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Psychoanalytic Theory of Personality

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Psychoanalytic Theory of Personality

Have you ever seen images of someone lying on a couch talking to a therapist? You can thank psychoanalysis for that!

  • What is the psychoanalytic theory of personality?
  • What are Freud's levels of consciousness/mind?
  • What are Freud's three components of personality?
  • How do Freud's psychosexual stages impact personality?
  • Who are other psychoanalysts?

Psychoanalytic Theory of Personality: Definition

While nowadays psychoanalysis doesn't always include sharing your feelings while lying down, it did start like that.

Psychoanalytic theory of personality: a psychoanalytic approach that focuses on each person's unconscious thoughts, beliefs, and memories. It says that these traits affect our personalities and behaviors.

If you know anything about psychoanalysis, chances are there is one man who you immediately think of – Sigmund Freud. You're right to think of him first! Freud was the first person to develop this theory, and he was definitely the most vocal about his beliefs in it. It is his theories that many others based their own research on.

Freud's Psychoanalytic Theory of Personality

So, what exactly was Sigmund Freud's claim that led him to develop an entirely new theory and become famous?

Levels of Consciousness/Mind

To start, let's review what Freud claimed about the three levels of consciousness (or levels of mind) that each person possesses: consciousness, preconsciousness, and unconsciousness.

Consciousness

Freud claimed that all humans have a conscious mind that contains everything that's going on that they're aware of. The conscious mind includes any feelings, thoughts, and even memories that are easy to remember. It's all the stuff we know and are aware of.

Preconsciousness

The preconscious is the level right below the conscious. The preconscious mind consists of anything that is not in the conscious but could be very easily recalled and become conscious.

Imagine you forgot to write a specific ingredient down on your shopping list, but you still remembered to get it once you were in the supermarket. In this situation, the preconscious mind was at work. Although you had forgotten to put it on your list, when you got to the supermarket, you easily pulled it from the preconscious to the conscious.

Unconsciousness

The third and final level of consciousness is the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind is anything that is repressed, seemingly forgotten, or any feeling or thought that is not on a conscious level. This could include childhood animosity towards a parent, bullying, or abuse. Freud believed that the unconscious mind significantly impacts human behavior, choices, and thoughts.

The three levels of consciousness are easily compared to an iceberg. Icebergs are known to have a smaller part showing compared to what lies within the waters (sorry, Titanic):

  • The conscious mind is the part of the iceberg that you can see. You are fully aware of the top of the iceberg, just like what goes on in your conscious mind.

  • The preconscious mind is the part of the iceberg that is right below the surface of the water. This part is almost able to be seen but isn't fully in view. Just like this part of the iceberg, the stuff that is part of your preconscious is readily able to be accessed (or seen).

  • The unconscious mind is the third part of the iceberg. This part of the iceberg is completely unseen by anyone looking at the iceberg from above the water. The unconscious mind is the same. It is usually inaccessible and exists without anyone knowing.

Freud's theory of personality iceberg, StudySmarterFreud's personality theory iceberg, Wikimedia Commons.

Freud's Three Personality Systems

One of Freud's most well-known theories is that of personality. Freud believed that everyone's personality is comprised of three distinct parts – the id, ego, and superego. These three parts work together to create a person's personality. Freud also stated that if these three aspects of personality do not work together, then the person will be left with a maladaptive personality.

Maladaptive personality: If someone has a maladaptive personality, they struggle socially with relationships, adapting to new situations, and their mental health in general.

Id

The id is something that every person is born with. It is completely unconscious and hosts all the power that fuels our personality. Freud claimed that each person's id is a follower of the pleasure principle – to avoid tension and only do things that bring pleasure. Each person's id is completely self-absorbed and illogical.

You can think about the id as your super selfish friend. They're only concerned with themselves and doing things that make them happy, and they don't care at all about anything or anyone else.

Superego

The superego is the partially conscious, partially unconscious aspect of our personality that is responsible for making good decisions. According to Freud, the superego is the last aspect of our personality to develop. It is driven by our conscience and makes us feel guilty when we do not make the correct decisions. The ego-ideal is the part of the superego that is responsible for making us feel proud of ourselves.

You can think of the superego as your friend who is always trying to make you do the right thing.

Ego

The final component of Freud's theory of personality is the ego. The ego, just like the superego, is partially conscious and partially unconscious. It is responsible for acting as the middleman to the id and the superego, trying to keep both of these aspects of our personalities in check. The ego makes sure that we balance our impulses with the parts of our lives that are focused on the long-term.

You can think of the ego as your friend who always acts as the therapist or mediator between other friends whenever there's a fight.

Drawing of a woman with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. StudySmarterThe id (devil), ego (person), and superego (angel), Pixabay.

The ego can get overburdened by threats, such as something that would cause a lowered self-esteem or a bad public self-image. When this happens, the ego will enact a defense mechanism to protect itself. The most common defense mechanism is repression. Repression means that someone is actively trying to force memories, thoughts, or emotions from their conscious (or preconscious) mind into their unconscious mind. This is also called unconscious forgetting or motivated forgetting.

