Psychoanalytic Personality Assessment

Psychoanalytic Personality Assessment





Psychoanalytic Personality Assessment


The basic approach of psychoanalytic theories is based on the inner experiences or unconscious experiences which we have in our daily lives. They proponent’s of psychoanalytic theories emphasize that these unconscious experiences are not without reasons. There are some inner forces that are working to direct our behaviors in some direction. Freud was the main proponent of psychoanalytic approach. The neo-Freudians such as Jung, Adler , Erikson and Horney have also major contributions.

Freud’s theory of personality

Sigmund Freud is a founder of this approach. His work has profound effects on many disciplines including psychology, sociology, anthropology, art and literature. According to Freud the mind is divided into two parts; conscious mind that includes everything of which we are aware of and unconscious mind that is an epitome of feelings, thoughts, memories and urges that our outside of our conscious awareness. Most of these things in unconscious mind are unpleasant or painful. He divided the personality into three elements in his theory of personality; id, ego and super ego.

Id: Id is present from birth. It’s completely unconscious and operates on pleasure principle. It needs immediate satisfaction of its impulses and desires which if not satisfied create tension and pain. It’s very important in the early infant life. It operates through primary process which involves creating a mental image of the required object to satisfy its need. For example if the infant is hungry or thirsty, id makes sure that infant gets immediate gratification. Sometimes immediate gratification is not possible so id use primary process, which involves forming a mental image of the desired object.

Ego: The ego operates on reality principle. It makes sure that the desires of id can be expressed in a desirable and socially acceptable manner. Defense mechanisms are in domain of ego. It operates to create a balance between the internal and external realities of life. It mediates between the intense internal desires and moral aspect of the psyche called Superego. The ego discharges the tension in some cases by the use of secondary process in which ego tries to provide the object in the real world almost similar to the image created by id’s primary process. When ego has a difficult time in suppressing the needs of id and super ego it uses defense mechanism. These are used to distort, deny or repress the reality and to maintain socially acceptable image.

Super ego: it works on morality principle. It is responsible for all the ideals and internalized moral standards that are held by a person. The super ego has two parts; ego ideal and conscience. It comprises of our sense of right and wrong based on individual’s ethical and moral standards and values.

The interaction of these three determines the structure of personality.

He proposed the psychosexual stages of development. He divided the life of an individual into different stages. The first is an oral stage in which the focus is on the satisfaction of Id impulses. These are for the satisfaction of primary physical functioning. The second stage is anal stage in which the focus is on the control of bowel and bladder movements. Then comes the phallic stage at which the libido primarily focuses on the genitals. The children develop Oedipus and Electra complex at this stage. After it, comes the latent period. During this stage the development of ego and superego takes place which overcomes the id impulses. The genital stage is the final stage of psychosexual development. The individual develops an interest in the opposite sex and moves into a mature relationship. This stage goes on till death. The fixation at any of the stage causes anxiety and problems and an individual might get stuck at some stage in some cases. This causes the mental problems.

Adler believed that an individual’s behavior is molded and motivated by his desire to achieve success or superiority. This behavior is mediated and supported by the social environment. The psychologically well people strive to overcome the feelings of inferiority by working for the interest of all mankind. The more healthy people will be more socially concerned while others will be concerned about their personal interests. The motivation for the success comes from the expectation about the future rather than from the past understanding. Adler believed that the perception about the future reality determine the actions of a person. This striving for superiority is the driving force for all human thoughts, behaviors and emotions. The parenting style and birth order, according to Adler, is also very important in this respect. The problems in child rearing and parenting cause problems in the childhood and in later life.

Jung founded analytical psychology. He developed the concept of extroverted, introverted, archetypes and collective unconscious. The collective unconscious is deepest part of the unconscious mind. it consists of archetypes which are inherited set of beliefs and understanding of the world. It exists at varying degrees in all humans. The collective unconscious modifies and takes in new information to get global recognition and acceptance. The sexual and life instincts are part of archetypes called shadow. They are primitive and pre-human impulses. It is a darker side of an ego. The concept of persona in his theory is the mask a person puts own to present oneself to the world. It’s a creation of a good impression. The anima and animus part of the archetype is the role of male or female we play. Anima is the female aspect which is there in the collective unconscious of men and animus is the male aspect which is there in the female collective unconscious. He believed like others that all humans are bisexual in nature. Introvert people according to him, are those who prefer to act according to their inner thoughts, feelings, dreams etc. while the extroverts prefer the outer world of people and activities and social life. The believed that individuation process is important for an individual to become a complete person by the integration of unconscious and conscious

Comparison of theories

All three of the theories place importance to the early childhood experiences which determine later behaviors and actions in life. They laid an emphasis on the working of the unconscious mind to influence the life of a person. Freud, Adler and Jung commonly agreed on the effect of sexual impulses on the development of personality to varying degrees. The concept of id, ego and super ego has been discussed in three of the theories with different names though. But the underlying concept is same. The role of the social environment is also common in these theories. The two characteristics with which I agree in these theories is the role of social environment and the instinctive or id part of the personality which is there in all human beings. Freud referred to it as id in his theory, Adler referred to it as desire to achieve success which when is for personal gains might lead to problems and Jung defined it as archetype. They all gave the concept of importance of dreams. Dreams reveal the unconscious personal or collective while Adler believed that dreams are reflection of person’s living.

Contrast in the theories

The theories differ with each other on many points. Freud gave the concept of id, ego and super ego which mediate the personality structure. “Adler believed on the motivational impulses which direct the behavior of a person to achieve success while Jung proposed the concept of collective unconscious and archetypes which are primitive impulses. Freud over emphasized on the sexual derives in directing the behavior. Adler placed importance to the inferiority complex which motivates the behavior towards superiority. Jung gave importance to the working of collective unconscious and archetypes which directs the behavioral goals. Jung and Adler disagreed with Freud on the theories of sexual motivation and psychosexual development” (Putnam, 1917). Jung and Adler place importance to the social factors while Freud gave importance to the internal forces in his theory. I disagree with the effect of sexual impulses in the development of behavior and the underlying inferiority complex. The collective unconscious might exist as Jung proposed but most of the behavior is directed by personal unconscious impulses.

Examples of defense mechanisms

The defense mechanisms are used by ego to suppress the undesired behaviors of id and super ego. There are many different types of defense mechanisms that people use to distort the reality like regression, repression, denial, projection etc. I shall discuss repression, projection and displacement

Repression: it takes place when there is some very painful feeling or thought related to someone or some event and one wants to repress it from conscious awareness. It may show itself in symbolic form. For example, if someone lost his father or mother but he is unable to remember the funeral of him or her because it caused pain and agony. Someone lost his loved one but one doesn’t remember his face or name.

Projection: in projection one attribute one’s own unacceptable thoughts and feelings to someone or something else. For example, a wife is really mad at her husband but screams and pretends that he is the one who is mad at her.

Displacement: this mechanism takes place when one is unable to channel the unpleasant thoughts and feelings to the source. Rather one takes it out on someone or something else. For example, when we get mad at our teacher or boss we don’t show it in front of them rather we start arguing with our friends or get angry with brother or sister.

Though, the theories and perspectives differ from each other but the underlying approach is the same in these theories. There are some disagreements in these theories, but there are gateways and bridges in between them that opened the way for new dimensions and research in the modern times.


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Putnam, J. (1917). The theories of Freud, Jung and Adler: I. The work of Sigmund Freud.
Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 12(3), 145-160. doi: 10.1037/h0071967

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