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
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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