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Sigmund Freud's Theories Of Personality

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Biographical Details

Freud was born on may 6th 1856, Freiberg, Moravia to Hasidic Jewish parents. The family moved to Leipzig and then settled in Vienna, where Freud was educated. He was proved an outstanding student, excelling in languages, and English literature.

At the age of 17, Freud joined the medical facility at the University of Vienna to study a range of subjects, such as philosophy, physiology and zoology. He graduated in 1881 and began working at the Vienna General hospital. He worked in various different departments, such as the psychiatric clinic and also combines medical practise with research work. In 1873 he began to study medicine at the university of Vienna. He qualified as a doctor of medicine. Upon completing his habilitation in 1885, he was appointed a docent in neuropathology and became an affiliated professor in 1902.

He lived and worked in Vienna, having set up his clinical practise there in 1886, specialising in nervous disorders. His approach was to encourage patients to share their innermost thoughts and feelings. In 1938 Freud left Austria to escape the Nazis

Interesting facts

  1. He was initially an advocate and user of Cocaine. Freud developed an interest in the potential antidepressant effects of cocaine and initially advocated its use for a variety of purposes and after the addictive and harmful side effects of cocaine became known, Freud’s medical reputation suffered somewhat as a result.
  2. He became a doctor to marry the woman he loved: When Freud was 26, he fell madly in love with a 21-year-old woman named Martha Bernays and they became engaged two months later. As a poor student still living with his parents, Freud’s science lab job did not pay enough to support a family. ‘ Six months after they met, Freud gave up his scientific career and become a doctor. He spent three years training at the Vienna General Hospital. After four years of waiting, Freud and Bernays were married on September 14, 1886. The couple went on to have six children. However, that Freud later had an affair with his sister-in-law, Minna Bernays.
  3. Freud had more than 30 surgeries to treat mouth cancer. Freud has been a heavy cigar smoker all his life. In 1939, after his cancer had been deemed inoperable, Freud asked his doctor to help him commit suicide. The doctor administered three separate doses of morphine and Freud died September 23, 1939.
  4. Freuds daughter, anna, was also a famous and influential psychologist. Anna Freud began her career influenced by her father’s theories. She was far from simply living in her father’s rather long shadow, however made important contributions of her own to psychology. She founded child psychoanalysis and summarised the ego’s defence mechanisms in her book ‘The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence [1936]

Theories of Personality

Sigmund Freud developed a collection of theories which have formed the basis of the psychodynamic approach to psychology. The psychodynamic approach includes all the theories in psychology that see human functioning based upon the interaction of drives and forces within a person, particularly unconscious, and between the different structures of the personality.

Freud believes that personality develops from our efforts to resolve the conflict between our biological urges and our internalized, socialized reactions to these

Key features and basic assumptions

Unconscious mind:

  • Freud [1915] described conscious mind, which consists of all the mental processes of which we are aware, and this is seen as the ‘tip of the iceberg i.e. your thirsty so you go grab a drink.
  • the unconscious mind comprises mental processes that are inaccessible to consciousness but that influence judgements, feelings or behaviour.
  • The preconscious contains thoughts and feelings that a person is not currently aware of, but which can easily be brought to consciousness. Mild emotional experiences may be present but the traumatic and powerful negative emotions are repressed and hence not available in this level of conscious i.e. you’re not presently thinking of your mobile number but you can recall it with ease
  • Collected unconscious: like Freud, Jung emphasized the importance of the unconscious in relation to personality. However, he proposed it consisted of two layers. Personal unconscious, and Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious: comprising latent memories from out ancestral and evolutionary past. According to Jung, the human mind has innate characteristics “imprinted” on it as a result of evolution.

Psyche: Freud describes the personality structure as the interaction of three systems:

  • Id: is the primitive component of personality. It consists of all the inherited components of personality present at birth. The id is the impulsive part of our psyche which responds directly and immediately to basic urges, needs and desires. Governed by instinctual drives, especially those related to sex and aggression. Obeys the pleasure principle. [entirely in unconscious mind]
  • Superego: incorporates the values and morals of society which are learned from one’s parents and others. Its function is to control the Id’s impulses, especially those which society forbids, such as sex and aggression. [divided between conscious and unconscious mind]
  • Ego: develops to mediate between the unrealistic id and the external real world. It is the decision-making component of personality. Ideally the ego works by reason, whereas the id is chaotic. It induces people to act with reason and deliberation, and to conform to the requirements of the outside world. Obeys the reality principle. [divided between conscious and unconscious mind]

Defence mechanisms: they are psychological strategies that are unconsciously used to protect a person from anxiety arising from unacceptable thoughts or feelings. They are used to protect ourselves from feelings of anxiety or guilt, which arise because we feel threatened, or because our id or superego becomes too demanding. They operate at an unconscious level and help ward off unpleasant feelings or make good things feel better for an individual.

