Prominent Personality Theories

Table of Content

Both Carl Rogers’ and Abraham Maslow’s theories of healthy personality development involved concepts of self and self-actualization(or the self-actualizing tendency), yet their particular viewpoints on how the healthy personality came to fruition differed somewhat.  Whereas, Freud’s theory of development of the healthy personality did not involve the concept of a movement toward ultimate self-actualization, nor did it involve the self-actualizing tendency.  Freud’s theory was one of homeostasis, wherein the human strove to achieve homeostasis, or equilibrium, by reduction of tension (Pescitelli, 1996; Schoen, 1986; Kozier, et al, 1987).

Carl Rogers theory of personality development is one addressed from a human vantage; namely, Rogers believed that “the core of man’s nature is essentially positive”; he is a “trustworthy organism;” and that agency, free will, and self are all important components of development of the personality.   The self-actualizing tendency comes from our genetic makeup, itself causing each individual to strive for the best he can achieve with all his talents and attributes (Pescitelli, 1996).

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The actualizing tendency, as aforementioned, was Rogers’ term for the genetic blueprint’s underlying drive – directional and constructive – that causes an organism to “develop all capacities in ways that maintain or enhance the organism and move it toward autonomy.”  The organism as a whole has this actualizing tendency, which cannot be squelched sans death.  Conversely, parts of the organism individually, for instance the self, do not have this tendency. (Pescitelli, 1996)

Another important term to learn when incorporating Rogers’ theory is that of the phenomenal field.  The phenomenal field, in short, is the summation of all an organism’s “experiences available at a given moment, both conscious and unconscious.” Additionally, the self, another important construct Roger’s theory, materializes or comes into being when a portion of the “phenomenal field” becomes differentiated, wherein the self is formed.  The self is predominantly an organized set of characteristics the person feels are peculiar to himself, this set of characteristics having come from social evaluations he has experienced (Pescitelli, 1996).

The culmination of the healthy personality involves a successful combination of the self as perceived by the individual, the genetically inspired forward directional movement toward actualization, and a third component, namely, secondary needs (Pescitelli, 1996).

Secondary needs are met positively or negatively in childhood.  If secondary needs, such as the need for positive regard for self and for others, are developed unconditionally, then the self-concept incorporates these in a favorable manner.  If secondary needs are met only with set conditions, then the self-concept incorporates the needs in a negative manner.  The conditional secondary needs negatively affect the self-concept and also negatively influence the person’s perception of social interactions, thus negatively affecting the self when it is differentiated.  Then, the forward, directional genetic push toward autonomy is hindered (Pescitelli, 1996).

Rogers believed, however, that the therapy could heal those negative impacts upon the self and self-concept, thereby empowering the genetic blueprint to release the actualizing tendency once again (Pescitelli, 1996).

Abraham Maslow, a human needs theorist, developed his theory of human needs in the 1940’s.  Commonly referred to as Maslow’s hierarchy, his theory is pictorially represented by an equilateral triangle with 5 subdivisions or categories within the triangle (See Fig. 1).  These needs are ranked in order of the most basic, physiologic needs at the base of the triangle, with Safety and Security, Love and Belonging, and Self-esteem occurring in order upward until the pinnacle or apex is reached, that being the category of Self Actualization (Kozier, Erb, 1987).

The basic precepts of this theory are that the absence of fulfilling needs leads to sickness of the individual and a preoccupation of this individual to get these needs met in whatever way possible.  The needs contained within each level of the hierarchy must be met, or fulfilled, in order for the next level of needs to be of concern (Kozier, et al, 1987).

All needs must be met in each of the 4 proceeding levels in order for an individual to strive to meet the needs for self-actualization.  Though reaching this last level of needs is seen as a mark of maturity attained across the time continuum that is life, any person can again find himself having to deal with needs at lower levels at particular times in his life (Kozier, et al, 1987).  In summary, Maslow’s theory is based solely upon needs and getting them met.  The person is ill if needs go unmet completely or sometimes partially.

Halbert Dunn, another humanist, developed his model of needs in 1958.  Dunn presented a “series of needs that the individual must meet to achieve a state of maximum functioning or high-level wellness.”  Dunn’s series of needs are as such:  “survival, communication, fellowship, growth, imagination, love, balance, environment, communication with the universe, philosophy of living, dignity, freedom, and space”  (Kozier, et al, 1987 p. 313).

Though Dunn has given these essential needs different names, both he and Maslow agrees that different needs will assume more importance to an individual at different times and in different situations during the life cycle (Kozier, et al, 1987).

One last human needs theorist, Jourard, whose theory was outlined in 1963, believed that people actually ranked needs according to their own preferences.  This negated any necessity for a linear or progressive fulfillment of needs.  To Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Jourard added health (physical and mental), freedom, challenge, cognitive clarity, and a need for a variety of experiences (Kozier, et al, 1987).

Sigmund Freud’s theory of personality holds that the personality is divided into three segments — the id, ego, and superego.  Additionally, Freud believed that the personality of an individual is formed by the age of six, predominantly by the interactions between the child and the parents, or caregivers.  Freud believed that all behavior is a result of the drive for various sexual pleasures.

According to Freud, the personality develops through 5 psychosexual stages; namely, oral, anal, phallic, latent, and genital stages.  The individual with a well-balanced, healthy personality is the one whose ego mediates successfully between the impulse-driven id and the legalistic superego.  Although Freud’s theory does have a deterministic view, it does leave room for improvement and change throughout the life cycle (Schoen, 1986).

In summary, all the theorists outlined here have at the root of their theories the needs of human beings.  Healthy personality development is based on if and how well human needs are met.  All theorists except Freud see the well-established, happy, fulfilled personality as one in which all needs are successfully met, thus allowing growth toward full potential.  Freud, however, had a more static theory that entailed the healthy personality as one that achieved avoidance of tension, thus allowing homeostasis.


  1. Schoen Johnson, B. (1986). Psychiatric Mental Health: Nursing Adaptation and Growth. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott.
  2. Pescitelli, D. (1996). An Analysis of Carl Rogers Theory of Personality.  Personality & Consciousness – Carl Rogers’ Theory of Personality. Retrieved February 3, 2007, from cat=carl_rogers&page=rogerian_theory.
  3. Kozier, B, & Erb, G. Fundamentals of Nursing Concepts and Procedures, 3rd Edition. Menlo Park:  Addison-Wesley Publishing.

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