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Theories of Personality

Theories of Personality

Numerous psychologists have regarded and discussed the notion of personality from various points of view, but no clear and unambiguous definition was found. Ryckman (1985) pointed out that despite all arguments, one can define the personality as a “psychological construct”, which differs depending on various ways of responding on the environmental situations. Such generalization leads to the analysis of three basic theories of personality – psychoanalytic, behaviorist, and humanistic. Each of the approaches has its own way of explaining the development, the characteristics, and the behavior of an individual and has its strong and weak points. The aims of these theories are not only to offer the ways of organizing the people’s characteristics, but also to explain the differences and motives, behavioral patterns and, finally, find ways to improve people’s lives. Consequently, to find the most effective ways of psychological analysis and healthy or unhealthy individuals’ treatment, it is important to consider all theories and assumptions.

The Freudian psychoanalytic theory, which was later developed by such neo-Freudians as Jung, Erikson, Adler, is the first of the personality theories. As a founder of this theory, Sigmund Freud regarded the unconscious as the background of the human behavior. According to his theory, though the individuals do not consciously remember the experiences of childhood, they influence their further behavior. The conflicts between conscious and unconscious, finding the balance between these two opposite forces predetermine the individuals’ actions (Ryckman, 1985). Freud distinguished among three components of the personality, which regulate the instincts of the individual: id, ego, and superego. The first part of an unconscious personality, which is called id, is in charge of the needs, instincts, drives, and repressed material. Ego is a part of conscious personality, which is aimed to meet the demands of id and superego in the sociably acceptable ways. Superego is a source of consciousness, which inhibits the socially undesirable influences of the id. These three impulsive, rational and moralistic components can compete for the psychic energy and cause the conflicts or function in a team regulated by the ego (Maddi, 1972). Carl Jung, who supported the importance of the unconscious influence on human life, has offered some additions to the psychoanalytical theory. He distinguished between two types of unconsciousness – the personal and the collective one. The main difference in their views was that, in contrast to Freud, Jung believed that people can develop their potential and handle their instinctive urges (Hall and Lindzey, 1970). According to the next Freud’s follower, Adler, an individual’s life is a constant struggle with inferiority, which grows in childhood, when one has little control of his or her life (Maddi, 1972). Finally, Erikson emphasized the positive functioning and growth of the ego and regarded the biological needs satisfaction as the primary urge (Ryckman, 1985).

Although the views of the psychoanalytic approach representatives have some differences, they all are unified with the same idea that the behavior and characteristics of individuals are predetermined by the childhood experiences. Psychoanalysis, which was founded on the above mentioned theories, is widely used as a form of therapy nowadays.

In contrast to Freud, Adler, Erikson, and Jung, who emphasized heredity and the unconscious as the defining factors of the personality formation, the behaviorists Pavlov, Watson, Pavlov, Skimmer, Bandura believed that only that, what can be seen, should be studied (Maddi, 1972). Therefore, they believed that the past learning, current perceptions, higher-level process of thinking and organization predetermine the behavior of a person. Pavlov is the founder of the behavioristic views in psychology. His classical conditioning theory based on the researches on conditioned reflexes, stimulus-response connection has created a basis for the behavioristic approach to the personality development, and was later used by Watson, Skinner, Bandura in their studies (Boakes, 2003). In order to strike out new skills and habits, the natural stimulus needs to provoke a conditioned response. Therefore, the learning process is regarded by Pavlov and his followers as a straightforward mechanism, which is the result of behavioral response to some neutral stimulus which should be approximated to a natural one (Boakes, 2003). It is known that the above mentioned theory is quite useful by practicing the emotional problems or phobias treatment. However, it is essential to regard the views of the foremost behaviorist Skinner. Although his theory was not offered as a personality one, he has contributed much to answering the questions on the behavior conditions and control. If Freud’s theory offers to search for the roots of individual’s unhappiness in his childhood, Skinner’s idea is to reject the labels and examine exactly his behavior. Finally, the reasons for this or that psychological state of a person can be in his everyday actions, in the environment. According to his view, the contingencies of reinforcement, which means the rewards or punishment following a particular behavior, affects the development or suppression of some individual’s characteristics. Skinner’s operant conditioning theory is also based on Pavlov’s theory and is connected with reflexes, but the difference is that not only the stimulus influences the behavior, but also the response, which can be positive or negative (Boakes, 2003). Skinner’s approach is quite pragmatic and action-oriented, which has made it quite popular among the psychologists. Another personality theory was offered by Bandura and can be called the “role modeling”. It is based on the social-learning theory, which deals with “more dynamic conception of behavior and development” (Boakes, 2003). The main idea of such learning is that a person can learn from someone other’s model. Consequently, in contrast to the psychoanalytic theory, the behaviorist one tends to highlight the importance of the outer world for the human behavior formation. Finally, the reinforcement and observational learning are regarded as the behavior and character forming factors.