Types of defence mechanisms:

  • Repression: employed by the ego to keep disturbing or threatening thoughts from becoming conscious
  • Denial: blocking external events from awareness
  • Projection: involves individuals attributing their own unacceptable thoughts, feelings and motives onto another person
  • Displacement: satisfying impulse with a substitute object
  • Regression: this is a movement when one is faced with stress i.e. sucking of the thumb
  • Sublimation: satisfying the impulse with a substitute object in a socially acceptable way i.e. sport

Psychosexual development

Freud proposed that psychological development in childhood takes place during I’ve psychosexual stages:

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  • Oral: the mouth – sucking, swallowing, etc [ego develops]
  • Anal: the anus – withholding or expelling faeces
  • Phallic: the penis or clitoris – masturbation [superego develops]
  • Latency: little or no sexual motivation present
  • Genital: the penis or vagina – sexual intercourse

Each stage represents the fixation of libido on a different area of the body. As a person grows physically certain areas of their body become important as sources of potential frustration, pleasure or both.

Psychosocial development: Erik Erikson’s 8 stages of psychosocial development maintained that personality develops in a predetermined order through eight stages of psychosocial development, from infancy to adulthood. During each stage, the person experiences a psychosocial crisis which could have a positive or negative outcome for personality development. Successful completion of each stage results in a healthy personality and the acquisition of basic virtues.

Psychosocial crisis Stages include:

  1. Trust vs. Mistrust – [0-18 months]. The infant develops a sense of trust when interactions provide reliability, care and affection. A lack of this will lead to mistrust.
  2. Autonomy vs. shame – [18 months-3 years] The infant develops a sense of personal control over physical skills and a sense of independence. It is critical that parents allow their children to explore the limits of their abilities within an encouraging environment which is tolerant of failure. Success leads to feelings of autonomy, failure results in feelings of shame and doubt.
  3. Initiative vs. guilt – [3-5 years] The child begins to assert control and power over their environment by planning activities, accomplishing tasks and facing challenges. Success at this stage leads to a sense of purpose, if initiative is dismissed children develop a sense of guilt.
  4. Industry vs. inferiority – [5-12 years] It is at this stage that the child’s peer group will gain greater significance and will become a major source of the child’s self-esteem. The child is coping with new learning and social demands. Success leads to a sense of competence, while failure results in feelings of inferiority.
  5. Identity vs. role confusion – [12-18 years]. Teenagers explore who they are as individuals, and seek to establish a sense of self, and may experiment with different roles, activities, and behaviours. This is important to process of forming a strong identity and developing a sense of direction in life.
  6. Intimacy vs isolation – [19-40 years] during this period, the major conflict centres on forming intimate, loving relationships with other people. Success leads to strong relationships, while failure results in loneliness and isolation.
  7. Generativity vs. stagnation – [40-65 years] people experience a need to create or nurture things that will outlast them, often having mentees or creating positive changes that will benefit other people. Success leads to feelings of usefulness and accomplishment, while failure results in shallow involvement in the world.
  8. Ego Integrity vs despair – [65+ years] involves reflecting on one’s lie and either moving into feeling satisfied and happy with one’s life or feelings a deep sense of regret. Success at this stage leads to feelings of wisdom, while failure results in regret, bitterness, and despair.

Basic assumptions:

Our behaviours and feelings are powerfully affected by unconscious motives: the unconscious mind embodies mental processes that are inaccessible to consciousness but that influence judgements, feelings, or behaviours. According to Freud the unconscious mind is the primary source of human behaviour. Like an iceberg, the most important part of the mind is the part you cannot see. Our feelings, motives, and decisions are actually powerfully influenced by our past experiences and stored in the unconscious.

Our behaviour and feelings as adults [including psychological problems] are rooted in our childhood experiences: psychodynamic theory states that events in our childhood have a great influence on our adult lives, shaping our personality. Events that occur in childhood can remain in the unconscious, and cause problems as adults.

All behaviours have a cause [usually unconscious]: Therefore, all behaviour is determined: psychodynamic theory is strongly determinist as it views our behaviour as caused entirely by unconscious factors over which we have no control. Unconscious thoughts and feelings can be transferred to the conscious mind from the form of revealing what is really on our mind by saying something we didn’t mean to. Slips of the tongue provided an insight into the unconscious mind.

Personality is made up of three parts: the id, ego and super-ego: the id is the primitive and instinctive component of personality. It consists of all the inherited components of personality present at birth. The ego develops in order to mediate between the unrealistic id and the external real world. It is the decision-making component of personality. The super ego incorporates the values and morals of society which are learned from one’s parents and others.

Parts of the unconscious mind, the id and super ego, are in constant conflict with the conscious part of the mind, the ego. This conflict creates anxiety, which could be dealt with by the ego’s use of defence mechanisms.

Origins of Personality

Freud is most associated with psychoanalysis and the psychodynamic model; however, he actually first got his idea for his model from an advisor he had worked under, his first-year adviser, Ernst Von Brücke. It is Freud that took the idea and further developed it into a full model. Freud greatly admired Brücke and quickly became indoctrinated by this new dynamic physiology.

He based many parts of his model on actual patients he was working with, which is challenging because the population tended to be wealthy, white women, who were having psychological problems.

