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Personality Theories Essays

Identical twins, Jack and Oskar, dressed alike, read alike, talked alike, responded to stress or anger in similar ways and even interacted socially in an almost identical manner. This would not shock many, as the boys were after all twins, but what is remarkable about Oskar and his brother Jack is that Oskar was raised in Germany as a catholic and a Nazi and Jack was raised Jewish on an Israeli Kibbutz.
After having been separated at birth, the two men did not meet until well into their adulthood (Holden, 1980). Jack and Oskar’s story raises a point which has been separating scientists and psychologists alike for dozens of years; what shapes one’s personality? In the case above, one might argue without the shadow of a doubt that personality is genetic, others might argue that the way those children were raised, impacted on their personalities and so on.
There are six theories of personality, all differing from one to the other, yet attempting to understand and describe the structure of personality and to study the individual differences within personality. In other words personality psychologists seek to understand how are people similar but also, how they differ. Psychodynamic theories and Humanistic theories will be reviewed, compared and contrasted in order to gain a better understanding of personality and perhaps gain a better insight on Jack and Oskar’s case.
First it is important to understand what personality is; Personality refers to the enduring patterns of behavior, feeling, motivation and thought that one expresses in different circumstances (Burton, Western & Kowalski, 2009). One can say that personality is consistent and although there are many outside influences acting upon an individual at any given moment, personality can to an extent, predict how a person is likely to respond and behave to certain situations (Atkinson, Atkinson & Hilgard, 1983).
As mentioned above, personality psychologists use various theories in order to understand how individuals resemble one another and how they differ, but all agree that personality lies under all psychological processes (cognition, emotion and behavior) and thus that personality is not simply one’s motives, nor the way one interacts with people or even solves problems but the manner in which one’s motives, emotions, and thoughts interact in given situations to produce responses which are characteristically true to an individual (Atkinson, Atkinson & Hilgard).
For example; if observing the spectators of a scary movie, most individuals will experience fear as a result of the film but the ways in which they express and deal with the fear come from within the individual and is unique. In order to contrast and compare the two personality theories chosen, one must comprehend what they each entail. Psychodynamic theories view personality and behavior as predetermined by the outcomes of unconscious forces which exist and clash within all individuals (Burton, Westen & Kowalski, 2009).
This implies that personality is fixed and that individuals do not control their own fate. Psychodynamic theorists argue that personalities are unconsciously shaped in early childhood by both biological and psychological forces (Burton, Westen & Kowalski). The various stages of development leave the individual with unresolved emotional conflict between his thoughts and urges, a conflict which affects the thoughts of behavior of the individual into adulthood (Burton, Westen & Kowalski).
Psychoanalysis delves into an individual’s unconscious in order to understand the source of internal conflict in order to solve psychological problems (Atkinson, Atkinson & Hilgard, 1983). Sigmund Freud is considered to be the father of psychodynamic theories. According to Freud, psychological forces such as intentions and fears have an intensity and direction and when several such motives collide, the balance of these forces determines an individual’s behavior (Atkinson, Atkinson & Hilgard). He described those interconnected sources of psychic energy as the id, the ego and the super ego.
The id is the source of sexual and aggressive energy, driven by impulses and seeks instant gratification. The super ego is the conscience, the parental voice which counterbalances the id. The ego balances the id, desire and the super ego, morality. It obeys the reality and is responsible for cognition and problem solving (Atkinson, Atkinson & Hilgard). When the ego fails to resolve conflicts, a series of defense mechanism take place within the individuals such as denial or repression which unconsciously shape an individual’s personality (Atkinson, Atkinson & Hilgard).
Similarly Freud argued that personality was formed and established within the first six years of a person’s life. Once more, if the id or super ego dominates the ego at any stage of development, then the individual will be left struggling with an inner conflict associated to that stage for the rest of his life. Those inner conflicts can take various forms, from aggressive behavior to timidity (Burger, 2008). Freud hypothesized five stages of development; the oral tage, the anal stage, the phallic stage, the latency stage, and the genital stage. Although Freud’s theories might seem a bit dated in today’s society, psychodynamic theories emphasise that human thoughts and actions are laced with meaning and that understanding the various meanings of a person’s behavior requires one to be listening intently for ideas and fears or even wishes, which an individual might not have been aware of, in order to understand the subtle and multiple aspects of one’s personality (Burton, Westen & Kowalski, 2009).
On the other hand, Humanistic theories argue that the individual defines and is master of their own destiny and are thus free to make decisions about their lives. It emphasizes a person’s uniqueness and free will (Atkinson, Atkinson & Hilgard, 1983). It stresses upon the ideas that humans are; at a higher level of evolution than animals and that as a consequence they cannot be studied in laboratories or generalized. Humans are rational and conscious and that one’s personality is not defined by unconscious forces.
Humanistic theorists argue that one’s subjective view is more important than the objective reality and that humans have a huge capacity for growth and self-development (Burton, Westen & Kowalski, 2009). This approach is arguably, the most relevant in such fields as counseling, nursing and so on. Humanistic theories have made a number of contribution to the study of personality as it focuses on the way humans inspire to find meaning in their lives, which up until then, had not been considered as a possible factor to personality (Coolican, 2007).