The last theory, which is widely supported by the psychologists, is the humanistic theory. Its main idea is that all people strive for self-actualization. It emphasizes the positive aspects of human nature. The main representatives of this approach are Maslow and Rogers. It is important to highlight that instead of opposing the theories Maslow included these psychologies into one large superordinate structure. In such way, he considered Freud’s theory as sick half of psychology, which lacked the healthy part (Maddi, 1972). Hence the healthy part of psychology should be based on growth and satisfaction of the human potential. Maslow believed that before becoming a self-actualized personality a human has to fulfill a definite number of needs: food and place to live, safety and security, and after all love and acceptance. Rogers mostly agreed with Maslow, but emphasized the importance of the self-concept and the self-image for a person’s self-actualization fulfillment. He believed that the genuineness of the environment, unconditional positive acceptance, and empathy are exceptionally essential for the individual’s growth (Maddi, 1972). In general, the humanistic approach is very popular from a phenomenological view point as it acknowledges the authenticity and meaning of the human life, tends to enrich the individuals’ lives by appreciating and understanding themselves. The internal perception of self and others, conscious and rational thinking leads the individual toward personal fulfillment. Such perspective is quite optimistic and is aimed at the perception human nature, responsibility, freedom and will.

Getting back to the strong and weak points of the theories, in is necessary to pay attention to the psychoanalytic theory of personality, which is the fundamental for the widely used effective psychoanalysis. The effectiveness of such therapy proves the influential role of the unconscious and three subsystems for the individual. Unlike two other theories, the psychoanalytic approach can without difficulties explain the human behavior. The differentiation between the unconscious and the conscious can be also referred to a strong point of the psychoanalytic theory. Unconscious perception of things, which happens without conscious awareness, contributes much to the person’s behavior. However, the theory also has its weaknesses. Firstly, it has no empirical evidence; Freud’s case studies were interpretative and subjective (Simpson, 1986). The second weakness is lack of its connection to the everyday life and modern to the individual events, persons, environment, which cannot be ignored. Moreover, numerous psychologists highlight Freud’s over-emphasis on sexual drive; such view on a person makes an outlook on individual extremely pessimistic and does not take into consideration the free will, which is possessed by humans (Simpson, 1986).

The aim of the psychotherapy, which is based on Freud’s theory, is to find out the patient’s problems and improve people’s lives. Therefore, it is essential to emphasize that such therapy is stressor and “root” oriented, which makes it more effective than others. The psychotherapist must take into consideration this theory because it is very helpful by analyzing the behavior of the patients or counteracting different kinds of traumas (Simpson, 1986). It is also important to highlight that the psychoanalysis helps by reviewing the relationship, tolerating emotions, handling difficulties through referring to the numerous experiences.

Comparing three theories of personality, which were mentioned above, it is essential that all of them have its weak points and do not embrace the personality construction wholeheartedly. The disputes over the question if the past or the present actions have much influence on the individual are not resolved; therefore, it is impossible to point out only one of the personality theories as the most influential. In general, the most accurate approach to the personality development should include all three perspectives: unconscious comprehension, learning and environmental changes, self-actualization and will of the personality.

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