Description and Characteristics of the Pleasure Principle

The pleasure principle is definitely sexual but it isn't limited to it. It actually intervenes in every single one of your needs and desires.
Description and Characteristics of the Pleasure Principle

Last update: 22 February, 2021

The “pleasure principle” is all about those moments when you’re blissful and happiness comes out of your every pore. Above all, it’s about those moments in which you feel like you’re exactly where you want to be in your life.

The pleasure principle is one of the essential concepts of psychoanalytic theory. Sigmund Freud was the father of this school of thought and left behind one of the richest reflections about it.

Continue reading to find out more about what this concept is about, why it goes beyond sex as well as Freud’s objections to the pleasure principle throughout his clinical exploration.

“What we learn with pleasure we never forget.”

-Louis Mercier-

What’s the pleasure principle about?

It’s a concept that’s part of the economic model of psychoanalysis, which highlights that people have forces that push us to seek an end.

Sigmund Freud emphasizes this concept in his book Beyond the Pleasure Principle. It’s about the search to satisfy one’s needs. In other words, it’s the avoidance of anything that doesn’t generate pleasure. In addition, one would seek balance in order to keep arousal to a minimum through this principle.

Then, one releases tension from pleasure. This is because there’s a discharge with which to regain balance. Pleasure is what reduces this tension so the principle is closely related to the “id”. The instinctive part, that is. It’s also related to the “ego” and the “superego”, but it’s the “id” that tries to unload in order to regain balance.

A smiley woman.

Beyond sex

Most people think the pleasure principle is closely related to sexuality. It’s definitely present because some situations associated with sexuality involve the release of tension. However, this isn’t always the case, as the pursuit of pleasure doesn’t always involve sexuality. One mainly avoids pain so it doesn’t affect balance. For example, hunger and thirst disrupt balance, so the reality principle is at work in this scenario.

Thus, this principle drives the satisfaction of all needs and doesn’t act alone. In fact, it goes hand in hand with the reality principle and the primary processes.

The reality principle regulates appetite. In other words, it makes it easier to postpone needs and desires for the sake of survival. Furthermore, the primary processes are those unconscious matters that allow you to satisfy your dreams and desires.

Objections to the pleasure principle

This principle is also related to the principle of constancy. In other words, the one that helps the psychic apparatus maintain the level of excitedness as low as possible. Now, during his clinical practice, Sigmund Freud formulated some objections to the pleasure principle. Here are some of them:

  • Reality principle. As people mature psychically, they understand that not all pleasures can be attained and must be either postponed, transformed, or unfulfilled.
  • War neurosis and nightmares. Freud realized these weren’t about the fulfillment of a desire but a way in which a person who hasn’t experienced anguish, can do so. Dreaming about it, for example.
  • Repetition compulsion. Reliving nonpleasurable things instead of avoiding them. A person does it through the mentioned psychic symptom.
  • Game “Fort-Da”. This is a game from which the child elaborates on the sudden maternal absences, an event they previously experienced passively.
A woman thinking.

In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud realized and expressed that there must be something beyond the pleasure principle. Thus, he suggested “life drives”, which are those that go hand in hand with self-preservation. Furthermore, he referred to what’s beyond these drives, usually associated with destruction, as “death drives”.

This principle is necessary for human survival because it’s in tune with it. However, it’s nothing without the other associated mechanisms. Thus, it seeks the satisfaction of needs and desires but there are others such as the reality principle, which helps ensure this isn’t always the case.

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  • Freud, S. (1976/1920). Más allá del principio del placer. Obras completasBuenos Aires: Amorrortu.
  • Spilka, J. I. (1997). Reflexiones en torno a: Más allá del principio de placer. Revista de psicoanálisis, 26, 83-106.