Applied History of Psychology/Personality

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Sigmund Freud[edit]

No history of psychology would be complete without acknowledging Viennese physician, Sigmund Freud’s, psychoanalytic approach to understanding child development.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was born in what is now known as the Czech Republic (formerly known as Freiburg). His family relocated to Vienna when he was four years old. Growing up he was attracted to Darwin’s theories and noted that “it was upon hearing Goethe’s beautiful essay On Nature…just before I left school that I decided to become a medical doctor” (Britannica, 1952).

Freud’s first experimental investigations involved examining the nervous systems of fish. He later began to conduct research with children experiencing cerebral paralysis. When Freud was awarded with a traveling fellowship for his work in this field, he decided to pursue a research interest in France with Jean-Martin Charcot, who was using hypnosis to treat many types of mental disorders (Britannica). After this experience, Freud returned to Vienna to work with Joseph Breuer, who was at the time using hypnosis to treat hysteria (a term used to describe an individual who was experiencing physical symptoms with no apparent or identified physical cause). It was out of these experiences, and Freud's own clinical work, that Freud developed his theories on personality (Baron, 2001). Freud would eventually replace Breuer’s ideas of hypnosis with free association, and include dream analysis into his work.

Freud’s believed that personality consisted of three main parts; id, ego, superego. He explained that the id was related to desires and impulses, which consisted of our basic needs and feelings. The processes that the id controlled were primarily unconscious that worked on what Freud termed, the pleasure principle; that is, the id looks for immediate pleasure and ignores the consequences. The ego, Freud explained, was related to reason. Its role was to regulate the id, assuring that urges were satisfied but only when it was appropriate to do so. This process of regulation was believed to be partly conscious and worked on what Freud termed the reality principle; that is, the ego monitors behaviour to satisfy desires while also avoiding negative consequences. Similar to the ego, the superego restricts id urges to avoid consequences, but also, takes into account what is morally right and wrong. It's role is to consider the social teachings and norms of a society. Freud believed that a struggle existed between these levels of consciousness, influencing personality development and psychopathology. (Baron, 2001).

Based on Freud’s observations of his adult patients, and their accounts of painful events occurring during their childhood, he constructed his Psychosexual Theory of Development, which is probably his most well-known theory of personality development. Interestingly, Freud never saw children clinically. He based his model on his work with adults.

Freud’s theory consisted of five age-related stages, each with a different physical center of pleasure (an erogenous zone), which children and adolescents pass through in order to become fully mature individuals (Dacey & Travers, 1996). At each stage the child or adolescent is “confront[ed with] conflicts between biological drives and social expectations” (Berk, 2000, 16). Their ability to resolve these conflicts is hypothesized to determine their ability to function in their environment and cope with anxiety.

  • Stage 1: The Oral Stage of development was thought to last from birth until the child was one and a half years old. Within this stage, the pleasure centre is the oral cavity. The goal of the child is to obtain an “appropriate amount of sucking, eating, biting, and talking” (Dacey & Travers, 1996, 29).
  • Stage 2: The Anal Stage of development was thought to last from one and a half to three years of age. Within this stage, the anus is the pleasure center and mastery of this stage is achieved when the child is successfully toilet trained (Dacey & Travers, 1996).
  • Stage 3: The Phallic Stage of development was thought to last from three to five years of age. Within this stage the pleasure center for boys is the penis and the pleasure center for girls is the clitoris. The object of sexual desire at this stage is the parent of the opposite sex (known as the Opedial Complex in boys and Electra Complex in girls). Mastery of this stage is achieved when the conflict caused by this desire is resolved (Dacey & Travers, 1996).
  • Stage 4: The Latency Stage of development was thought to last from five to twelve years of age. This stage is characterized by repression of all sexual desires for the opposite sex. Children are more likely to only engage in same-sex play and they frequently reject members of the opposite sex. Freud thought that this was especially true for boys and he noted that boys were particularly likely to reject all types of affection from their mothers and voice their disdain for same-age opposite-sex peers (Dacey & Travers, 1996).
  • Stage 5: The Genital Stage of development was thought to last from twelve years of age into adulthood. During this stage, puberty, and its associated surge of sexual hormones, is thought to bring about “an unconscious recurrence of the phallic stage” (Dacey & Travers, 1996, 29). However, to hold and express sexual desire for one’s parent is taboo. As a result, adolescents then attempt to establish relationships with same-aged members of the opposite sex.

