Humanistic Approaches to Positive Growth and Self-Acceptance

Psychoanalytical Theory of Personality

Sigmund Freud’s View of Personality:

Freud is the first major theorist to research non-biological approaches to illness. Specifically what was called hysteria. Hysteria was considered a medical issue during this time period. Freud re-shaped this medical diagnosis with his theories.

Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, is one of the most read and most controversial books on personality. This book describes Freud’s interpretation of the human psyche by introducing the concept of the unconscious mind to the medical world.  In a world of biological theorists, this concept was not accepted by many of his colleagues.

As we progress, keep in mind the era of Freud’s theories. Think of how his relationship may have been with his mother and father and think critically as to how these aspects of Freud’s life may have influenced his theories. Did Freud base these theories on his own life, did these insights allow Freud to discover the unconscious drives in people? Whatever our opinion, Freud’s theories are very much a part of today’s psychological theories.

Sigmund Freud’s View of Personality: What Drives Us??

According to Freud, there are two basic drives that motivates thoughts, emotions, and behavior: Sex and Aggression or Life and Death. According to Freud these underlie all motivation that humans experience.

Freud’s emphasis always indicates sex as the primary motivating factor. Aggression, or the death instinct, on the other hand serves just the opposite goal.  Aggression is a way to protect us from those attempting harm.  The aggression drive is a means to allow us to procreate while at the same time eliminating our enemies who may try to prevent us from doing so.

As Freud’s theory evolved Freud placed more emphasis on internal struggles, or his structural model,, the ID, EGO, and SUPEREGO.



  • According to Freud we are all born with our ID. The id is an important part of our personality because as newborns, it allows us to get our basic needs met.  Freud believed that the id is based on our pleasure principle.  In other words, the id wants whatever feels good at the time, with no consideration for the reality of the situation.  When a child is hungry, the id wants food, and therefore the child cries.  When the child needs to be changed, the id cries.  When the child is uncomfortable, in pain, too hot, too cold, or just wants attention, the id speaks up until his or her needs are met.
  • Within the next three years, as the child interacts more and more with the world, the second part of the personality begins to develop.  Freud called this part the EGO.  The ego is based on the reality principle.  The ego understands that other people have needs and desires and that sometimes being impulsive or selfish can hurt us in the long run.  Its the ego’s job to meet the needs of the id, while taking into consideration the reality of the situation.
  • By the age of five, or the end of the phallic stage of development, the SUPEREGO develops.  The Superego is the moral part of us and develops due to the moral and ethical restraints placed on us by our caregivers.  Many equate the superego with the conscience as it dictates our belief of  right and wrong.
  • Freud believed that the majority of what we experience in our lives, the underlying emotions, beliefs, feelings, and impulses are not available to us at a conscious level.  He believed that most of what drives us is buried in our UNCONSCIOUS. If you remember the Oedipus and Electra Complex, they were both pushed down into the unconscious, out of our awareness due to the extreme anxiety they caused.  While buried there, however, they continue to impact us dramatically according to Freud.
  • The role of the unconscious is only one part of the model.  Freud also believed that everything we are aware of is stored in our CONSCIOUS.  Our conscious makes up a very small part of who we are.  In other words, at any given time, we are only aware of a very small part of what makes up our personality; most of what we are is buried and inaccessible.
  • The final part is the preconscious or subconscious.  This is the part of us that we can access if prompted, but is not in our active conscious.  Its right below the surface, but still buried somewhat unless we search for it.  Information such as our telephone number, some childhood memories, or the name of your best childhood friend is stored in the preconscious.


The first formal theory of personality was advanced by Sigmund Freud in the early years of the 20th century, and it is the prototype of the psychodynamic approach.  Freud’s theory divides the personality into three levels of consciousness:

  1. Conscious
  2. Preconscious
  3. Unconscious

and three levels of the mind:

  1. Id
  2. Ego
  3. Superego

Freud’s Model of Personality

Freud’s representation of his three-part conception of personality shows the relation of the id, ego, and superego to the unconscious, preconscious, and conscious areas of the mind.

first force 2

Conscious     Immediate awareness of current environment

Preconscious     Available to awareness (e.g., names of friends, home address)

Unconscious     Unavailable to awareness (infantile memories, repressed wishes and conflicts)


Psychoanalytic Theory

Freud was convinced that an unconscious part of the mind exerts great influence on behavior.

