Psychoanalytic Approaches To Personality Essay Research Paper

Psychoanalytic Approaches To Personality Essay, Research Paper

Psychoanalytic Approaches to Personality

The area of psychology with perhaps the most controversial history, due to it s complete

lacking of empirical evidence, psychoanalysis, has it s origins in the teachings of Sigmund

Freud. Psychoanalysis is a form of therapy developed by Freud in the early 1900 s,

involving intense examinations into one s childhood, thought to be the origins of most

psychopathology which surfaced during adulthood. Ideas about the subconscious, which

saw the human mind as being in continuous internal conflict with itself, and theories that all

actions are symbolic, for there are no accidents , were also major themes of the

psychoanalytic approach. Successful therapy was a long-term and costly process, which

most people during that time, with the exception of the wealthy, could not afford.

Sigmund Freud s main contribution to this new field of studying personality was in the

area of the understanding the unconscious, an aspect of the mind to which, he claimed, we

did not have ready access to, but was the source of our actions and behavior. Freud believed

the human mind was divided into three parts: the id, ego, and super-ego. The id is man s

(generic meaning, referring to both sexes) instinctual, primitive, and hedonistic urges for

pure pleasure, which the id was bent on experiencing, without regard to any consequences.

The super-ego is man s senses of morality, first brought on by experiences with authoritative

figures and parents, which basically hold ideas of what is right and wrong, and is almost a

direct paradox to the id. The ego, which can be seen as the mediator between the id and the

super-ego, takes into account the activities of the external world, and attempts to invoke

some balance among all three parts of the mind, with failure resulting in neurosis of some


Freud s Lecture III provides, what I believe to be another important theory in

understanding personality from this perspective, stemming from his notion of parapraxes, or

unintentional acts that are actually unconsciously intentional. Such is the case with the

familiar Freudian slip , where something is said which is actually a distortion or paradox of

what is actually meant. This goes along with what are called symbolic acts, which are

actions we take that, although we insist they have no meaning, or were accidental in nature,

are actually intentional. For example, the act of forgetting is, according to Freud, a kind of

intentional defense mechanism, that we unconsciously use to repress memories, or put things

out of our minds.

Although much of Freud s work has been highly criticized by many of his detractors,

there are certain aspects of his theories which I find quite important to the study of

personality. I am sure than it is not only me who finds this to be the case, as many of

Freud s ideas, such as the Freudian slip, are common knowledge 70 years later. As the

founder of modern psychoanalytic theory, I cannot help but see Freud s work as critical in

understanding personality. Freud s ideas of the unconscious, though disputed time and

again, have played a key role in understanding personality, and are the cornerstone for all

psychoanalytic theory. Works by those who chose to break away from Freud s strict,

almost non-conditional ideas, such as Jung, Adler and Horney contain subtle references to

Freud s theories, as well as neo-Freudians like Erikson.

Perhaps the most famous of Freud s students-turned-detractor, is Carl Jung, who found

Freud s over-emphasis of sex and relegation of the ideas of a collective unconscious to a

level of small importance, to be erroneous in thought. Jung claimed there were two innate

psychological types, or categories, which people can be placed in: introverts and extroverts.

Extroverts, according to Jung, behave in a manner which they feel would produce approval

from the social crowd, and are more likely to experience positive emotion that introverts.

Unlike extroverts, whose actions are highly motivated by external factors, introverts tend to

act on their own beliefs and internal motives. Both introversion and extroversion are

extremes on a scale, according to Jung, where normal people would fall in the middle,

being equally influenced by both internal and external motives.

Jung also went on to describe four separate conscious orientations which sub-type

introversion and extroversion, categorized as: sensation types, thinking types, feeling types,

and intuitive types. Sensation types focus on experiencing the world via the senses, while

thinking types are more rational and use a cognitive approach to things. While feeling types

tend to focus on emotion, the intuitive type concerns himself (generic) about possibilities in

life, stemming from the unconscious. And, it is perfectly possible, and indeed, necessary,

according to Jung, for one to exhibit several of these types, there is always one type which

stands out more than the others.

Snyder s theory of high and low self-monitors, as discussed in a previous paper, seem

reminiscent of Jung s definitions of introverts and extroverts, while extroversion is one of the

Big Five personality traits put forth by Costa and McCrae. Here, too, we see key ideas that

have continued to exist and subtly influence the more modern personality psychologists, the

importance of which cannot be dismissed.