Freud's Psychosexual Development on Personality

Freud also believed that there are stages we pass through when growing up that also impact our personalities. Each stage has a fixation that needs to be overcome in order for the person to pass to the next stage. If someone does not overcome that fixation, it then becomes a part of their personality.

Freud's first stage is the oral stage which happens from birth to one year old. During this time, the baby is investigating their environment with their mouth through biting, sucking, and chewing. Inevitably, at some point during the time in which a baby is breastfed, the mother will slowly stop the child from doing so.

If this stop from breastfeeding is upsetting and distressing, the child might end up with a permanent consequence on their adult personality. The baby could later be an overeater, have an oral-aggressive personality (verbally abusive, sarcastic, or hostile), or be argumentative.

Each stage has its own potential fixation that could impact a person's personality down the line.

To read more about Freud's Psychosexual Development, click here!

Strengths of Freud's Psychoanalytic Theory of Personality

One of the most prominent strengths of Freud's psychoanalytic theory is the role that childhood plays in adult life. He highlighted the stages and struggles that children might have during these times. This focus on the idea that mental health during childhood later affects mental health in adulthood has helped to develop an understanding of the importance of childhood mental health.

Another strength of this theory is its encouragement of introspection. Since there is such a focus on our levels of mind and memories, this can cause people to turn inward and take a closer look at their own thoughts, experiences, and past memories.

Psychoanalysis has positively impacted the field of psychology through its encouragement of talking through problems. While psychoanalysis is famous (or maybe even infamous) for the image of the patient lying down on a couch and talking about their feelings, it truly did open the door for types of therapy that are still influential today.

Drawing of a person lying on a couch talking to another person sitting in a chair. StudySmarterPsychoanalysis is famous for the image of the patient lying down on a couch, Pixabay.

Psychoanalytic Theory of Personality Examples

While Freud was certainly the man who made psychoanalysis mainstream, there were other psychologists who also contributed research to the psychoanalytic theory, such as Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, and Karen Horney.

Carl Jung

Carl Jung's theory falls into the psychoanalytic category, but his thoughts fall more on the analytic side. Jung disagreed with Freud's psychosexual stages and instead focused on the effects that previous generations have on our personality. He believed the personality contains the ego, the personal unconscious, the collective unconscious, and the self.

Jung stated that the personal unconscious was the part of us that stored our memories, impulses, and aspects of our personalities that are unique. The parts of our personality that are housed by the personal unconscious impact our attitudes. The collective unconscious is the part of us that stores universal memories – ones that are passed down generationally and are inherited.

Jung believed that the purpose of personality is individuation. Individuation, for Jung, meant that a personality was balanced and complete and that the person's self was at the center of all the other aspects of personality.

Alfred Adler

Alfred Adler had thoughts on the theory of personality that differed from Freud and Jung. Adler stated that social interest is the pivotal factor in personality development. He said that every human has inferiority complexes that they need to work through, which is done through social interest. Along with inferiority complexes, he also believed that people have a strong desire for superiority.

Adler claimed that our personalities are both hereditary and formed from our experiences. He also put forth the idea that birth order plays a role in personality development, with the firstborn being protective and the youngest being spoiled.

Karen Horney

Karen Horney brought a women's view into the field of psychoanalysts. She criticized the male-centered approach that Freud brought into his work. She denied Freud's claim that females have penis envy and said that they are jealous of their societal statuses instead. She also stated that it is a two-way street – males have womb envy.

She also claimed that personality is impacted by affection, hostility, and ending relationships. When someone is young, they employ all three of these tactics in order to deal with stress. If they are using all three factors by the time they are adults, they will be adjusted. However, if they are only relying on one factor, then they will struggle with mental health.

Classical Psychoanalytic Theory of Personality

As Sigmund Freud was the founder of psychoanalysis, the classical psychoanalytic theory of personality can be considered synonymous with Freud's psychoanalysis.

Psychoanalytic Theory of Personality - Key takeaways

  • Sigmund Freud was the founder of the psychoanalytic theory of personality.
  • Freud theorized three levels of mind: conscious (what you're aware of), preconscious (what you could be aware of if you chose to remember), and unconscious (repressed memories, thoughts, and feelings).
  • Freud theorized three parts of personality: id (impulsive, selfish), ego (mediator), and superego (trying to make the right decisions).
  • Freud theorized psychosexual stages of development that can lead to personality fixations.
  • Carl Jung (focus on the ancestors), Alfred Adler (focus on social interest), and Karen Horney (focus on how to deal with stress) were all other psychoanalysts.

Frequently Asked Questions about Psychoanalytic Theory of Personality

The structural model of personality in psychoanalytic theory is that personality is developed into the id, ego, and superego. 

