The proponent of this theory is Sigmund Freud, who believed that human behaviour is brought about by inner forces over which the individual has little control. He was of the view that both conscious and unconscious forces influence the personality of an individual.
The Structure of Personality
Freud likens that the human mind to an iceberg. In terms of the thoughts and impulses in our minds, we are only aware of the “tip of the iceberg.” He put forward three constituents of personality the id, the ego, and the superego.
Id is conceived as a reservoir of instinctual energy that contains biological urges such as impulses toward survival, sex, and aggression. The id is unconscious and operates according to the pleasure principle, the drive to achieve pleasure and avoid pain. The id is characterised by primary process thinking, which is illogical, irrational, and motivated by a desire for the immediate gratification of impulses. its goal is the immediate gratification of the needs and reduction of tension caused by the emergence of needs.
This is the “I” of the Personality. An executive, which develops as the child interacts more and more with the world. It acts as the buffer between the id and the world’s realities. Ego’s job is to meet the needs of the id while taking into consideration the reality of the situation. The ego is responsible for higher cognitive functions such as intelligence, thoughtfulness, and learning.
The ego is considered as the component that manages the conflict between the id and the constraints of the real world. Some parts of the ego are unconscious, while others are preconscious or conscious. The ego operates according to the reality principle, the awareness that gratification of impulses has to be delayed in order to accommodate the demands of the real world. The ego is characterised by secondary process thinking, which is logical and rational. The ego’s role is to prevent the id from gratifying its impulses in socially inappropriate ways.
This is the moral arm of the personality. According to Freud, a child learns to obey parents and caregivers by controlling the many Id unpulsed, learn to let training, does things as requires by parents, the child also incorporate. The superego represents the rights and wrongs of society.
It contains all the moral standards learned from parents and society. The superego forces the ego to conform not only to reality but also to its ideals of morality. Hence, the superego causes people to feel guilty when they go against society’s rules. Like the ego, the superego operates at all three levels of awareness.
There are two parts of the superego: the conscience and the ego-ideal.
- The conscience includes information about things that are viewed as bad by parents and society. These behaviours are often forbidden and lead to bad consequences, punishments or feelings of guilt and remorse.
- The ego ideal includes the rules and standards for good behaviours. These behaviours include those which are approved of by parental and other authority figures. Obeying these rules leads to feelings of pride, value, and accomplishment.
Freud believed that the majority of what we experience in our lives, the underlying emotions, beliefs, feelings, and impulses are not available to us at a conscious level. He put forward and the concept of conscious, preconscious, and unconscious. These are explained below:
The conscious mind includes everything that is in our awareness. This is that aspect of our mental processing which we can think and talk about in a rational way. For example: consciously we know we have to go for a painful test. But we forget the appointment on that day when we have to go for the test. Our consciousness makes up a very small part of who we are. The former is conscious the latter is unconscious.
A reservoir of unacceptable or unpleasant feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories that lie outside of our conscious awareness. Freud believed that most of what drives us is buried in our unconscious. The role of the unconscious is only one part of the model.
This is not in our active consciousness but can be accessed if prompted, for example: our old telephone number, some childhood memories, etc. which are stored in the preconscious. It’s right below the surface but still buried somewhat unless we search for it.
Also read what is puberty ?
When the ego is threatened by unconscious impulses, it employs defense mechanisms to protect the conscious self. These are called Ego Defense Mechanisms or Defenses. When the ego has a difficult time making both the id and the superego happy, it will employ one or more of the following defenses.
|1. Denial||Arguing against an anxiety-provoking|
stimuli by stating that it doesn’t exist
|Denying that your physician’s diagnosis of|
cancer is incorrect and seeking a second opinion
|2. Displacement||Passing on the impulses on a less|
|Slamming a door instead of hitting a person.|
Yelling at spouse after an argument with the boss
|3. Intellectualisation||Avoiding unacceptable emotions by|
focusing on the intellectual aspects
|Focusing on the details of the funeral arrangements|
as opposed to the sadness and grief
|4. Projection||Passing off the unacceptable impulses|
in within self onto someone else
|When a person indulges in a promiscuous relationship|
and feels guilty states that the other person is preconscious.
|5. Rationalisation||Supplying a logical or rational reason as|
opposed to the real reason
|Stating that you were fired because you didn’t kiss the boss,|
when the real reason was your poor performance
|6. Reaction formation||Taking the opposite belief because the|
true belief causes anxiety
|Having a bias against a particular race or culture|
and then embracing that race or culture to the extreme
|7. Regression||Returning to a previous stage of|
|A child who is toilet trained starts wetting the|
bed after new sibling arrival.
|8. Repression||Pushing things into the conscious.||Forgetting sexual abuse from ends childhood due|
to the trauma and anxiety, cured.
|9. Sublimation||Acting out unacceptable impulses |
in a socially acceptable way
|Sublimating one’s aggressive impulses|
toward a career as a boxer. Becoming a
surgeon because of one’s desire to cut. Lifting
weights to release ‘pent up energy
Apart from the defense mechanisms, another important part of personality development is the manner in which it unfolds.
