Personality Theories in Psychology Essay

Pages: 15 (6049 words)  ·  Style: APA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 12  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Doctorate  ·  Topic: Psychology


For Freud's patients, the goal of psychoanalysis was to help mitigate some of these feelings and reconcile some of the differences between the id and the superego. Of course, human beings were able to reconcile these competing differences before the advent of psychoanalysis. They did so in a number of ways, which Freud referred to as defense mechanisms. Defense mechanisms are subconscious ways that a person deals with the tension between the id and the superego. These defense mechanisms include: compensation, denial, displacement, fantasy, intellectualization, projection, rationalization, reaction formation, regression, repression, and sublimation (See generally Freud, 1989).

There are certainly numerous flaws in Freud's theory. First, he was working in a repressive time which did not allow him to focus more effort on uncovering the truthful reality behind the Oedipus complex, which many people assume was not fantasy-based but reflected childhood sexual abuse by his female patients that presented with neurosis. Moreover, Freud was limited by his source of subjects for study, which were generally relatively affluent white people. However, he was motivated to try to understand why so many of these people, who seemed to have their basic needs met, presented with such unhappiness and anxiety. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that for this group of people, who faced significant pressures to conform to societal norms and great consequences for failure to conform, the conflict between inner desires (the id) and societal mandates (the superego) became the central defining feature in Freudian psychoanalysis.

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As society moved away from the rigid social norms that existed when Freud was developing his theories of psychoanalysis, psychologists moved away from traditional psychoanalysis and began to investigate other ways to describe the human personality. Erik Erikson was not a Freudian, which differentiated him from many of his colleagues at the time. In fact, he did not have the formal medical or psychological educational background of many of his peers. Instead, he was a keen observer of the human condition. Though not a Freudian, he did look at Freud's theories and expand upon those ideas. His most significant change to classical Freudian psychoanalysis was in his conception of the new ego. Instead of looking at the ego as merely a mediator between the id and the outside world and the id and superego, he believed that the ego was the essence of conscious humanity. He looked at this ego as ego identity. In fact, to Erikson, the goal a person's development over their lifespan was to develop and maintain a personal identity. According to Erikson, "Ego identity, then, in its subjective aspect, is the awareness of the fact that there is a selfsameness and continuity to the ego's synthesizing methods and that these methods are effective in safeguarding the sameness and continuity of one's meaning for others" (Erikson, 1994, p.22, para. 3). Therefore, the ego simultaneously gives a person a sense of uniqueness and a sense of belonging.

Because the ego plays a role in synthesizing the individual with society, people with weaker egos are at risk. Those whose egos are not sufficiently developed are prone the identity crisis. An identity crisis refers to any point during a person's life when they are overwhelmed by feelings of uncertainty. Moreover, to Erikson, there are numerous opportunities for people to experience these crises. Like Freud, Erikson believed that neurotic (or unresolved) conflict was "not very different in content from conflicts which every child must live through in his childhood, and that every adult carries these conflicts with him in the recesses of his personality (Erikson, 1994, p. 52, para. 3). To Erikson, it is how the individual resolves those conflicts that determines his ego identity.

For Erikson, there were eight stages of psychosocial development, and each involves a conflict between two diametrically opposed conditions. These stages occur sequentially in the life of a person and successful resolution of a prior stage enables a person to successfully resolve later stages. The first stage occurs during infancy and involves trust vs. mistrust (Erikson, 1994, p.57, para.3). If an infant can trust its caregiver it gains confidence in the outside world, but if unable to trust the caregiver to meet basic needs, the infant becomes fearful of the outside world. Stage two occurs during toddler years and involves autonomy vs. shame and doubt and it focuses on toilet training and the acquisition of other basic forms of independence. "From a sense of self-control without loss of self-esteem comes a lasting sense of autonomy and pride; from a sense of muscular and anal impotence and loss of self-control, and of parental overcontrol comes a lasting sense of doubt and shame" (Erikson, 1994, p.70, para. 3- p.71, para. 1). Stage three occurs during the preschool years and focuses on initiative vs. guilt. It is during this time period that a child determines what kind of person he is going to be, and if he is able to make his own decisions without being criticized, he develops initiative (Erikson, 1994, p.78, para. 1). Stage four occurs prior to puberty examines industry vs. inferiority; children who are encouraged for showing initiative demonstrate industry, while those who are discouraged internalized feelings of interiority (Erikson, 1994, p.87, para.1). Stage five happens during adolescence and involves identity vs. role confusion and looks at who the child wants to be as an adult. Stage six occurs in early adulthood and is the conflict between intimacy and isolation, and helps determine the ability of the person to engage in intimate relationships without withholding from intimacy (Erikson, 1994, p.97, para. 2). Stage seven occurs in middle adulthood and is the conflict between generativity and stagnation and examines whether people achieve the objectives of work productivity, community involvement, establishing and maintaining romantic relationships, and family building (Erikson, 1994, p.103, para. 2). Finally, the eighth stage is ego integrity vs. despair, which is a period of looking back at life and examining whether a person has accomplished his life goals; if not, that person may slip into despair (Erikson, 1994, p.105, para.1).

There are certain strengths to Erikson's theory, and the idea of life stage development is one that recurs in later psychological theories. It takes a very orderly approach to life and suggests ways for people to resolve their struggles. In fact, it is a much more resolution-oriented approach than psychoanalysis, which, by struggling to integrate two diametrically-opposed forces, could continue indefinitely without reaching a resolution for the client. Moreover, Erikson seemed far more willing than Freud and the Freudians to acknowledge the very real possibility that parents might be actively and intentionally harmful to their children, thus impacting development at critical life stages. However, like the Freudians, Erikson was very concerned with the idea of conformity and with meeting certain expectations and different points in life being critical to a person's psychological health. In this way, his was a psychology of the normal, which is something that later theorists would find troubling.


The first psychologists took a decidedly unscientific approach to the study of psychology and personality, which made it difficult to quantify personality and compare the different personalities of individuals. However, in the period between World War I and World War II, America became focused on science, particularly as it related to human beings. Some o this focus looked at innate human characteristics and evolution, and this Social Darwinist aspect has not been incorporated into most modern psychological thought. However, science and objective research did have a strong impact on the study of psychology.

Perhaps the first theorist to take a very scientific approach to the study of personality was B.F. Skinner, and many believed that his approach, which he called behaviorism, was cold, remote, and failed to capture the essence of the human condition. Skinner absolutely disagreed. First, he disagreed with their characterization of behaviorism. To Skinner, "behaviorism is not the science of human behavior; it is the philosophy of that science. Some of the questions it asks are these: Is such a science really possible? Can it account for every aspect of human behavior? What methods can it use? Are its laws as valid as those of physics and biology? Will it lead to a technology, and, if so, what role will it play in human affairs?" (Skinner, 1976, p.3, para.1). After all, Skinner was well aware that he was not the first person to study the human personality; that had been studied since the dawn of man, and he wondered which observations about personality were worth remembering.

At the heart of behaviorism is the idea that all human behaviors are acquired through conditioning and can be described and observed without invoking the subject's internal state. That does not mean that the subject does not have feelings; it simply means that the behaviors can be described without referencing those feelings. There are two main types of conditioning: classical conditioning and operant conditioning.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Personality Theories in Psychology" Essay in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Personality Theories in Psychology.  (2012, February 6).  Retrieved January 18, 2022, from

MLA Format

"Personality Theories in Psychology."  6 February 2012.  Web.  18 January 2022. <>.

Chicago Style

"Personality Theories in Psychology."  February 6, 2012.  Accessed January 18, 2022.