The Proprium

Allport clarified that personality is not a bundle of unrelated traits but they are traits in a personality that have between them consistency, unity and integration. This implies that personality has a clear organisation and structure and also is governed by certain important principles. This entire organisation was called by Allport the Proprium.

Let us see what is proprium.

According to Allport, proprium is the highest in the personality structure which consists of all aspects of personality which bring about inward unity and consistency in the personality of the individual. These aspects
together in the proprium govern the entire organisation of personality. The proprium contains within it dynamic and manifests itself in almost all aspects of human behaviour.

Let us see how this Proprium develops.

According to Allport, it develops through sevens stages and these stages are:

  1. Sense of body
  2. Self-identity
  3. Self-esteem
  4. Self-extension
  5. Self-image
  6. Rational coping
  7. Appropriate striving

An individual develops through the above sevens stages. In the beginning, the child is a bundle of a living being, and as it grows and develops many sensations develop and the child is able to understand its own body organs and many other aspects related to self. As the child continues to grow many other aspects emerge wherein the child is able to differentiate between his own body and the other things in the environment. From a sense of the whole, the child is able to differentiate the parts. Let us take this one by one and discuss:

1. Sense of body: (First 2 years of life)


As pointed out earlier, the child in the beginning stages has no idea about which is his body and which is that of another. Even a pillow is part of himself. As he experiences over a period of time, when the pillow is taken away by the mother, he realises that it is not part of his body. This idea of the sense of one’s own body develops as a result of experiences that the child goes through in its interaction with the environment. Allport went ahead and said that the aspects the child experiences as the most essential and which is warm and central and which gives him comfort are the most central aspects of his experience.

The sense of body has boundaries, that is, we all feel the pain, touch and many other sensations including movement, etc. which all contribute to our becoming aware of our own selves. Allport had a favourite demonstration of this aspect of self: Imagine spitting saliva into a cup – and then drinking it down! What’s the problem? It’s the same stuff you swallow all day long! But, of course, it has gone out from your bodily self and become, thereby, foreign to you.

2. Self-identity

Another aspect that develops during the first two years is what Allport called Self-identity. In course of his experience, the child is able to become aware that the pillow is not himself and the mother is not himself but the pillow can be brought to him and that he is separate from the pillow. This kind of realisation through experience continues on and the person is able to develop a sense of his own self called self-identity. This self-awareness leads to the recognition of oneself as having a past, present and future. The person is able to see himself as a separate entity who is separate from the pillow, from the mother and various others in his environment. This differentiation of the self from the whole is an important aspect of the development of self-identity. Every individual has a name and a family and this identity is entirely the individual’s own.

3. Self-esteem (2 to 4 years of age)

This aspect develops in the individual around the age of two to four years. The child is able to move around now and is able to accomplish many things that he never used to in the past due to the non-maturation of many of the organ systems. As the
child is growing and many of his organs are maturing he is able to make many movements both refined and non-refined and is able to reach his goals, as for instance to fetch a toy from another corner of the room etc. As the child experiences, many achievements and accomplishments he feels good about himself becomes more confident and tries to do things like climbing the stairs and reaching the rooms on the first floor etc. He is able to control also many of his reflexes in terms of controlling
his bowel and bladder. All these are appreciated by the caregivers and the child feels good about himself and thus develops a good concept about himself that he is capable and is appreciated. Thus he develops self-esteem which is positive. On the
other hand, if the experiences were in a negative direction the self-esteem would also have been negative.

4. Self-extension: (4 to 6 years)

The extension to oneself develops between four to six years of age. There are many things in the environment that are supplementary and complementary to the growth and development of the individual. The individual is able to understand that Mr X and Ms Y are his parents. They are his own. He lives in a place which again is his own, he has a room in which he studies and does a lot of things including listening to music etc. and these are all his own. Thus there is an extension of self here into many things in the environment which all are identified with himself. Some people as they grow up may even identify themselves with being a sportsman, an athlete or a swimmer etc. Few belong to a group or a clan or a gang and identify themselves with the same. And some identify themselves with an occupation such as being a psychologist or a doctor or a lawyer. Thus there is self-extension into many aspects of the environment.

5. Self Image ( 4 to 6 years)

Self-image means, the self of the person as others see it. It is a mirroring of one’s image by others. The impression that the individual makes on others by looks, clothes, behaviour etc. In addition, other aspects of self that are important include the social esteem or status one enjoys in society and in the social circle. It also includes a person’s sexual identity. Many times the ideal self and self-image may not be the same. While one may have an ideal image in mind as for example, one wants to be like Amitab Bachhan in looks and behaviour, the actual image may not be anywhere near it. In some cases, others may consider the individual as resembling someone in looks and behaviour, but the person concerned may consider his self-image as different. Thus there could be a discrepancy in the self-image and what others think about the person.

6. Rational coping (6-12 years)

As the individual grows up and his personality develops he is able to have higher cognitive functioning with an increase in his thinking abilities, decision making and memory capacities. These in turn help the individual to make decisions on many matters related to that age level. The person is able to now think rationally on many issues and is able to understand the pros and cons and takes relatively more appropriate decisions as compared to the earlier age levels. He puts in efforts to understand things and is able to accomplish far more tasks than before. This ability to cope with many life-related situations rationally is an important development that takes place during these years.

7. Proprium

Every individual has to finally take charge of his life. The individual has to be responsible for his thinking, actions and behaviours. After the varied experience in life the individual is able to look back on his goals, achievements and accomplishments, and then say now is the time he would try to spend on activities that give him internal satisfaction and a sense of fulfilment. This is almost akin to that of self-actualisation as put forward by Maslow, though in a number of ways it is different. The appropriate striving starts only after the age of 12 years and the individual is able to clearly identify his goals, what his future plans are and in which direction would he like to move and what is the purpose of his life etc. He is able to now say that he is the man in charge of his life and would like to do things as he wishes and desires. In all this of course the person acts rationally and logically.

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