Alfred Adler, another ex-follower of Freud, developed theories about inferiority,

stemming from feelings of powerlessness which occur during childhood. This

Freudian-esque inferiority complex , as it is termed, begins with the realization that, as a

child, one is basically helpless and dependent upon one s parents for years. This feeling of

inferiority which results, Adler says, can then later be seen in adulthood, with regards to

those who we choose as our mates, and our need to dominate.

Adler, like other Humanists, believed that people were not only good, but were constantly

striving to be better, and to attain superiority. This is not to be confused with the desire to

dominate, but rather to reach one s potential as a human and to contribute to society as much

as possible. The negative aspects of this, however, appear in our choosing of love

relationships, where we pick mates whom we know we can dominate. These disturbed

relationships , as Adler terms them, where we seek to hold power over a partner, or to

choose a partner on the basis of the knowledge of their subordinate tendencies. I have

witnessed several of my close friends in such relationships, where they believe that, although

their partner is an alcoholic or is abusive, they can change them.

Adler also speaks of unrequited love, or that which is unattainable, as a form of marriage

avoidance, which, in typical Freudian thinking, may be masking a problem much deeper.

Adler s theories, which, while probably more inciting to popular audiences, as their

relevance and applicability are quite clear, seem only to focus on a minor part of the

collective personality, as termed by Jung, and stem from the all-encompassing pieces of

one s personality as described by Freud. So, while Adler s theories are of some importance

to the study of personality, I find the latter two psychologists points to be effective.

Karen Horney, deemed the feminist psychoanalyst by Funder and Ozer, offer a somewhat

different perspective in The Distrust Between the Sexes , as she explains that, although

men and women may not get along because of their envy of each other, this is actually a

positive thing. Horney describes the male need for social dominance and power as a direct

result of womb envy , which men experience due to their minor contribution to the

formation of life. That is, according to Horney, men are envious of women s ability to give

birth, and therefore must exert dominance and superiority in the form of social control

over family, government, and religion, in most societies.

Horney s theory of womb envy , of course, echoes Freud s idea of penis envy , from

which, he said, women suffer feelings of inadequacy, due to the lack of a phallus. This

highly controversial topic, which I m sure has sparked many debates, does not catch my

interest, as either important nor, in my opinion, correct. Having not mentioned Freud s ideas

of penis envy earlier, I find it necessary to state, for fear of being mis-interpreted, that I do

not buy into the idea of penis envy , either. As I am not a female, I am in no position to

speak of the correctness of the idea of penis envy , as it is an imponderable thought. Being

a male, however, I am confident that I do not suffer from such an affliction as womb envy ,

just as I am confident that I do not feel the desire to dominate anyone in such a manner as

previously stated.

Finally, we come to Erik Erikson, who can be classified as a neo-Freudian, who has been

faithful to Freud s teachings, as opposed to Jung, Adler, and Horney. Although not a

contemporary of Freud, he was indeed a determined follower, as shown by his work.

Erikson, however, went far beyond what Freud ever imagined, with the development of the

Eight Stages of Man. Basically, we go through life, experiencing Freudian-like stages,

which involve internal conflicts of development that must be resolved prior to the healthy

continuation of maturity. At the end of our life, we have our final personality conflict

between ego integrity and despair, at which point, we determine how worthwhile our lives

have actually been. The positive ending, of achieving ego integrity, involves a sense of

fulfillment and accomplishment, while the negative ending, resulting in despair and disgust,

is less attractive.

Erikson s theories of development differ from those of Freud, who believed that these

personality conflicts resolve themselves by the time puberty occurs, while Erikson contends

that we are constantly in a state of development, which begins at birth and ends at death.

Erikson s work seems to be a decent addition to what was first proposed by Freud, and,

perhaps, even more plausible one, in the view that development occurs throughout life.

Reading and analyzing the various theories of psychoanalysts put psychology into a

different perspective, at least for me. Prior to this, I had not read much of Freud, nor any of

Jung, Adler, Horney and Erikson, and so most of my experience with psychological thought

was based on empirical findings with statistical significance s. The psychoanalytic

approach, however, while entirely theory-based and un-testable for validity, has shown itself

to be a different and definitely interesting way to examine personality, as a lot of what has

been written is relevant to-day, although, of course, it is important to realize that, as Freud

said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar .


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