely new concept of the Self, pioneered by Sigmund Freud and his followers.
Freud’s View of the Self
Freud saw the Self as composed of three basic parts: the Id, the Ego, and the Super-Ego. Loosely speaking, the Id comprises basic drives like the drive to survive, to compete, to mate and produce offspring, to provide, and to achieve. The Super-Ego is comparable to the conscience. It acts as a restraining force on the Id and tells individuals what is right and what is wrong, what is appropriate, and what is immoral or unethical or, in some cases, what is wrong in the eyes of “God.”


The Ego is the executive, the site of responsibility, the source of balance between Id and Super-Ego, the manager that gets things done.
One function of the Ego is the Observing Ego, which has the capacity to step outside oneself, so to speak, see oneself in interactions with others, and reach conclusions about what is going on and what should be done to improve communication and relationships.
The Freudian Self also has psychological “defense mechanisms” that kick in unconsciously to protect the Ego from attack. Projecting what one cannot deal with in oneself onto others (such as same-sex attractions) and then attacking it is an example.
This is a very simplified view, but Freud’s “construct” has colored thinking about the Self for many decades.

Freud’s View of the Self
Freud’s View of the Self

Still, the Id, Super-Ego, and Ego are not the Self. They are ways of describing what might be called psychological operations of the mind that are part of personality. The personality is seen as a composite of everything that makes up an individual. It is seen also in terms not only of what one is inside but also of what one exhibits to the world.