  • Conscious mind: Consists of mental events in current awareness.
  • Preconscious mind: Contains memories, thoughts, feelings, and images that we are unaware of at the moment but that can be recalled (a friend’s telephone number).
  • Unconscious mind: A dynamic realm of wishes, feelings, and impulses that lies beyond our awareness.

Basic Elements of Psychoanalytic Theory

Dream Interpretation
Examining dreams to find clues to unconscious conflicts and problems.

Free Association
Patients are asked to say aloud whatever comes to mind, regardless of its apparent irrelevance or senselessness. Analysts attempt to recognize and label the connections between what a patient says and the patient’s unconscious.

Inability or unwillingness to discuss or reveal particular memories, thoughts, or motivations.

Positive and Negative Transference
The transfer of feelings to a psychoanalyst of love or anger that had been originally directed to a patient’s parents or other authority figures

Psychoanalytic Theory: Neo-Freudians

Freud is considered the father of psychoanalysis and the father of modern personality theory. Freud was known to be stubborn in his beliefs and refused to accept any other theories. Many other theorists found themselves at odd’s with Freud and broke away from the Freudian camp.

This break away from the Freudian camp brought about new psychological theories and concepts. The one common denominator is that these new theories do have the same underlying belief of psychoanalysis particularly the view of the unconscious as an important drive in human emotions, cognitions, and behaviors.

The idea of the defense mechanism of the unconscious has been maintained in many of these new theories as well as the importance of early development of the formation of personality.

Neo-Freudian psychoanalysts disagreed with certain aspects of Freud’s thinking

Neo-Freudian psychoanalysts disagreed with certain aspects of Freud’s thinking

They believed that Freud did not give social and cultural factors a sufficiently important role in the development and dynamics of personality, they also believed that Freud laid too much emphasis on the events of childhood as determinants of adult personality

 Freud laid the foundation for important work done by a series of successors who were trained in traditional Freudian theory but later rejected some of its major points

These theorists are known as neo-Freudian psychoanalysts

  • Neo Freudians placed greater emphasis than Freud on the functions of the ego, suggesting that it has more control than does the id over day-to-day activities.
  • Also minimized the importance of sex as a driving force in people’s lives.
  • Paid greater attention to social factors and the effects of society and culture on personality development.

Psychoanalytic Theory: Neo-Freudians

The First to Leave:

Alfred Adler joined Freud’s analytic society in 1902 and was even named the first president in 1910.  However, after growing disagreements he left with several other theorists in 1911, starting his own group originally named the ‘Society for Free Psychoanalytic Research.

The name subsequently changed to Individual Psychoanalytic Research.

Adler insisted that human are inherently social beings, motivated by social interest and the desire to advance the welfare of others.

Erik Erikson
Believed that personality development continues throughout the life span as individuals confront challenges that are specific to particular phases in their lives.  Erikson believed that people with a strong sense of identity is one who knows where he is in life and has accepted this position and has workable goals for change and growth.

Erikson theorized that one can have a sense of uniqueness while also having a sense of belonging and wholeness.

Carl Jung
Believed that humans possess a personal unconscious and also a collective unconscious.

Carl Jung’s break from Freud’s Psychoanalytic Society was perhaps the most disappointing for Freud.  When they met it is reported that they spent over 12 hours discussing psychoanalytic theory, and soon after, Jung became the logical successor to the society he resigned from the organization in 1914 after intense disagreements with his mentor.

The main disagreement he had with Freud was his belief that there was more to the unconscious than Freud theorized.  Jung believed that there were fears, behaviors, and thoughts  that children and adults exhibit that are remarkably similar across time and culture.  He believed that this was more than coincidence and represented what he called the collective unconscious and this is an influence on personality. Jung believed that humans possess both personal and collective unconscious.

Karen Horney

One of the earliest psychologists to champion women’s issues, sometimes called the first feminist psychologist.

Suggested that personality develops in the context of social relationships and depends on the relationship between parents and child and how well the child’s needs are met.

Rejected Freud’s suggestion that women have penis envy, asserting that what women envy most in men is not their anatomy but the independence, success, and freedom that women are often denied

Karen Horney made the most significant contribution to new concepts in psychology. Horney disagreed with Freud’s view of women.

Horney is responsible for changing the perceptions of gender. She countered Freud’s concept of penis envy, and also disagreed with the belief that males and females were born with inherent differences in personality.

Horney argued for society and cultural explanations of these theories.

Horney argued that men and woman were equal!



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.
McGraw-Hill.McGraw Hill Higher Education (2013), The McGraw Hill Companies, Inc.
Ryckman, R. M. (2013). Theories of personality (10th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

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