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Sigmund Freud's theory of personality

Updated on May 31, 2013

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud | Source

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.


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.


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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      Thanatos 3 years ago

      This is a very well written and informational hub about Freud! Wonderful information to have. Useful as well.

      Vote up!

    • profile image

      Ben Blackwell 4 years ago

      I have always been interested in Sigmund Freud's theories. This is a good, concise explanation of those theories.

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 4 years ago

      Hi Micheal. Yes we have Freud to thank for creating the basis. Despite the criticisms of his work, he is still considered a major contributor in this field.

      Thank you so much for both reading and your kind comments.

      Have a wonderful day,

      Chris

    • molometer profile image

      molometer 4 years ago

      Pretty fair assessment of Freud's considerable if erroneous contribution to this, the most baffling of the social sciences.

      He got the whole thing started. Prior to him it was all demons and witchcraft.

      Well done Sigmund and well done Chris for a great explanation of this pivotal figure.

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      marveloustesimp 4 years ago

      Sums up 3 days worth of class in one seating! Life saver

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 4 years ago

      Thank you B.Leekley. I am very glad that you have found this information useful. Be sure I will be reading your hubs as well.

      Your votes are truly appreciated.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 4 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Good, informative hub. I've linked to it in the "Other Personality Typing Systems" capsule of my "How Can There Be Only Nine Enneagram Personality Types?" hub. Up, Useful, and Interesting.

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Your welcome sabina :) I am happy that you have found my hub useful. Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Thank you for reading and voting EuroNinila, I'm glad you enjoyed reading :)

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      sabina 5 years ago

      Am also reading abt Freud in psychology & ur information will help me a lot. Thank u

    • EuroNinila profile image

      Fotinoula Gypsyy 5 years ago from NYC BABY

      Great hub! I studied psychology in college and I love Frued, psychoanalysis and certain theories intrigue me. Voted up, interesting and useful !!:)

    • Angela Brummer profile image

      Angela Brummer 5 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      Oh my I haven't read any of Freud's theories in over 10 years what a nice refresher that getting me thinking. GREAT HUB!

    • Treasuresofheaven profile image

      Sima Ballinger 5 years ago from Michigan

      Very interesting read. Whenever a person can explain the mind - personality, which is complex, hats off. Freud was a geneious. You have shed light on the mind.

      Thanks for a good read.

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Rosika and Jobs Etc: Thank you for reading and for your nice comments. I am really glad you have found this subject interesting.

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      Jobs Etc 5 years ago

      Interesting article on Freud, enjoyed reading it.

    • rosika profile image

      rosika 5 years ago

      I enjoyed reading this hub...I have studied about Freud and was amazed to know about conscious, unconscious and

      preconscious and about ego, id and superego...you have explained quite well here.

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Thank you for reading and voting Caroline, Really appreciated :)

    • carolinemd21 profile image

      Caroline Marie 5 years ago from Close to Heaven

      Hi Chris this is a really interesting hub on Freud. I learned about him in psychology class and always found his theories interesting. Voted up. :)

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Thanks sligobay :)

    • sligobay profile image

      sligobay 5 years ago from east of the equator

      Thanks for the follow and I have done likewise. This is a good intro to Freud and his theories. I did not know that his Electra complex was wholly unsupported.

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Thank you all for reading and commenting :)

      truthfornow: I am very glad you think so. Freud was amazing :)

      BlossomSB: Thank you for your comments and vote Blossom. In fact, I would like to explore some aspects of his theories.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      An interesting hub, especially your conclusion concerning some of the issues his work raises. Are you planning on doing some research to test any of his theories? Voted up.

    • truthfornow profile image

      truthfornow 5 years ago from New Orleans, LA

      I love Freud. There is much good in what he did in bringing out the idea of the unconscious and thank you for writing about him.

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Thank you for stopping by and reading Marlene. Its very nice to know that my hub has inspired you :)

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 5 years ago from Northern California, USA

      I studied Freud in college as a forced elective. You make me want to study Freud all over again to get the full meaning of what Freud's discoveries encompassed.