Methods of Testing

  • Case study: Freud conducted very detailed investigations into the private lives of his patients in an attempt to both understand and help them overcome their illnesses. Case studies are widely used in psychology and amongst the best know were the ones carried by Sigmund Freud, including Anno O and Little Hans
  • Dream analysis: it is in dreams that the ego’s defences are lowered so that some of the repressed material comes through to awareness. Freud went on to propose that a major function of dreams was the fulfillment of wishes. The purpose of dreamwork is to transform the forbidden wish into a non-threatening form, thus reducing anxiety.
  • Free association: a simple technique of psychodynamic therapy, is free association, in which a patient talks of whatever comes into their mind. This technique involves a therapist reading a list of words and the patient immediately respond with the first word that comes to mind.
  • Projective tests: The ink blots itself don’t mean anything, it’s what you read into it that is important. Different people will see different things depending on what unconscious connections they make.
  • Slips of tongue: unconscious thoughts and feelings can transfer to the conscious mind in the term of parapraxes, known as slips of tongue. We reveal what is really on our mind by saying something we didn’t mean to.

Contributions of the theory

Freuds psychoanalysis was the original psychodynamic theory but the psychodynamic approach as a whole include all theories that were based on his ideas:

  • Jung [1964]: whom made the contribution of collective-unconscious the second layer to personality whereby he emphasized the importance of the unconscious in relation to personality. However, he proposed it consisted of two layers. Personal unconscious; essentially the same as Freud’s version of the unconscious. And Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious. This level of unconscious shared with other members of the human species comprising latent memories from out ancestral and evolutionary past.
  • Alder [1927]: along with the concepts such as traits, the unconscious, and self-actualization, in psychology the concept of inferiority complex is used to explain personality. First developed by Alder in the 1920s, the concept played an important role in his theory of individual psychology.
  • Erikson [1950]: who made the contribution of the psychosocial development where the 8 stages of psychosocial development maintained that personality develops in a predetermined order, from infancy to adulthood. During each stage, the person experiences a psychosocial crisis which could have a positive or negative outcome for personality development. Successful completion of each stage results in a healthy personality and the acquisition of basic virtues.
  • Anna Freud [1936]: became a major force in British Psychology, specializing in the application of psychoanalysis to children. Among her best-known works are The Ego and the Mechanism of Defense.

Limitations of the theory

  1. Simplifying the human mind into the id, ego and superego and the five psychosexual stages make the approach reductionist
  2. Too deterministic: there is little free will to the theory and relates to the philosophical doctrine that all events including human interaction are ultimately determined by causes regarded as external to the will.
  3. Unfalsifiable: it is difficult to prove wrong
  4. The psychodynamic approach places too much emphasis on the psychological factors, without considering the biological/genetic factors that influence and contribute to mental health problems
  5. The theory ignores mediational processes such as thinking
  6. Case studies are too subjective and cannot generalise results from the data

References

  1. Bbc.co.uk. (2019). BBC – History – Sigmund Freud. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/freud_sigmund.shtml [Accessed 26 Aug. 2019].
  2. Betterhelp.com. (2019). History And Principles Of The Psychodynamic Model | Betterhelp. [online] Available at: https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/behavior/history-and-principles-of-the-psychodynamic-model/ [Accessed 30 Aug. 2019].
  3. McLeod, S. A. (2018, May 21). Carl Jung. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/carl-jung.html
  4. McLeod, S. A. (2016, Feb 05). Id, ego and superego. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/psyche.html [Accessed 26 Aug. 2019].
  5. McLeod, S. A. (2019, April 10). Defense mechanisms. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/defense-mechanisms.ht [Accessed 26 Aug. 2019].
  6. McLeod, S. A. (2019, July 18). Psychosexual stages. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/psychosexual.htm [Accessed 26 Aug. 2019].
  7. McLeod, S. A. (2018, May 03). Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/Erik-Erikson.html [Accessed 26 Aug. 2019].
  8. McLeod, S. A. (2018, May 03). Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/Erik-Erikson.html [Accessed 27 Aug. 2019].
  9. McLeod, S. A. (2017). Psychodynamic approach. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/psychodynamic.html [Accessed 27 Aug. 2019].
  10. McLeod, S. A. (2019, Aug 03). Case study method. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/case-study.html [Accessed 27 Aug. 2019].
  11. McLeod, S. A. (2018, April 05). What are the most interesting ideas of Sigmund Freud?. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/Sigmund-Freud.html [Accessed 28 Aug. 2019].
  12. McLeod, S. A. (2014). Psychoanalysis. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/psychoanalysis.html[Accessed 28 Aug. 2019].
  13. McLeod, S. A. (2015). Unconscious mind. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/unconscious-mind.html[Accessed 28 Aug. 2019].
  14. McLeod, S. A. (2018, May 21). Carl Jung. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/carl-jung.html[Accessed 29 Aug. 2019].
  15. McLeod, S. A. (2016, Feb 05). Id, ego and superego. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/psyche.html[Accessed 29 Aug. 2019].
  16. McLeod, S. A. (2019, April 10). Defense mechanisms. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/defense-mechanisms.ht[Accessed 29 Aug. 2019].
  17. McLeod, S. A. (2019, July 18). Psychosexual stages. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/psychosexual.htm[Accessed 30 Aug. 2019].

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