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The Development of Personality

Updated on December 22, 2013

Three Overarching Types of Therapy

The approaches to therapy can be roughly divided into three meta-categories into which fit each increasing specific therapeutic approach. The Psychoanalytic category came first and includes classical Freudian Psychoanalysis, Adlerian Individual Psychology and Jungian Analytic Psychology. The Humanistic approaches include The Existential approaches of Rollo May and Victor Frankl, Person-Center Rogerian Therapy, and Holistic-Dynamics as proposed by Maslow. The Behavioral schools are compromised of Skinnerian Behavioral Analysis, Bandura's Social Learning Theory, and Beck's Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which seeded Ellis's Rational Emotion Behavioral Therapy. This division of Theories into a triad and the schools contained with each division is by no means exhaustive but it gives a good beginner's framework as to the prevalent school's of Psychological thought. The content that follows derives from this conceptual framework and creates an integrative view of how these triads converge in the development of personality.

Contributions of Each Lense

As a species with a common ancestry we hold a great many things in common, indeed these similarities greatly outnumber the idiosyncratic differences that delineate between us. These genetic commonalities account for much of the, “Collective Unconscious,” we seem to share. One of these mutually ingrained traits is a tendency toward pattern seeking and as such the modes of interpretation that have helped us to make sense of our childhoods, and in particularly our earliest years, tend to have a lasting impact on our cognition and subsequent personalities as adults. It is in this regard that the psychoanalytical and psychosocial theoretical orientations play a dominant role in personality assimilation and psychopathology. The undesirable baggage of this assimilation process can be best remediated through cognitive-behavioral reconditioning and restructuring. These orientations thusly are instrumental in successful counseling and for realizing an improved mental health bearing. In the presence of improved cognitive, emotional, and behavioral structure, the humanistic approaches can aid individuals in weathering normative storms and in approaching something like existential health and self-actualization.

Collective Unconscious and Genetics

My acceptance of the Jungian “Collective Unconscious,” is relegated mostly to those genetically inherited predispositions that have come to define us as a species. We have a tendency toward social behaviors, moral principles, and certain physiological responses because these things have been naturally selected for their survival value.

Because of the cohesiveness of our genetically ingrained dispositions we possess a kind of innate appreciation for the roles that personify both the extremes and the ideals of our shared humanity. We possess an alacrity to move toward the archetypal ideals contained within our shared genetic past. A species-wide appreciation for the diametrically opposed persona and shadow, for the contrasting anima and animus, and for the uniquely divergent qualities of the great mother, the wise old man, and the hero are constructs that we are predisposed to see as the best and worst aspects of our human condition. As such these archetypes and their inherent qualities color us in our individual strivings toward self-actualization and personality development.

Fictions, Conflicts, and Object Relations

Adler spoke of the subjective, “fictions,” that we structure in order to find congruity within the environments in which we operate and have operated. These fictions, despite their potentially inaccurate or self-defeating overtures provide us with a working narrative about ourselves in relation to our initial circumstances. We structure these in order to act both toward general ends and achievement but also, and I depart with Adler here, in order to avoid and lessen physical and emotional uncertainty and pain. The patterns that we initially structure persist in us and come to color our future perceptions of the world. In this sense these fictions are teleological when we create them but in their continued dictum in later life they take on a causal nature.

These fictions preserve the integrity of the ego as we weather Erickson’s Psychosocial conflicts. Because many people resolve these conflicts in an incomplete or less than idyllic manner the solace provided by our fictions help us to attain something akin to, at least superficially and ostensively, the basic strengths that Erickson saw as the ideal results of these conflicts.

For example, if as very young children our efforts towards healthy autonomy are frustrated by an unsupportive parent we may come to be destructively willful in a superficial manner so as to compensate for our less than conscious internalizations of shame and doubt. The fiction that we do not need anyone in any endeavor and are entirely self-sufficient creates a narrative that starkly denies our deep-seated fears and vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, we will come to carry this fiction into the attempted resolution of later Psychosocial conflicts and the message that served a logical purpose in carrying us through the unresolved stage of early childhood with an intact ego will prove to be incompatible with a healthy resolution of later stages. Particularly in this case, a realistic sense of identity and a capacity for healthy intimacy might be disturbed by this fiction involving undue autonomy. This would exemplify a kind of reaction formation in that whenever the desire to surrender some little bit of autonomy arose, a retreat into narcissism and a hyper-inflated sense of self-efficacy might result.

Object relations theory places a focus on the early attempts to differentiate self from others, particularly child from mother during the first three years. We tend to seek out relationships that adhere to the messages engendered by the subjective experiences of this individuation process. In our example of frustrated autonomy due to an unsupportive parent we might pursue people whom we perceive as likely to betray our trust in order to reinforce the narrative that contends that we must be entirely autonomous.

Our early frustrated attempts at individuation and the results of poorly resolved intrapersonal conflicts are responsible for many of the self-destructive messages and much of the neurotic behavior we may seek to later shed in counseling.

Self-Directed Change

The Rogerian self-actualizing principle relies upon an individual tendency toward realization and perfection and a personal capacity for self-introspection and deliberate change. An analysis of the roots of a particular pathology is an important point of origin for this change but is not on its own sufficient to accomplish it.

The Rationale Emotive Therapy approach of Albert Ellis seeks to identify the narratives of fiction that we have organized in order to comprehend our own unique experiences of the past. These cognitive, “appendixes,” that color our affect and behavior in perpetually defeating ways can be discarded for more realistic and healthy mental constructs.

The intentional restructuring of the things that we have come to automatically tell ourselves and have reinforced through playing out prophecies of self-fulfillment is a therapeutic approach to viewing oneself and the world in a more desirable light that has tremendous empirical support. The reframing and reinterpretation of ourselves in relationship to our past and our present into a new narrative aimed at a more logical and realistic future results in affects and behaviors that are remarkably more constructive and conducive to health.

The cognitive view of pathology is consistent with the analytical, object relations oriented framework in that what we have learned from significant others early in life becomes a kind of, “dogma,” later in life. It is our own repetitions of the early fictional narratives engendered from childhood and the blame associated with these narratives that keep us unwell. It is through the release of this blame and an acceptance of self even during emotionally undesirable periods of sadness and rejection that we can shed the unhealthy messages we use to indoctrinate ourselves with depression, anxiety, and shame.

Existential Health and Self-Actualization

If individuals can overcome any latent pathology and are so situated in a way as to satisfy their needs as Maslow expresses them in his, “hierarchy of needs,” then they may begin to approach a state of self-actualization. This is a potential consequence of the satisfaction of self-esteem. The idea of complete self-acceptance being a precursor to self-esteem and self-actualization seems to follow logically when one considers that true self-esteem is an intrinsic valuing both of one’s strengths and foibles.

Some of the characteristic values of self-actualized people seem also to be the requisites for May’s concept of Existential health. Self-actualized individuals have an acceptance of self, others, and nature. The Existential concept of Dasein, or being-in-the-world is defined by a healthy connectedness with the environment, with others, and with ourselves. Further, both the self-actualized and the existentially healthy have a more efficient and realistic perception of reality. They have both come to terms with the world and their place in it in a very real and accepting manner, embracing ambiguity, uncertainty, and unpredictability. They also share a continually refreshed appreciation of the basic goodness of life, regarding everyday moments with awe and wonder.

This highest level of being is certainly where people become most individualized and as such most exhibit the spectrum of variations that can be seen in the myriad wonders of the human personality.


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