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Primary process-secondary process

According to Freudian theory, both the primary process and the secondary process are modes of operation of the psychic apparatus . From the topical point of view the primary process characterizes the unconscious system while the secondary process characterizes the pre- conscious-conscious system .

What are the primary and secondary processes based on?

Freud described the primary process as a process that is present from birth and constitutes a primary part of the personality. This process is childish, primitive and dreamlike, and is driven by the need to maximize pleasure and minimize pain.

For the author, the primary process is directly linked to the id and to the pleasure principle. The pleasure principle is driven by the Id to satisfy the needs and find the instant gratification of all the desires of the subject. When tension is created through the pleasure principle, the id must find a way to discharge this energy and it does so through the primary process.

Unlike what happens in the primary process, in the secondary process the tension that is created when the Ego limits the Id from achieving the satisfaction of its impulses is managed and regulated.

The secondary process releases the tension between the Self and the Id that is caused by needs or unmet needs. This process is governed by the reality principle, and works through the action of the Self.

Dynamic economic view of the primary process and the secondary process

From the dynamic economic point of view: in the primary process, psychic energy flows freely, passing unhindered from one representation to another, since there is mobility of charges and therefore the mechanisms of displacement and  condensation occur . Subjected by the pleasure principle, in the primary process there is an absence of contradiction, it is timeless and substitutes the external reality for the psychic one.

From the economic-dynamic point of view, in the secondary process, the energy is first bound before flowing in a controlled way. It is temporary because satisfaction is postponed by testing the different possible ways of satisfaction, that is why it is governed by the reality principle.

– Laplanche and Pontalis: Dictionary of Psychoanalysis

Mechanisms of the primary process

According to Freudian theory, the primary process works to resolve the tension created by the pleasure principle. This involves forming a mental image of the desired object to satisfy the desire for that object.

Displacement: The intensity of a representation can be detached from it to pass to other representations originally not very intense, although linked to the first one by associative chain.

In other words: it constitutes an energy of cathexis capable of detaching itself from representations and sliding along associative pathways.  It is the mechanism by which the charge of a representation that is not tolerated under any circumstances is shifted to a different charge and replaces that representation that was not tolerated, placing the energy charge in another place, it is an energy shift. It is this type of mechanism that occurs in substitute formations.

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Condensation: A single representation represents by itself several associative chains, at the intersection of which it is forming a totally different one. It is this mechanism that gives that incoherent meaning to the dream .

Mechanisms of the secondary process

The secondary process works through the action of the ego to search for an object in the real world that matches the mental image created by the primary process of the id .

This process minimizes condensation, because thinking is interested in the connection pathways between representations that are suppressed in said mechanism, and it minimizes displacement because it preserves most of the investiture in a bound state and displaces only a small part, what is necessary to that thought activity is possible.

The ego uses the secondary process to temporarily discharge the energy of the id until it is able to safely and adequately satisfy its need.


An instinct can be defined as the ability of living beings to perform acts adapted to circumstances, without experience or learning. This can occur in response to the body’s need to satisfy some innate internal drive linked to survival.

Instincts correspond to unconscious behaviors, which present an organized and complex response mode, typical of a species and adapted to a specific type of environment.

These cannot be acquired by the individual, since they receive them entirely through the work of the species. In other words, many different species depend on instincts, and if one member of a species possesses an instinct, then they all do.

Characteristics of instincts

The most relevant characteristics of the instincts are the following:

They are specific: instincts constitute a mode of behavior of the species and not of the individual. Just as a species has its own organic structure, it also has its own modes of instinctive activity.

They are innate: they are preformed by the species and the individual already receives them facts. In this way certain instincts are exercised only once in life, however, they are precisely fulfilled.

They are fixed:  the instincts are already fixed and are unable to perfect themselves. For example: the bird that builds its nest and does it as well as the one that has already made many.

They specialize in performing certain acts: the instincts know everything about the immutable path that has been laid out for them, but they ignore everything that is outside that path. For example: the bird only knows how to build its nest, but it is useless doing something that is not within its needs.

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Hello Readers, I am Nikki Bella a Psychology student. I have always been concerned about human behavior and the mental processes that lead us to act and think the way we do. My collaboration as an editor in the psychology area of ​​Well Being Pole has allowed me to investigate further and expand my knowledge in the field of mental health; I have also acquired great knowledge about physical health and well-being, two fundamental bases that are directly related and are part of all mental health.

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