Psychodynamic Theory of Personality
The mind is like an iceberg, it floats with one-seventh of its bulk above water.
— Sigmund Freud, 1856–1939.
Perhaps no personality theorist is more well-known than Sigmund Freud. Freudian terms such as ego, penis envy, and Freudian slip have infiltrated popular language. In many respects, Freud is frequently misunderstood, because readers fail to take into account the era and cultural reference points of the time period in which Freud lived. For example, a common reaction to Freud’s theory of eros, which encompasses and emphasizes the sex drive, is to dismiss the concept outright. Oftentimes, this may be linked to our own beliefs and values or to an already established sense of how personality is constructed. If this is the case for you, your challenge is to reach beyond any potential biases and critically examine the features of Freud’s theory. After all, dismissing theoretical concepts without critical examination is antithetical to graduate study.
Freud provided answers to personality in the form of many theoretical constructs. It is important to delineate among the four major constructs of Freud’s theory:
In short, awareness refers to levels of consciousness. Structure references the id, ego, and superego. Drives are described using eros and thanatos, the life and death drives, respectively. Development is arranged into the oral, anal, phallic, and genital stages, which are referred to as the psychosexual stages of development.
Freud’s work set the stage for the neo-Freudians—those theorists who adapted Freudian concepts to better reflect their own theoretical views of human nature. The neo-Freudians include:
• Carl Jung.
• Alfred Adler.
• Karen Horney.
• Erik Erikson.
• Henry Stack Sullivan.
You may find that, while Freud’s theoretical constructs do not appeal to you (again, in your assessment of how human nature is viewed), a neo-Freudian or two may better suit your conceptualizations. For some of you, this may mean the appeal of Jung, who after a rather contentious break with Freud, developed a more positive view of human nature with an emphasis on evolutionary aspects of the mind. For others, it may mean the appeal of Karen Horney, who endorsed alternative views of female development and considered the influence of culture and environment on the development of neuroses.
In this unit, you gain greater clarity of the various components of Freud’s theory, so as to distinguish among Freud’s various constructs. As you consider Freud, be attuned to the Victorian time period in which he developed his theory. Additionally, it will be helpful to examine your own values and how those values might impede your ability to fully grasp Freudian concepts.
To successfully complete this learning unit, you will be expected to:
10. Identify the major tenets of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality.
11. Explain how defense mechanisms are related to anxiety and how they might be expressed.
12. Analyze the construct of self-esteem from a Freudian perspective.
Learning Activities Studies Readings
Complete the following tasks:
• In the Theories of Personality text, read Chapter 2, “Sigmund Freud: Psychoanalysis,” on pages 41–83. This chapter introduces Freud’s theory; discusses clinical applications of the theory; describes the major components of personality from Freud’s perspective; and discusses recent developments, major contributions, and limitations of Freud’s theory.
• Read the following articles from the library for use in this unit’s discussions:
o Cramer’s 2000 article, “Defense Mechanisms in Psychology Today” from American Psychologist, volume 55, issue 6, pages 637–646.
o Cramer’s 2002 article, “Defense Mechanisms, Behavior, and Affect in Young Adulthood” from Journal of Personality, volume 70, issue 1, pages 103-126.
o Cai, Brown, Deng, and Oakes’s 2007 article, “Self-Esteem and Culture: Differences in Cognitive Self-Evaluations or Affective Self-Regard?,” from Asian Journal of Social Psychology, volume 10, issue 3, pages 162–170.
Discussion 1: 1 page is needed with two references.
A significant and enduring aspect of Freud’s theory is defense mechanisms. For this discussion:
• Explain how defense mechanisms relate to anxiety.
• Select one primitive and immature defense mechanism and one mature defense mechanism.
• Describe each of these mechanisms.
• Indicate why people might use each mechanism.
• Use the Cramer articles, “Defense Mechanisms in Psychology Today,” and “Defense Mechanisms, Behavior, and Affect in Young Adulthood,” from this unit’s studies to support your discussion.
Discussion 2: 1 page is needed with two references.
The Construct of Self-Esteem
The construct of self-esteem is widely appropriated in the field of counseling.
In the next few units, your second discussion question will ask you to apply the theory learned in each unit to the construct of self- esteem. For this discussion, answer the following questions:
• What would the Freudian perspective postulate about people with low self-esteem?
• How would this perspective describe low self-esteem in the words of its own theoretical model?
Use the Cai, et al. article, “Self-Esteem and Culture: Differences in Cognitive Self-Evaluations or Affective Self-Regard?” and this unit’s text readings to support your discussion.