Humanistic Approaches to Positive Growth and Self-Acceptance

Freud’s Psychoanalytical Theory


Key ideas:

  • Catharsis
  • Free association
  • Determinism
  • Resistance
  • Seduction theory (revised form)

Neoanalytic Perspective:

  • Minimized Freud’s emphasis on the sexual factor

The Role of Conscious, Preconscious, and Unconscious Forces in Personality

  • Conscious: state of the mind characterized by awareness of one’s experiences
  • Preconscious: state of the mind in which the person is currently unaware of some idea, memory, or event, which can, however, be made conscious with some effort
  • Unconscious: depository of hidden wishes, needs, and conflicts of which the person is unaware

Instincts: The Driving Forces in Personality
Instincts have four basic characteristics:

  • A source in some bodily deficit
  • An aim that focuses on the gratification of the need
  • An impetus that propels the person to act
  • An object through which the instinct achieves its aim

Life instincts:

  • Eros: all of the instincts inherent in us that seek to maintain life
  • We are motivated to satisfy our hunger, thirst, and sexual needs
  • Libido: basic energy source contained in the id that propels behavior

Death instincts:

  • Thanatos: instinct aimed at returning to an inorganic state (death)

The individual versus society:

  • Individuals must seek realistic ways of gratifying their impulses through behavior that is in line with the prescriptions of society

Structural Theory of Personality and Its Dynamics

Three constructs were postulated (id, ego, and superego) that described the ways in which these parts of personality originated and interacted with one another dynamically to influence behavior

Id: original aspect of personality rooted in the biology of the individual; consists of unconscious sexual and aggressive instincts

  • Amoral and unconcerned with niceties and conventions of society
  • Pleasure principle: people always strive to maximize pleasure and minimize pain

Ego: organized aspect of id, formed to provide realistic direction for a person’s impulses

Superego: construct which describes the individual’s internalization of societal values

  • Conscience: punitive aspect of the superego; violation of the conscience makes the person feel guilty or ashamed
  • Ego-ideal: positive aspect of the superego, comprising the standards of perfection taught to the child by the parents


  • Ego serves to protect a person against anxiety caused by the conflicting demands of the id and superego
  • Primary defenses:

Repression: unpleasant memories are situated in the unconscious to keep them from reaching consciousness and causing pain

  • Cathexes vs. anticathexes

Suppression: individual’s active and conscious attempt to stop anxiety-provoking thoughts by simply not thinking about them

Denial: a person’s refusal to perceive an unpleasant event in external reality

Displacement: unconscious attempt to obtain gratification for id impulses by shifting them to substitute objects

Sublimation: form of displacement in which a socially acceptable goal replaces one that is unacceptable

Regression: person reverts to infantile behavior to alleviate stress

Projection: attribution of undesirable characteristics to others

Reaction formation: conversion of an undesirable impulse into its opposite

Rationalization: use of plausible but inaccurate justifications to explain behavior

Intellectualization: isolating thoughts about painful events from one’s feelings

Undoing: way of making amends for a socially unacceptable act by performing a socially acceptable act that nullifies the misdeed

Compromise formation: use of contradictory behaviors to gain some satisfaction for an undesirable impulse

Theory of Psychosexual Development

  • Fixation: defensive attachment to an earlier stage of development; stymies development toward maturity
  • Oral stage: first pregenital stage of psychosexual development in which primary gratifications center around the mouth
  • Anal stage: second pregenital stage of psychosexual development in which primary gratification centers around the anal cavity
  • Phallic stage: third pregenital stage of psychosexual development in which main gratifications are derived from manipulation of the genitals

Oedipal complex: male child desires sexual contact with the mother, feels threatened by the father, and eventually resolves the conflict by identifying with the father

Identification: taking on the characteristics of another person as a means of relieving anxieties

  • Latency stage: period during which libidinal energy lies dormant and the primary focus is on the development of interests and skills through contact with childhood peers and teachers
  • Genital stage: final stage of psychosexual development in which an attempt is made to conduct a mature love relationship with a member of the opposite sex