Psychosexual Stages of Development
In Freud’s view, personality develops through five psychosexual stages of development. These stages are considered psychosexual in nature because they are characterised by changes in how the child seeks physical pleasure from sexual sensitive parts of the body, called erogenous zones.
There are in all five stages of development.
Oral Stage (Birth-18 Months)
The oral stage spans the period of birth through about 12 to 18 months of age. During this stage, the primary erogenous zone is the mouth. The infant seeks sexual pleasure by sucking at its mother’s breast and mouthing or, later, biting objects that happen to be nearby, including the parent’s fingers. Whatever fits into the mouth goes into the mouth.
Too much gratification in the oral stage may lead to oral fixations in adulthood such as smoking, nail-biting, alcohol abuse, and overeating. Too little gratification, perhaps from early-weaning, may lead to the development of traits that suggest a failure to have needs met for nurturance and care during infancy, such as passivity, clinging dependence and a pessimistic outlook.
Anal Stage (18 -36 Months)
By about the age of 18 months, the child has entered the anal stage. The anal cavity becomes the primary erogenous zone as the child develops the ability to control elimination by contracting and releasing the sphincter muscles at will. Yet this stage, which lasts until about age 3, is set for conflict between the parents and the child around the issue of toilet training.
Sexual gratification is obtained through contraction and relaxation of the muscles that control elimination (Fixation may lead to anal-retentive or anal-expulsive traits). The child either becomes anal expulsive – disorganized and often late for appointments, etc., or anal-retentive – highly controlled, rigid, and compulsively neat.
Phallic Stage (3 – 6 Years)
During the phallic stage, which roughly spans the ages of 3 to 6, the erogenous zone shifts to the phallic region- the penis in male and the clitoris in females. Conflicts with parents over masturbation ( self-stimulation of the phallic area ) may emerge at this time.
But the core conflict of the phallic stage is the Oedipus complex, which involves the development of incestuous desires for the parent of the opposite sex that leads to a rivalry with the parent of the same sex.
- Oedipus complex: A conflict of the phallic stage in which the boy wishes to possess his mother sexually and perceives his father as a rival.
- Electra complex: Similar to the Oedipus complex in that a young girl longs for her father and resents her mother.
Freud named the Oedipus complex after the ancient Greek myth of Oedipus the King- the tragic story of Oedipus who unwittingly slew his father and married his mother. He believed that this ancient tale revealed a fundamental human truth about psychosexual development.
Some of Freud’s followers dubbed the female version of the Oedipus complex the Electra complex, after another figure in ancient Greek tragedy, Electra who avenged her father’s death by killing his murderers- her own mother and her mother’s lover.
Latency Stage (6 years to Puberty)
The turbulent psychic crisis of the phallic period gives way to be period of relative tranquillity- the latency stage, spanning the years between about 6 and puberty. The latency stage is so named because of the belief that sexual impulses remain latent (dormant) during this time- a time when the child’s psychological energies are focussed on other pursuits such as school and play activities, making friendships, and acquiring skills.
The pressures of the Oedipus and Electra complexes cause children to repress their sexual urges and enter a period of latency where their urges remain unconscious.
Genital Stage (Puberty- Adulthood)
The child enters the final stage of psychosexual development, the genital stage, at about the time of puberty. The forsaken incestuous desires for the parent of the opposite sex give rise to yearnings for more appropriate sexual partners of the opposite gender.
Girls may be attracted to boys who resemble “dear old Dad” while the boy may seek “the kind of girl who married dear old Dad.” Sexual energies seek expression through mature (genital) sexuality in the form of sexual intercourse in marriage and the bearing of children.
The mature stage of psychosexual development, characterized by the preferred expression of libido via intercourse
with an adult of the opposite gender.
- Libido: According to Freud, energy generated by sexual instinct.
- Fixation: According to Freud, a partial or complete halt at some point in the individual’s psychosexual development.
- Reaction Formation may occur, which would be taking the lingering desire for pleasure from some source and acting in the opposite way.
Evaluation of Freud’s psychosexual theory of personality
- Difficult to test, but the evidence that has been gathered is not favorable.
- The crucial events (for example, how the libido is used) are unobservable, and there are no good means to measure them.
- There is an awfully long time between the occurrence of the causal stimulus and its presumed effect. Relationships between early events and later traits tend to be weak and inconsistent.
- This theory of development was conceived without studying children; rather, it was developed from patients’ recollections, dreams, and free associations.
According to Freud, personality development gets completed by the time the child is 5 years of age, after which not many changes of personality can be explained. Then the child even at 2 years will have that personality he had when he was 5 years of age.