As the accredited founding father of psychology, there is a lot to learn from Freud. His theory of psychoanalysis covers a vast area in psychology including the field of personality psychology.
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According to Maltby, Day, and Macaskill, Freud’s key concepts include development of levels of consciousness, human nature and their sources of motivation, development of personality, and the structure of personality (2010).
There are three levels of consciousness, which are the conscious thought, the preconscious level and the unconscious level. The conscious thought is the state that an individual is aware of at any given moment. It also includes one’s active thoughts at a specified time. The preconscious thoughts are those thoughts that an individual is unaware of, but can easily be recalled to the conscious mind.
The last stage is the unconscious level, which entails fantasies, memories, feelings, thoughts, and urges that one is unaware (Brown, 1914). They are kept repressed in the memory as an individual is ashamed of them. These motivations may be inappropriate sexual urges and aggressive instincts that disturb the mind. Freud compares the conscious things in one’s mind to an iceberg.
He likens the conscious mind to the exposed tip of the iceberg and the unconscious being to the submerged regions of the iceberg (Maltby et al., 2010).
Repressed material comes in different forms, for example, in dreams, stressful times such as in somatic disorders, or the emergence of relatively conflicting impulses under the influence of psychotropic drugs and alcohol. An otherwise composed individual can be prompted to create an inappropriate sexual signal to others when under the influence of alcohol.
Two other important concepts are the human nature and human motivation. Freud contributes an explanation on behavior and its maintenance especially basic human drives. He asserts that each child is born with an amount of mental energy-libido. This, in later life, turns to be the sexual drive.
He proposes other drives the life-preserving drives and death drives. The life-preserving drives include hunger and pain, whereas the death drive (Thanatos) is a self-destructive instinct. The drives explain the origin of human motivation in an attempt to satisfy instinctive needs.
Psychoanalysis describes the structure of the personality. It consists of the identity, ego and the superego. The ID is primarily the pleasure center that does not delay gratification. According to Maltby et al., it is the storehouse of raw uninhibited instinctual energy (2010). Freud believes that infants operate a lot with the ID because all that is in their world is satisfaction of their needs.
Instinctual demands of the ID become socialized with time through learning the art of delayed gratification, requesting, and planning to be in sync with societal expectations. As the child develops another part of the personality, the ego, develops too. The ego is the executive part of the personality.
It carries out tasks such as thinking, organizing, and is the reality principle process as they begin to acquire basic courtesies (such as please). The superego, which is the ultimate element of personality to advance, is the moral center of the child (Maltby et al., 2010). It enables the making of right and wrong judgments and the internalization of acceptable standards.
Development of morality, however, differs with individual socialization. These three structures of the personality are in constant conflict with each other. In addition, the superego moderates the ID and the ego. Freud explains that the conflict created is an intrapsychic conflict that manifests in mental disturbance with anxiety being the most common form. The ego uses defense mechanisms such as repression to fight the anxiety.
Finally, the other key aspect in Freudian psychology is the development of personality. He describes the personality as developing through five distinct stages. It is a theory whose primary responsibility is the sex drives hence the name psychosocial stages (Maltby et al., 2010).
Each libido, Freud argues, concentrates on a particular body part, which is the source of pleasure and gratification at that moment. These areas are the erogenous zones. In essence, only biological factors are in action and social factors are ignored.
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The first of the five distinct stages of developing personality is the oral stage, which lasts from birth to one year. At this stage, libidinal energy is directed to the primary caregiver. The child develops a trusting attitude towards people because of what transpires during this stage.
There are consequences for too much or too little stimulation. The child can be fixated at this stage and can continually seek oral stimulation in later life. Overindulgent individuals are the oral receptive individuals who become overdependent while underindulgents are the oral aggressive characters who tend to exploit others.