Character Types

  • Oral character

Oral receptive character: an individual who becomes fixated because of overindulgence during feeding

  • As an adult, this person is characterized by gullibility, admiration for others, and excessive dependence

Oral aggressive character: an individual who becomes fixated because of underindulgence during feeding

  • As an adult, this person is characterized by envy, manipulation of others, and suspiciousness
  • Anal character

Anal eroticism: feelings of sexual pleasure that have their source in the person’s control over expulsion and retention of feces

  • Stems from difficulties during toilet training, when children are locked in a battle over power and control with their parents

Anal character: an individual fixated at the anal stage, who derives pleasure from his/her control over retention of feces

  • As an adult, this person is characterized by stinginess, orderliness, stubbornness, and the hoarding of possessions
  • Phallic character: an individual fixated at the phallic stage who, later in life, needs to prove continually his or her sexual adequacy
  • Genital character: a mature, healthy individual who is sexually developed and capable of relating to members of the other sex

Research Evidence for the Theory of Psychosexual Development

Evidence for character types

  • Oral receptive character: considerable correlational trait evidence
  • Oral aggressive character: practically no correlational trait evidence
  • Anal character: some correlational trait evidence
  • Phallic or genital characters: no correlational trait evidence

Post-classical psychoanalytic approach:

Psychodynamic approach: social analysis of parent-child interactions rather than a biological analysis of conflicts between parents and children during early childhood (e.g., conflicts during feeding, toilet-training)

  • Dependent personality type

Psychodynamic approach to personality development in which individuals are predisposed to seek the guidance, support, and help of others, even when they are capable of functioning independently

  • Unhealthy dependence: manifestation of dependence that occurs indiscriminately and reflexively across a broad range of situations
  • Healthy dependence: manifestation of dependence that occurs in some contexts but not others and in ways that are situationally appropriate

Assessment Techniques

Free association: technique in which the therapist encourages patients to report, without restriction, any thoughts that occur to them

  • Parapraxis: malfunction in language, such as a slip of the tongue, a bungled word, misreading, mishearing, or forgetting words or things, which indicates the presence of underlying conflicts

Dream analysis: procedure used to probe the unconscious through interpretation of the patient’s dreams

Transference: feelings presumed to have originally directed toward the parent(s) are now directed toward the therapist

  • Positive transference: patient redirects toward the therapist unconscious feelings of love and affection retained from experiences with authority figures
  • Countertransference: tendency of the therapist to react with personal feelings toward the patient on the basis of the therapist’s own needs and conflicts
  • Negative transference: patient redirects toward the therapist unconscious feelings of anger and hostility retained from experiences with authority figures

Theory’s Implication for Therapy

  • Psychopathology refers to disordered behaviors, ranging from ineffective coping with everyday problems (neurosis) to a serious inability to relate to other people (psychosis)
  • Psychoanalytical therapy places heavy emphasis on the roles of biological and unconscious factors in the determination of behavior

Successful psychoanalytical therapy results in increased self-understanding and a more accurate assessment of reality

Evaluative Comments

  • Comprehensiveness: highly comprehensive theory; extremely broad scope
  • Precision and testability: not very precise and very difficult to test adequately
  • Parsimony: too simplistic and reductionistic
  • Empirical validity: support for the theory is mixed; empirical support for the theory of psychosexual development is satisfactory; for the theory of therapy, the support is not very good
  • Heuristic value: very high; has generated and, in some quarters, continues to generate new theorizing and research
  • Applied value: has very high applied value; used by investigators in many disciplines to understand personal development in the family

Bernstein, D.A. & Nash, P.W. (2008). Essentials of psychology (4th ed.) Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Feldman, R. (2013). Essentials of understanding psychology (11th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Friedman, H.S. & Schustack, M.W. (2012), Personality: classic theories and modern research (5th ed). Boston: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.
Ryckman, R. M. (2013). Theories of personality (10th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

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