The psychoanalytic theory of personality focuses on each person's unconscious thoughts, beliefs, and memories. It says that it is these traits that affect our personalities and behaviors. 

Freud's psychoanalytic theory focuses on the interactions between the id, ego, and superego. 

The basic idea of the psychoanalytic theory is that each person's unconscious memories and thoughts are able to impact the conscious ones. 

Sigmund Freud is the founder of the psychoanalytic theory of personality. 

Final Psychoanalytic Theory of Personality Quiz

Question

Who was Sigmund Freud?

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Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist known for inventing psychoanalysis

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What did Freud discover about personality?

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Freud found that there was more than just one single part to personality and that the three parts it is made up of all work together and influence one’s human behavior.

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Why was psychoanalytic theory of personality developed?


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Answer

Psychoanalytic theory of personality was developed by Sigmund Freud to show the idea that one should use therapy as a way to examine their mind and look at their experiences and feelings.

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How many parts is a person’s personality made up of according ot Sigmund Freud?


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3

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What are the three parts of one’s personality according to Freud?


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The three parts of one’s personality are the ID, the ego, and the superego.

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What is the id?


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The id is a core component of personality that every individual is born with. The id only wants pleasure and avoids anything that will cause pain. 

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What is the ego?


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Ego is the middleman between the id and superego, balancing impulses and long-term behaviors

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What is the superego?


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The superego acts as a moral compass and helps a person choose right over wrong

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What is a maladaptive personality?


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A maladaptive personality is one that can stop a person from being able to adapt and function in new or not easy situations because of the three systems of personality not working together 

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How many different levels of consciousness did Freud believe that there are?

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3

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What are the three different levels of consciousness?


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The three different levels of consciousness are consciousness, preconsciousness, and unconsciousness.

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According to Freud, what falls into the conscious mind?

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Everything -- feelings, thoughts, memories -- that a person is aware of at any given moment 

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According to Freud, what falls into the preconscious mind?


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Anything that we aren't consciously remembering or thinking of, but could be easily pulled into consciousness if we needed to

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According to Freud, what falls into the unconscious mind?


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Anything that is repressed or (seemingly) forgotten such as childhood abuse or bullying

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Who is credited for discovering the psychoanalytic theory of personality?


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Sigmund Freud

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How does Freud's psychosexual development affect personality?

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If a child is unable to move past their stage's fixation, the fixation will impact their adult personality 

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What did Carl Jung theorize about the psychoanalytic theory of personality? 

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That the generations before us impact our personalities through shared memories

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What did Alfred Adler theorize about the psychoanalytic theory of personality? 


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Humans have inferiority complexes they need to move past, we have strong desire for superiority, and birth order impacts personality 

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What did Karen Horney theorize about the psychoanalytic theory of personality? 


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She stated that Freud was not correct in his male-centered view of psychoanalysis. She said that men get womb envy, women are not jealous of a man's penis but rather their social status, and personality is impacted by how we deal with stress. 

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Select the THREE levels of the mind: 

(According to Freud) 

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Consciousness

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True or False: Freud claimed that all humans have a conscious mind that contains everything that's going on that they're aware of. 

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True 

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Fill in the blank: The _________ mind includes any feelings, thoughts, and even memories that are easy to remember. 

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Answer

conscious  

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Fill in the blank: Freud believed that the ____________ mind significantly impacts human behavior, choices, and thoughts.   

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Answer

unconscious 

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True or False: If someone has a maladaptive personality, they struggle socially with relationships, adapting to new situations, and their mental health in general. 

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Answer

True 

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According to Freud, which part of each person's personality is a follower of the pleasure principle? 

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Answer

The Id 

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According to Freud, which part of our personality is completely unconscious? 

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The Id 

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Which part(s) of our personality is partially conscious and partially unconscious? 

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The Ego 

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According to Freud, what is the last aspect of our personality to develop? 

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The Superego 

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According to Freud, which part of our personality is driven by our conscience and makes us feel guilty when we do not make the correct decisions? 

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Answer

The Superego 

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Fill in the blank: The ____ makes sure that we balance our impulses with the parts of our lives that are focused on the long-term.  

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Answer

ego 

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Fill in the blank: The ____ can get overburdened by threats, such as something that would cause a lowered self-esteem or a bad public self-image.  

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Answer

ego

Show question

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Which psychologist stated that the personal unconscious was the part of us that stored our memories, impulses, and aspects of our personalities that are unique? 

Show answer

Answer

Carl Jung 

Show question

Question

Which psychologist claimed that our personalities are both hereditary and formed from our experiences? 

Show answer

Answer

Alfred Adler 

Show question

Question

Which psychologist put forth the idea that birth order plays a role in personality development, with the firstborn being protective and the youngest being spoiled? 

Show answer

Answer

Alfred Adler 

Show question

Question

Which psychologist claimed that personality is impacted by affection, hostility, and ending relationships? 

Show answer

Answer

Karen Horney 

Show question

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