The anal stage begins at about eighteen months to three years. Sensual pleasure is derived from bowel movements (Maltby et al., 2010). Toilet training ought to be handled properly. Failure to do so results in fixation. This stage can involve a parent and the child in interpersonal conflict. There may be a battle of wills if the parent is overly demanding in the training period.
Such a child can be rebellious to authority in the future. Fixation at this stage leads to the development of an anal retentive personality. Such people are stingy, extremely neat and very orderly as a consequence of delaying to empty their bowels in childhood as they wait for parental instruction. Children who resist parent’s attempts in toilet training end up as disorganized individuals and constitute the anal expulsive characters.
Phallic stage occurs between the ages of three to five and a child’s genitals are the most sensitive parts. The girls’ penis deficiency makes them suffer ‘the penis envy’ while the boys suffer from ‘castration anxiety’ as they fear to lose their penis. Boys become intuitively aware of their mothers’ sexual being, develop a rivalry towards their fathers and fall in love with their mothers (Ahmed, 2012).
The boy experiences anxiety that is resolved by identifying with the father hence the development of a male personality. A parallel conflict happens to the girls, the Electra complex. Unresolved conflicts at this stage breed a promiscuous male who fails to develop masculine characteristics and can end up gay. Lesbians can develop when females associate more with masculine traits than when they do with feminine characteristics.
The latency stage, a resting period, starts at age five and ends at about twelve years. The genital stage is the final stage (Maltby et al., 2010). Reawakening of sexual instincts occurs and forms mature sexual attachments at this level. Not all people successfully get to this stage (the genital stage).
Heinz Kohut forms a slightly different version of Freudian psychoanalysis. He agrees with the Freudian concept of parent child relationship. However, he later splits from psychoanalysis and names his modification of psychoanalysis the self-theory (Ellis, Abrams, & Abrams, 2009). He replaces the Freudian personality structure with a model of self as an identity that develops through relationships with others.
He eventually disagrees with the Freudian drive theory. Kohut develops the narcissist view of personalities in contrast to the traditional sexual drive influenced individuals. Whereas his patients suffer from a weak or absent superego, Freudian’s patients have an overdeveloped superego.
This is a different view that both use to explain narcissism. In Freudian terms, superego is open to societal influence. However, in Kohut’s view the changes in society result in a defective superego. Kohut includes empathy in his work making it is particularly popular with feminists’ psychologists, having broken from sexism.
Melanie Klein is another psychoanalyst who borrows heavily from Freud. She develops play therapy as a substitute for free association in children (Ellis et al., 2009).
She also agrees with Freud on the issue of primary caregivers. However, she slightly differs when she insists on interpersonal relationships other than unconscious motivation. She also agrees with Freud on the issue of Thanatos and aggression as inbuilt characteristics in a child. Therefore, she develops her own version of the object relations theory.
Anna Freud concentrates on child analysis (Midgleya, 2008). Classical techniques such as free association are modified to suit children. She stresses protective and educational attitudes and develops six developmental lines on ego ability.
Unlike her father, she acknowledges the impact of environment on development. Instead of emphasis on the role of the ID on development, she insists on the role of egos awareness of defense mechanisms. These theorists arouse curiosity resulting in further research to either prove or disapprove their points of view. A good example of such research is the advancement of the theory of object relations.
Ahmed, S. (2012). Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory Oedipus complex: A critical study with reference to D. H. Lawrence’s “Sons and lovers.” Internal Journal of English and Literature, 3(3), 60-70.
Brown, W. (1914). Freud’s theory of the unconscious. British Journal of Psychology, 6(3-4), 265-280.
Ellis A., Abrams, M., & Abrams D.L. (2009). Personality theories critical perspectives. USA: Sage Publications.
Maltby, J., Day L., & Macaskill, A. (2010). Personality, individual differences and Intelligence (2nd ed). Edinburgh: Pearson Education Limited.
Midgleya, N. (2008). The ‘Matchbox School’ (1927–1932): Anna Freud and the idea of a psychoanalytically informed education. Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 1(34), 23-42.