Chapter 11: Personality

Personality – An individual’s characteristic pattern of thinking, feeling, and acting.

Psychoanalytic Perspective

In his clinical practice, Freud encountered patients suffering from nervous disorders. Their complaints could not be explained in terms of purely physical causes.

Psychodynamic Perspective – Freud’s clinical experience led him to develop the first

comprehensive theory of personality, which included the unconscious mind, psychosexual

stages, and defense mechanisms.

Exploring the Unconscious – A reservoir (unconscious mind) of mostly unacceptable thoughts, wishes, feelings, and memories. Freud asked patients to say whatever came to their minds (free association) in order to tap the unconscious.

Dream Analysis – Another method to analyze the unconscious mind is through interpreting manifest and latent contents of dreams.

Psychoanalysis – The process of free association (chain of thoughts) leads to painful, embarrassing unconscious memories. Once these memories are retrieved and released (treatment: psychoanalysis) the patient feels better.

Model of Mind

Personality Structure – Personality develops as a result of our efforts to resolve conflicts between our biological impulses (id) and social restraints (superego).

Id, Ego and Superego – The Id unconsciously strives to satisfy basic sexual and aggressive drives, operating on the pleasure principle, demanding immediate gratification.

Personality Development

Mister Fantastic, Human Torch, Invisible Woman, The Thing

Which characters in the Fantastic Four are dominated by the pleasure principle?  Which character is dominated by his superego?  Which character acts as ego like mediator?

Freud believed that personality formed during the first few years of life divided into psychosexual stages. During these stages the id’s pleasure-seeking energies focus on pleasure sensitive body areas called erogenous zones.

Psychosexual Stages

Oedipus Complex – A boy’s sexual desire for his mother and feelings of jealousy and hatred for the rival father. A girl’s desire for her father is called the Electra complex.

Identification – Children cope with threatening feelings by repressing them and by identifying with the rival parent. Through this process of identification, their superego gains strength that incorporates their parents’ values.

Defense Mechanisms – The ego’s protective methods of reducing anxiety by unconsciously distorting reality.

The Neo-Freudians

Like Freud, Adler believed in childhood tensions. However, these tensions were social in nature and not sexual. A child struggles with an inferiority complex during growth and strives for superiority and power.

Like Adler, Horney believed in the social aspects of childhood growth and development. She countered Freud’s assumption that women have weak superegos and suffer from “penis envy.”

Jung believed in the collective unconscious, which contained a common reservoir of images derived from our species’ past. This is why many cultures share certain myths and images such as the mother being a symbol of nurturance.

Assessing Unconscious Processes

Evaluating personality from an unconscious mind’s perspective would require a psychological instrument (projective tests) that would reveal the hidden unconscious mind.

Rorschach Inkblot Test – The most widely used projective test uses a set of 10 inkblots and was designed by Hermann Rorschach. It seeks to identify people’s inner feelings by analyzing their interpretations of the blots.

Projective Tests: Criticisms

Critics argue that projective tests lack both reliability (consistency of results) and validity (predicting what it is supposed to).

Evaluating the Psychoanalytic Perspective

The scientific merits of Freud’s theory have been criticized. Psychoanalysis is meagerly testable. Most of its concepts arise out of clinical practice, which are the after-the-fact explanation.

Evaluating the Psychoanalytic Perspective

Freud’s psychoanalytic theory rests on the repression of painful experiences into the unconscious mind.

Evaluating the Psychoanalytic Perspective

1) Personality develops throughout life and is not fixed in childhood.

2) Infants’ neural networks are not mature enough to process trauma the way Freud suggested.

3) Gender identity may develop before 5-6 years of age.

4) Freud’s ideas about childhood sexuality have a shaky basis

5) There may be other reasons for dreams besides wish fulfillment

6)Verbal slips can be explained on the basis of cognitive processing of verbal choices.

Suppressed sexuality leads to psychological disorders. Sexual inhibition has decreased, but psychological disorders have not.

The Modern Unconscious Mind

Modern research shows the existence of non-conscious information processing. This involves:

The Humanistic Perspective

Abraham Maslow’s Self-Actualizing Person

Carl Roger’s Person-Centered Perspective

Evaluating the Humanistic Perspective

Humanistic Perspective – By the 1960s, psychologists became discontent with Freud’s negativity and the mechanistic psychology of the behaviorists.

Self-Actualizing Person – Maslow proposed that we as individuals are motivated by a hierarchy of needs. Beginning with physiological needs, we try to reach the state of self-actualization—fulfilling our potential.

Person-Centered Perspective – Carl Rogers also believed in an individual’s self-actualization tendencies. He said that unconditional positive regard, along with genuineness and empathy are crucial for personal growth.

Assessing the Self – All of our thoughts and feelings about ourselves, in an answer to the question, “Who am I?” refers to Self-Concept.

Evaluating the Humanistic Perspective – Humanistic psychology has a pervasive impact on counseling, education, child-rearing, and management with its emphasis on a positive self-concept, empathy, and the thought that people are basically good and can improve.

Evaluating the Humanistic Perspective

Concepts in humanistic psychology are vague and subjective and lack scientific basis.