However relevant to the study of personality both theories are, humanistic theories and psychodynamic theories vastly differ from one another. Unlike psychodynamic theories, humanistic theories do not offer a comprehensive, all-encompassing theory of personality. It doesn’t offer a general theory of cognition, emotion or psychological disorders and unlike psychodynamic theories, it does not offer a body of testable hypotheses as it rejects the idea of human beings being predictable and measurable (Atkinson, Atkinson & Hilgard, 1983).
The foundation of the humanistic approach of personality is therefore based on improvable theories. Similarly, one could argue that Humanistic theories and Psychodynamic theories are in complete opposition. Indeed Humanistic theorists believe that one creates one’s personality whereas Psychodynamic theories take a deterministic approach, that personality is unconsciously set and determined (Burger, 2008). Humanistic theorists argue that human beings are utterly capable of improving themselves and are thus capable of change.
They believe this is due to one’s level of consciousness and self-awareness; a concept which utterly contradicts the psychodynamic approach which states that one is but the mere victim of unconscious quarrelling forces (Burger). Let’s examine a basic human reaction: aggression. A psychodynamic theorist would argue that aggression stems from an unconscious death instinct, that which all human beings hold. Freud argued that all human beings have an unconscious desire to self-destruct but that the way our id, ego and super ego interacts, defines how pronounced this need is within individuals.
A healthy personality would not hurt themselves because their self-destructive impulses are unconsciously turned outward and expressed towards others in an aggressive manner (Burger). Therefore humans are born to be aggressive. Other psychodynamic theorists might argue that aggression stems from frustration. An individual which finds himself unable to accomplish his goal might unconsciously turn this frustration into an aggressive behavior (Burger).
No matter the true reason for aggressive behavior, the individual would not be aware of the real, underlying causes which trigger such behavior (Burger). The humanistic approach on the other hand would argue that aggressive behavior is the result of interference with a being’s natural growth process (Burger, 2008). They do not believe that humans’ are born violent or angry but on the contrary, that the true human nature is to be good. They argue that if individuals are allowed to grow in a positive, enriching environment, then they will become happy, non-violent adults (Burger).
Humanistic theorists believe that individuals are conscious of their behaviors and that when constantly denied their basic needs, they will become aggressive but that behavior will disappear once their needs are once more met (Burton, Westen & Kowalski, 2009). Similarly, psychoanalysis believes that depression is simply anger turned inwards. Freud believed that ‘depressed’ individuals held unconscious anger and that, in the same way that frustration turns into aggression, unconscious anger turns to depression (Burger, 2008).
However, Humanistic personality theorists reject the idea that a complex emotion such as depression can be explained with such terms. They believe that they are various explanations for depression and that each is unique to the individual (Burger). Those could include low self-esteem, stress, ect. (Burger). Thus humanistic theories acknowledge outside forces as well as internal ones in shaping one’s personality, whereas psychodynamic theories focus on internal unconscious desires (Burton, Westen & Kowalski, 2009).
Furthermore, some would argue that culture plays a crucial role in shaping personalities (Atkinson, Atkinson & Hilgard, 1983). The assumptions made by a psychologist from a western country about the way one describes and studies personalities might not apply to a different culture (Atkinson, Atkinson & Hilgard). This goes beyond the assumption that different experiences in different cultures affect upon one’s personality development, but rather that human beings with their personalities exist within a cultural context (Atkinson, Atkinson & Hilgard).
Keeping this in mind, one can see a clear comparison between the humanistic theory and the psychodynamic theory. Indeed psychodynamic theorists seem to believe that human beings are virtually all the same thus the culture in which they develop is to an extent, irrelevant. However, humanistic theorists take into consideration the manner in which individuals are raised and the world around them, thus including the effects of cultures upon the shaping of one’s personality (Burton, Westen & Kowalski, 2009).
When looking back at Oskar and Jake’s case, one can see that both theories could be considered relevant. The case does not precise when the boys had been separated; was it at birth, was it during the oral stage, the anal stage, or perhaps even later? If considering the psychodynamic approach, one could argue that the children had already established their personalities by the time they were separated and were thus set to grow up as similar individuals and had no control over the matter.
However the humanistic theorist would argue that the manner in why they were raised is the cause for those similarities. Indeed being raised a catholic or a Jewish person does not reflect whether or not the children had their needs met or whether or not they grew up in an encouraging, loving household (Burton, Westen & Kowalski, 2009). Both parents could have raised their children in a similar atmosphere, although worlds apart. Thus, personality cannot fully be explained and understood using any particular approach.
Both the humanistic theory and the psychodynamic theory attempt to explain the human mind, its motivations and its behavior, as well as its consistencies and inconsistencies in order to understand what shapes an individual’s personality using different approaches. Although vastly different, both theories have their strengths and limitations and have helped shaped one’s understanding of personality by complementing what the other lacks and thus, together offer vital elements necessary in order to deconstruct a human being’s personality.

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