But what happens if children fail to master a particular stage? Freud believed that some individuals do not adequately master all of the stages as he outlined them. He postulated that some individuals actually become “stuck” within a stage because they are unable to resolve the conflict associated with it. Freud defined this inability to move on as “fixation.” When fixation occurs, anxiety is the byproduct and the individual develops defense mechanisms to deal with it (Dacey & Travers, 1996). These fixations can occur at any of the psychosexual stages listed above.

An oral fixation can have two possible outcomes. A person can take on an Oral Receptive Personality and reduce tension through oral activity such as eating, drinking, smoking, or biting nails. These individuals are usually passive, needy, sensitive to rejection, and easily swayed by other people's ideas. In contrast, a person can take on an Oral Aggressive Personality. These individuals are usually hostile and verbally abusive and they use mouth-based aggression to control others.

An anal fixation, which Freud thought was caused by harsh punishment during toilet training, can also have two possible outcomes. Individuals who develop the Anal Retentive Personality becomes stingy and preoccupied with order and tidiness. They are usually perfectionists and have a tendency to be stubborn. On the other hand, individuals who develop the Anal Expulsive Personality lack self control and are usually messy and careless (the oppositive of the Anal Retentive Personality).

Phallic fixation occurs when boys do not manage to work through the Oedipal Complex and girls do not manage to work through the Electra Conflict. The result is that these individuals never learn to identify with their same sex parent. The Oedipal Complex refers to a boy's sexual desire for his mother. As a result of this desire, he sees his father as a rival for her affections. A boy then suffers from castration anxiety, fearing that his father will uncover his desire for his mother and will castrate him. Boys then repress their desire for their mother and defensively identify with their father. A girl, on the other hand, suffers from penis envy and desires her father as a means to obtain a penis substitute. Her desire for her father is later repressed and instead her mother's values are incorporated in that she accepts her inherent 'inferiority' in the society. Freud (1920) himself believed that an inability to resolve the Oedipux Complex or the Electra Conflict leads to neurosis.

Karen Horney[edit]

Karen Horney may be considered among the great psychoanalytic thinkers of the twentieth century. She deserves historical recognition for her work on Feminine Psychology which analyzed women's personalities with greater dignity and respect than Freudian psychoanalysis. She also developed her own psychological theory of human personality and behaviour which has been widely applied in treatment approaches.

Karen Danielsen was born on September 16, 1885 in Hamburg, Germany. Her pursuit to become a doctor and a psychiatrist was radical for her time. She was accepted into medical school in 1906, not long after women were permitted to attain higher education. In Germany, this privilege did not come until 1900. The university that did accept her, the University of Freiburg, was one of the first to enroll women in medicine (Mazzarella, 1999). One may consider how strong and determined she must have been to accomplish her goals when challenged not only by family disapproval but also by public scrutiny. Karen persevered, transferring to the University of Berlin and graduating in medicine 1913 (Mazzarella, 1999). Here, she also studied psychiatry. During her university years, Karen met and married a law student named Oskar Horney (Mazzarella, 1999). The marriage did not last, but her contributions to the field of psychology became legendary.

Karen Horney (1937) believed that adult personality and behaviour could be studied as individual ways of dealing with anxiety, or what she termed basic anxiety. She held that basic anxiety stemmed from childhood feelings of being alone, isolated, and helpless in a cruel world. She saw basic anxiety resulting, not from sexual or aggressive conflicts, as Freud did, but from problematic relationships that the child experienced with his or her parents (Horney, 1937, 1939, 1945). Key factors in the formation of anxiety were believed to be rejection, punishment, the breakdown of trust, and/or overprotection. According to Horney, children raised in environments of love, trust, warmth, and tolerance have lower risks of developing anxiety.

Known as the founder of Feminine Psychology (1922-1937, 1967), Horney bravely opposed Freud and his loyal band of Neo-Freudians by stating that women deserve to be treated as more than inadequate men. Horney's work criticized orthodox Freudianism for failing to give consideration to the socio-cultural dynamics that shape women's lives. Her then radical perspective shook the world of psychotherapy to the benefit of women everywhere. Feminine psychology gave women’s health issues a voice and provided empathy and understanding in the therapeutic healing of female patients who were previously treated under the catchall diagnosis of hysteria.