Freud & Personality Development
Sigmund Freud is considered one of the foremost theorists of personality development. He developed his theories through case histories through which he observed that human psychological development is a process involving what he referred to as tensions (or polarities) between the need for attachment and relatedness, on the one hand, and, on the other, individuation and self-definition (Blatt, 2006). The impact of Freud's work on modern ideas about mind, sexuality, and morality is vast but controversial. Although his work has been enormously influential in the development of clinical psychotherapy and psychoanalytic theory, his approach has been subject to intense criticism in relation to its assumptions about gender and his emphasis on the significance of mothers in personality development.
Keywords Defense Mechanisms; Displacement; Fixation; Freud, Sigmund; Identification; Libido; Personality Development; Psychosexual Development; Psychoanalysis; Socialization
Socialization can be defined as the type of social learning that occurs when a person interacts with other individuals. It refers to a process through which individuals learn to become members of society by internalizing social norms, values, and expectations and by learning the appropriate cognitive, personal, and social skills they need to function as productive members of their societies. Part of the socialization process entails personality development, or the process through which we become who we are and through which relatively stable characteristics develop that distinguish individuals from each other. Many theorists argue that while the socialization process occurs over a person's lifetime, personality development is dependent on crucial points and relationships that are present during childhood. While socialization and personality development are connected to each other, socialization tends to assume a more fluid, potentially alterable concept of self as a reflective, active subject, while personality refers to a relatively stable concept of an individual as a well-defined object accompanied by distinctive traits and characteristics (Marshall et al., 1994).
Sigmund Freud is considered one of the foremost theorists of personality development. He developed his theories through case histories through which he observed that human psychological development is a process involving what he referred to as tensions (or polarities, Blatt, 2006) between the need for attachment and relatedness, on the one hand, and, on the other, individuation and self-definition. The impact of Freud's work on modern ideas about mind, sexuality, and morality is vast but controversial. Although his work has been enormously influential in the development of clinical psychotherapy and psychoanalytic theory, his approach has been subject to intense criticism in relation to its assumptions about gender and his emphasis on the significance of mothers in personality development.
An Austrian by birth, Sigmund Freud studied medicine and began his career as a neurologist. He studied hysteria and learned how to use hypnosis at the Vienna General Hospital with Joseph Breuer and then with Jean Charcot at the Salpêtri`re in Paris. In 1886 he returned to Vienna to set up his own private practice specializing in nervous and brain disorders (BBC, n.d.). He began treating his patients through hypnosis, but when he saw that this form of treatment was ineffective, he sought an alternative method. He found that he obtained better results when he encouraged his patients to talk. In addition, he began an intense analysis of himself and his dream life (published as The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900). This type of treatment, or, the "talking cure" (Ian, 1993) serves as the foundation of what is known as modern psychoanalysis.
Freud moved from private practice back into academia in 1902 until the late 1930s. During this period, he developed his theories of personality and sexual development, based on his clinical observations, and subsequently began to apply them more generally to art, history and culture (such as Civilization and Its Discontents, published in 1956). His clinical work influenced the development of a group of followers (including Carl Jung) who subsequently developed his observations and theories concerning personality and psychosexual development (embodied in the International Psychoanalytic Association).
Freud believed that most children developed their personalities during their first 5 years of life. As he studied his patients in psychoanalysis sessions, he observed how most of the patients reflected back on childhood experiences. Based on these clinical observations and psychoanalytic sessions, Freud asserted that the human mind operates on both conscious and unconscious levels. The conscious mind refers to things we are aware of in the present, while the unconscious refers to parts of our experience (or mind) that are beyond immediate awareness (Rathus, Nevid & Fichner-Rathus, 2005).
Freud's concept of the mind, or psyche, is divided into three parts: the id, the ego, and the superego. The id, with which we are born, is the host for a person's drive for pleasure and gratification and allows infants to get their basic needs met (e.g., hunger). Between infancy and the age of 3, the child begins to interact with primary others. In Freudian theory, the primary Other is typically understood to be the mother (Ian, 1993). This process of intimate interaction generates the development of the ego. The ego mediates between the demands of the id and reality of everyday life. It 'gets' that basic needs might not be satisfied immediately, because other 'ids' also have needs. By about the age of 5, the child develops a superego, which is responsible for providing the person with an understanding of what is acceptable in society and urges the person to value moral and ethical decisions. The ego mediates between the id and the superego and indeed protects the conscious mind from 'baser' sexual and aggressive urges through defense mechanisms and repression (Rathus, Nevid & Fichner-Rathus, 2005). Thus, a healthy ego enables a person to be rational and logical as well as establish boundaries for the id and superego (Freud, 1949).
Freud's Psychosexual Stages of Development
Personality development occurs as a child progressively learns to control his or her drives. As the child passes through five psychosexual stages (oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital), the child's id becomes focused on different erogenous areas, or parts of the body that are responsive to sexual stimulation (Rathus, Nevid & Fichner-Rathus, 2005).
Freud's five stages of personality development are centered on erogenous zones and have three key components:
- Type of fixation
A brief summary of Freud's five stages of psychosexual development is as follows:
- Oral Stage (Birth — 18 months of age)
During this stage, the child seeks pleasure through oral activities like nursing, sucking, eating, biting, and chewing. A child may develop an oral fixation if he or she receives too little or too much oral pleasure. Common oral fixations in adults are overeating, smoking, drinking, and nail biting. A child who receives too little much or too little pleasure can develop either an oral-passive character, a character that is largely passive and dependent upon others, or an oral-aggressive character, a...
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