Sigmund Freud's theory of personality
Freud's personality theory
Freud’s theory of personality consists of the levels of consciousness, the nature of human beings and the source of human motivation, the structure of personality and the development of personality.
Freud’s levels of consciousness
Freud argued that there were three levels of consciousness (the conscious, the preconscious and the unconscious).
The conscious mind is the layer of personality that we experience in our everyday interaction with the world around us, in other words what we are aware of at any given time is the conscious.
The preconscious exists between the conscious and the unconscious. The preconscious contains thoughts and feelings which are not currently conscious but they are able to pass from the unconscious into the conscious.
Moreover, what we cannot become aware of is the unconscious due to the fact that the unconscious mind holds thoughts and feelings which were forgotten either because they were unimportant or threatening. Freud called this process of keeping material in the unconscious ‘repression’. At times repression may weaken making materials which were previously unconscious conscious.
Freud’s explanation of libido
Influenced by Darwin, Freud was interested in explaining behavior. He believed that each child was born with a certain amount of mental energy, which he called libido. According to Freud, libido becomes the basis of the adult sexual drives. In his approach to development Freud described two basic instincts or drives which were:
1. sexual drives energized by the libido, and
2. the life-perserving drives, such as hunger and pain.
In 1920, Freud proposed the death instinct (thanatos) and he supported that all human beings appear to poses this instinct which he defined as the wish to die.
Freud’s structure of personality
Furthermore Freud described personality in terms of three structures which we use for our instincts to be gratified: the id, the ego and the superego.
The id is the source of instincts and impulses; the id seeks unconsciously immediate satisfaction of biological needs and is the source of psychic energy (libido).
The ego is the mental structure which adapts to reality and negotiates conflicts between the id and superego.
The superego represents society’s restrictions and produces guilt and an ego ideal.
Behavior is produced by the conflicts from the interaction of the id, ego and superego. These conflicts cause anxiety and in order to deal with anxiety people use defense mechanisms.
A number of defense mechanisms were found by Freud and his daughter.
These were repression, denial, projection, reaction formulation, rationalization, conversion reaction, phobic avoidance, displacement, regression, isolation, undoing and sublimation.
Freud’s developmental stages
According to Freud personality develops through five psycho-sexual stages.
The oral stage (from birth to 18 months) is the stage where gratification centers on nursing and feeding, the mouth is considered to be the pleasure object for the infant.
The second stage of psycho-sexual development is the anal stage (from 18 months to 3 years) in which gratification derives from retention and elimination of feces (here the infant finds sensual pleasure from bowel movements and parents emphasize on toilet training).
In the third stage of development, the phallic stage (from 3 to 6 years), gratification centers on the manipulation of one’s genitals, here according to Freud the Oedipal complex (boys fall in love with mother and feel threatened by father) and the Electra complex (girls fall in love with father and sees mother as threat) seem to appear, however Freud talked in very vague terms about the Electra complex and gave more emphasis on the Oedipal complex. Therefore Freud also introduces the penis envy, in which girls are jealous of boys because of there genital area and the castration anxiety, in which boys are anxious about the thought of losing there own penis by there father.
In the forth stage, the latency stage (from 6 to 12 years) sexual drives seem to decrease and children tend to make friendships with children of the same sex as them and they start to get involved in social interactions.
The last stage, the genital stage (from 12 to 18 years) is the stage in which the child’s sexual interest reawakens and gratification centers on sexual attachment with a partner of the opposite sex; in normal development.
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The issues of this theory
Freud’s theory has influenced many psychoanalysts however some problems have been identified. Although Freud’s evidence is gathered from his patients he didn’t keep notes. Instead he used his memory which is not the right way to gather qualitative data. Consequently he was criticized about its validity. Therefore, some aspects of Freud’s theory are not well explained such as oral stimulation and the structure of personality.
Thus, the oral and anal personalities were viewed and showed only little evidence supporting the Oedipal complex whereas no support of the Electra complex. There are methodological difficulties with some of Freud’s studies however; the large areas of his work remain untested.
Concerning the sexual drive, Freud stated that all people have specific experiences from childhood but some of them don’t state them or forgot them, maybe this is why there was little supporting evidence of the two complexes.
Freud’s theory is seen to be parsimonious and although his work led to enormous advances in mental health treatments, there are still debates on the effectiveness of psychoanalysis as a treatment. Freud centers on the unconscious ignoring the social world in which people interact, showing a narrow basis for the explanation of behavior.
Although he supported that people act rational, he focused almost entirely on the irrational side of human nature.
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