I have always attributed personality as being a culmination of environment first, biology second, and traits, or what my understanding of them was. I was not aware of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic approach, or the correct definition of the trait theory prior to beginning this class. The psychoanalytic approach to personality defines the origins of personality as being divided in to three parts; the id (unconscious), the superego (preconscious) and the ego (conscious). Each part plays a distinct role in memory, response, desire, decision making, and conscience. With all three parts interacting, conflicting, expending psychic energy, and dictating who we are. In contrast the trait theory approach describes personality characteristics that are stable and are the basis of why individuals to do something, in certain ways, consistently. The psychoanalytic approach is subjective and is not easily measured whereas the trait approach specifically identifies and measures the various traits that make up an individual and how they interact with each other to form a personality. Freud believed that personalities are formed in the early stages of childhood, and are a series of sexually themed developmental stages. The first stage; birth to roughly 18 months, is the oral stage. At this stage babies are all about their mouths, and their behavioral patterns originate from this area. Freud believed that during this stage if a negative experience occurs, and too much of the psychosexual energy is expended in this area, then a fixation of psychic energy can occur.
The result would be the development of an oral personality as an adult. Adults with oral personalities tend to need some type of oral fulfillment; often putting their hands to their mouths, they may be smokers, or may drink too much. The second psychosexually themed developmental stage that children go through, according to Freud, is the anal stage. This stage, like the first, is where behavioral patterns can emerge depending on the amount of psychosexual energy which is expended. Here, children have to learn control over bodily functions and depending on whether the experience is positive or negative, like behavioral patterns emerge. Freud believed that a negative experience could result in an adult personality that is obsessive, and stubborn. According to Freud, defense mechanisms exist as a way for the ego to deal with things it cannot filter from the anxiety created within the superego and the id. Displacement is a classic example of a defense mechanism. Have you ever had a bad day at work where nothing you did would satisfy your boss? Wanting to tell your boss off or acting on the frustrations or feelings would be detrimental to your job status. Instead of acting on that frustration it stays pent up, and by the time you get home from work you explode at your child, or spouse for some insignificant little infraction. Your taking your aggression out on a person who did not pose a threat to you is displacement. A second defense mechanism is reaction formation. Freud believed that using reaction formation allows us to hide how we feel by acting the exact opposite. A good example would be a person who is extremely outspoken about gay rights. Freud would have no doubt believed that because this person’s beliefs were so extreme that this person must be fighting an internal demon; maybe this person was fighting their own secret feelings of attraction for the same sex.
Hence the old adage “…doth protest too much, methinks” (Shakespeare, 1601). A third defense mechanism is Intellectualization. This defense mechanism helps a person to distance themselves by removing the emotional side of the circumstance which allows a person to focus from a colder intellectual viewpoint. A good example of this would be a husband that passes away and the wife, also a mother does not allow herself to feel or show her pain for the sake of the children. She reasons that if she shows her pain the children will feel worse and above all else she must protect them so she reads, learns, and concentrates on methods to help get them through it. The Big Five Factor that best describes my personality would be openness. I do have an active imagination, and am open to considering new idea’s, and am not happy in an environment that is routine. I tend to thrive in chaos, and enjoy research. The Big Five factor that least describes me is Agreeableness. I do consider myself to be a helpful person, and while I volunteer for many organizations, I tend not to be sympathetic or trusting. I guess I have some trouble categorizing myself as being one way or the other, or having a specific trait over another because I find that it all so subjective. I would have to say the trait theories best align with my personality. I have some trouble identifying with the psychoanalytic personality description. The core theories, though some of them make sense, do not seem to align with what goes on inside my head. I have been through some pretty traumatic things in my life, but I am conscious of all of them. Why? I am so aware of them, have had to feel them in my head, my whole life. What makes me so different from other people who have been able to shove them to an unconscious level? And, is that better? The psychoanalytic approach as found in the text says that defense mechanisms are believed to offer an instrument for the mind to be able to isolate what it cannot deal with, yet this approach does not offer any stable patterns on what makes one person less able to deal with something than another. In conclusion, it appears that no one theory easily defines what makes up an individual’s personality and so far it all appears to be subjective.
Burger, Jerry M. (2008). Personality (7th ed.). Mason, Ohio: Cengage Learning.