Based on the interpersonal theory, how might the development of personality of a famous musician, such as Prince, be detailed from childhood?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Interpersonal theory may help explain the development of personality traits of someone famous, and not famous, by basing our analysis in the roles that the environment, support systems, and social dynamics, played in the earlier development of the artist. This would agree with Sullivan's (1922) Parataxtic and Prototaxic personality development theory and with Albert Bandura's (1960) Social Learning theory. Both theories view personality traits as fragmentary results of circumstances and entirely based on how we learn to compensate from what is neglected to us from our early childhood.

Upon conducting an analytical reading of the biography of singer Prince Roger Nelson, artistically known as "Prince", we first find that there was trauma at during his early years caused by the divorce of his parents. Although divorce is common nowadays, Prince (born in 1958) had a lifestyle that would be significantly shaken because he and his parents already shared, from Prince's very early childhood, a family-business life playing in the same Jazz band and going everywhere together. Already there are signs of a very dynamic life filled with support systems in the form of band members, his family, fans, and managers. Imagine the conflict upon parental separation when all these support systems also become divided and stopped to a halt due to divorce.

We also learn that his mother, who is a huge influence in Prince's life, may have caused great deception in him upon marrying her second husband, who was physically abusive to Prince, leading him to run away from his home.

With this, we find that the environment delineated defense mechanisms in Prince that later on became externalized in his flamboyant, overly-exposed, and defiant behaviors. What is most salient is that Prince's musical genius as a composer and as a multi-talented musician remained intact whereas his persona, or artistic persona, became the subject of various conjectures due to the following conflicting personality traits:

  • using effeminate dress while being fully heterosexual
  • overly-sensuous behavior
  • the controversial change of his name to an unpronounceable glyph
  • his onstage sexuality conflicts with what we see in his personal life
  • his tendency to produce an ambiguous artistic persona while causing controversy at the same time.

Based on these behaviors, it is safe to conclude that the early divorce of his parents, mixed with the abused suffered at a household that was once supportive and safe, may have delineated in Prince personality traits that are often associated with

  • cognitive dissonance- the tendency to succumb to actions that detour from our core emotions for the purpose of emotional defense (mechanism of defense)
  • histrionic personality- exaggerated and over-stated behavior to deflect from inner conflict and keep people away from his inner emotional state.
  • narcissistic personality- the extreme need for validation and attention (often a product of a neglectful childhood such as his)
  • oppositional defiant disorder- when people purposely act against the norm to cause a specific reaction.

Keep in mind that these are assumptions based on the descriptors listed on the Diagnostic Statistics Manual (DSM-IV) for personality and psychological disorders. The persona that Prince gives out to his audience may still further detour from his personal life and that is a part that we may never learn about fully.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Naturally, as with any analysis of the interpersonal theory, one has to generate much detail in way of validating past experiences of the individual in seeking to use the theory to help explain such events.  The need for interpersonal connection is where the theory states there is a drive in how the personality forms and how consciousness reveals itself.  Being able to draw from experiences in Prince's one world as well as trying to link it with the theory is only complicated further when we have to use his lyrics and songs as a guide.  With this in mind, I think that we can examine that Prince's own zealous privacy is reflection of how he views individuals.  There is a sense of mistrust that such privacy seems to indicate.  Certainly, the interpersonal theory of understanding the individual would find that the separation of Prince's parents when he was ten really impacted him.  Causing him to have to live between both parents helped to create a challenge in being able to trust individuals and this sense of fragmentation in the actions of individuals can be seen in songs like "When Doves Cry" or "Purple Rain."  The interpersonal theorist would suggest that the lyrics of such song reflect experiences with individuals that display anxiety and a sense of hurt, emotions that can be traced to his own childhood crises.

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