      Excellent hub! I'm really inspired to learn more.

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Thank you all for your comments and votes :)

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 5 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Thanks for the helpful overview of Freud's work.

    • hoteltravel profile image

      hoteltravel 5 years ago from Thailand

      I understood most of what you have written. Nowadays, ego is given negative connotation. Glad to know its true meaning. Interesting topic. Voted up and interesting.

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      onlooker 5 years ago

      Aah yes the theory of consciousness. This is like refreshing memories not long ago. Did you enjoy interpreting "The Piano"? I for one found it very conflicting =) My professor even gave me a "what is it?" on my paper, hahaha. Thank you, this was refreshing =)

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Thank you Vinaya :)

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Thanks Ruby H Rose, I am glad you have found the information useful :)

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 5 years ago from Nepal

      Though I have not studied psychology in university, this has always been my subject of interest. Freud, along with Jung and Frankl, are my favorite theorist.

      I enjoyed reading this hub. Good work!

    • Ruby H Rose profile image

      Maree Michael Martin 5 years ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

      Freud is always so complex, I love the way you presented all his theories, simply and to the point. Interesting to read and I will bookmark it for further reference. Thanks for hubbing!

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Thank you very much :)

    • Olde Cashmere profile image

      Olde Cashmere 5 years ago from Michigan, United States

      Excellent work, I enjoyed reading this because I've never dived into anything of Sigmund Freud. Thanks for writing an intriguing article, it got me more interested in doing further reading. Voted up, awesome job.

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Thank you both for your comments, phoenix2327 and b.Mallin. I am really glad you have enjoyed it :)

    • b. Malin profile image

      b. Malin 5 years ago

      Hi Chris, a Warm Welcome to Hub Pages. I totally enjoyed your Hub on "Freud's Theory on Personality"and I hope that all great minds had a little "Humor" in them as well. I now look forward to following your Hubs.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      Good hub, Chris. I like to read about psychology and I really enjoyed this.

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Thank you Donald

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      Donald 5 years ago from United States

      Very interesting hub, voted up!

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      :) Thanks for reading and commenting Ann, I really appreciate it.

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      anndavis25 5 years ago from Clearwater, Fl.

      Hello Achilleos, you must have meant this hub for your intellectual friends. It's obvious you know what you write here, but it is waaaaaay over my head.

      I think I am somewhere between id and unconscious.

      Just kiddin' you doc. Nice hub. Ann Davis

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Thank you very much for your comments and vote John :)

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      This is a really exceptional hub Chris. I wrote a hub about Freud as well. In college music was my major and psyche my minor...I dropped out though.

      Voted up - you're doing well for a newcomer to HP

      John

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Thank you ExoticHippieQueen. I am very glad you enjoyed reading my hub. Freud was indeed a fascinating man and some people have misunderstood his work in my opinion. Thanks for popping by :)

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Thank you Minnetonka, i really appreciate your comments.

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      ExoticHippieQueen 5 years ago

      Hi Chris! Welcome to Hubpages. I happen to be a big psychology fan,and Freud himself was a fascinating man. Thanks for the interesting hub!

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 5 years ago from Minnesota

      I enjoyed learning about Freud's theory as a student obtaining my bachelor and masters degree in psychology. Great information here and easy to understand.

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Thank you very much for your comments and vote Deborah, I really appreciate the fan mail you have sent me as well :) Thanks for popping by.

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 5 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      wow you have studied Freud.. this is amazing. Excellent read..

      voted up

      Debbie

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      I have studied Freud a lot while in University and I agree that he had a great mind for analysis. I may be sharing more about what I have came across. Thank you for you kind comments tsmog, I am very glad you enjoyed reading my hub. :)

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      Tim Mitchell 5 years ago from Escondido, CA

      A good intro to Freud, Chris. It is good to see your hub development in its growth stages too. Freud definitely had a great mind for analysis. I didn't know he relied on memory so extensively. That must mean, presuming, he had a little bit of faith in the preconscious mind or at least his. Thank you for an informative hub. Have a great day!