The individualism encouraged can lead to self-indulgence, selfishness, and an erosion of moral restraints.

Humanistic psychology fails to appreciate the reality of our human capacity for evil. It lacks adequate balance between realistic optimism and despair.

The Trait Perspective

Searching for Basic Personality Traits

The Big Five Factors

An individual’s unique constellation of durable dispositions and consistent ways of behaving (traits) constitutes his or her personality.

One way to condense the immense list of personality traits is through factor analysis, a statistical approach used to describe and relate personality traits.

Factor Analysis

Hans and Sybil Eysenck suggested that personality could be reduced down to two polar dimensions, extraversion-introversion and emotional stability-instability.

Biology and Personality

Assessing Traits

Personality inventories are questionnaires (often with true-false or agree-disagree items) designed to gauge a wide range of feelings and behaviors assessing several traits at once.

MMPI – The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is the most widely researched and clinically used of all personality tests. It was originally developed to identify emotional disorders.

The Big Five Factors – Today’s trait researchers believe that earlier trait dimensions, such as Eysencks’ personality dimensions, fail to tell the whole story. So, an expanded range (five factors) of traits does a better job of assessment.

Social-Cognitive Perspective

The Social-Cognitive Perspective

The Person

The Situation

The Interaction

Bandura (1986, 2001, 2005) believes that personality is the result of an interaction that takes place between a person and their social context.

The Person-Situation Controversy – Trait theorists argue that behaviors from a situation may be different, but average behavior remains the same.

Behavior – Behavior emerges from an interplay of external and internal influences.

Individuals & Environments – Specific ways in which individuals and environments interact

Assessing Behavior in Situations

Social-cognitive psychologists observe people in realistic and simulated situations because they find that it is the best way to predict the behavior of others in similar situations.

Exploring the Self – Research on the self has a long history because the self organizes thinking, feelings, and actions and is a critical part of our personality.

Benefits of Self-Esteem – Maslow and Rogers argued that a successful life results from a healthy self-image (self-esteem). The following are two reasons why low self-esteem results in personal problems.

Self-Serving Bias – We accept responsibility for good deeds and successes more than for bad deeds and failures. Defensive self-esteem is fragile and egotistic whereas secure self-esteem is less fragile and less dependent on external evaluation.

Culture & Self-Esteem – People maintain their self-esteem even with a low status by valuing things they achieve and comparing themselves to people with similar positions.

In Buddhism the three poisons affect personality in all humans.  The three poisons are represented as a pig (ignorance), rooster (attachment) and snake (aversion) in the Bhavacakra.

From “Three Poisons” Wikipedia:


“The three poisons have been compared to the Western psychological concepts of narcissism, desire, and anger.

Mark Epstein states:

The first wave of psychoanalysis, the classical period of Freud and his followers that extended into the 1950s, was primarily concerned with uncovering repressed desire and anger, or Eros and Thanatos, the life and death instincts, which in some way correspond to the Buddhist [concepts of attachment and aversion]. The next wave, of object relations and narcissism that has dominated the past thirty years, exposed the gap within: the emptiness, inauthenticity, or alienation that results from estrangement from our true selves and our confusion or ignorance about our own true natures. In the Buddhist view, this is the black hog of delusion [i.e. ignorance], the root or precondition of greed and hatred.[21]

Ron Leifer states:

The antithetical pair of desire and aversion are the twin foundations of modern behavioral psychology. The basic principle of behavioral psychology is that organisms are polarized around pain and pleasure. The desire for pleasure and the aversion to pain are regarded as the basic bipolarity of mind and the basic motivations of behavior. In this respect, behavioral psychology echoes Buddhism. Add self, or ego, to the pair and one has the nexus of our negativities.[22]

I would add that the three poisons in Buddhism are fundamental existentially based epistemological biases that should and can be transcended rather than necessary conditions of human existence.  In Western though the three poisons are not inherently flawed mental conditions but flawed when over done or leading to inappropriate behavior relative to the situation in question.  Buddhism suggests that the three poisons should be eliminated altogether in the quest for enlightenment while most Western psychology would suggest this is not possible or desirable.  A Western trained therapist would never suggest the elimination of anger is a desirable goal.  The elimination of inappropriate anger would be the goal in Western therapy.  An enlightened being in theory could transcend anger altogether.  Much of Western psychology has its roots in curing pathology rather than maximizing human potential and this inherent pathology bias in Western psychology bears examination and perhaps criticism.  Making connections between Buddhist psychology and Western psychology are is not an easy task but a necessary one if we are to create a truly global view of psychology that goes beyond Eurocentric bias in the social sciences.  At least Leifer and Epstein are trying to make connections between East and West even if they tend to ignore the very real differences between a Western and Buddhist view of psychology.

Also, Buddhism uses meditation as a means to optimize mental behavior. Western talk therapy tends to focus on verbal catharsis to deal with mental pathology. The following article makes some interesting connections between Buddhist practice and Western therapy:

Anyone interested in the interplay between Western Psychology and Buddhism should read:

Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama

An overview of the relationship between Buddhism and Western psychology at:

WereVerse Universe Baby!

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