Research Paper On Freud’s Theory Of Personality
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Sigmund Freud is commonly known as the father of psychoanalysis. His theory on personality is well known throughout contemporary society. Even people who don’t fully understand what the “id”, “ego” and “superego” mean are familiar with the terms. Laspley & Stey go so far as to assert:
Psychoanalysis is one of those rare intellectual achievements that had the effect of radically transforming human self-understanding. Indeed, Freudian notions have so thoroughly permeated human culture that the jargon (if not the substance) of psychoanalysis is accessible to even the most untutored observers of human behavior, so much so that poet W.H. Auden could write that for us Freud is not so much a person but rather a ‘whole climate of opinion under whom we conduct our different lives.’” (2011)
While Freud’s theory on personality is well known, it is still up for much debate as to whether or not the theory provides useful insight into human behavior. There are many critics who claim Freud’s theories are deeply flawed because they are lacking in evidence based trials. In the modern day world, theories of personality and mental health strategies are tested rigorously with clinical trials that are well documented and painstakingly proven to be true and effective. When Freud developed his theory on personality there was no expectation to provide fact to support his notions so his theory was based on his own observations and insights alone. That being said, much of today’s approach to therapy is rooted in Freud’s theory of personality. Whether a therapist attempts to help a client by discussing beliefs developed as a child formulated from the relationship the client had with his or her parents or by helping the client learn to delineate between making decisions based on feelings and making decisions based on fact Freud’s theories continue to impact how personality and mental health are viewed and managed. To decipher whether or not Freud’s theory on personality has withstood the test of time his ideas must be examined thoroughly by delving into what his theory outlined, identify the evidence that supports his theory and discuss the limitations that have been identified.
. Dr. Chris Heffner is a licensed psychologist in Florida. He provides tremendous insight into Freud’s theory on personality. Dr. Heffner explains Freud’s belief that the id is the part of personality that we are born with, it is what drives us to get our needs met regardless of the consequences of our actions, the id does not take into account how our actions will impact others or even ourselves in the long run. (2001) Dr. Heffner further details that according to Freud, the ego is the part of personality that develops as we mature in childhood beyond worrying only about our primal needs; the ego is what helps us netter understand how our actions impact others and ourselves beyond the initial moment. (2001) Dr. Heffner describes Freud’s description of the superego as the moral compass, what we learn as right and wrong and what keeps our behavior in check. (2001) As Dr. Heffner explains, according to Freud a healthy personality is when a person’s ego balances the needs of the id and the superego. (2001) Dr. Heffner next explains Freud’s theory on our conscious level, unconscious level and subconscious level and how the three impact personality. (2001) Finally, Dr. Heffner explains Freud’s theory that humans have two main drives: sex and aggression. To aid in the job of meeting the needs of both the id and the superego the ego uses defense mechanisms such as denial, projection and regression. (2001) While it is useful to understand Freud’s theory at a conceptual level it is even more effective to understand the theory as it pertains to a modern day situation.
Suppose a woman in her early thirties begins therapy to work through some issues she feels are getting in the way of her living the quality of life she desires. The woman explains to the therapist that she has trouble with impulse control, her main issues are her tendency to overeat and her pattern of cheating on her romantic partners. She regrets these actions and feels a lot of shame about herself, she knows this isn’t how she should be behaving but she can’t seem to control behavior. The woman shares with her therapist that she copes with the overeating issue by pretending that it isn’t a problem – she ignores it until she gets on the scale and realizes her weight is out of control. When she gets off the scale she is so emotionally overwhelmed she is unable to function so she copes with her feelings by snacking and justifies eating way too much because it “calms her down”. As for the instances of cheating, she admits that she tends to turn her actions around on her boyfriends. She blames them for her cheating, if her boyfriend at the time gave her what she needed she wouldn’t feel so compelled to cheat. And when she is caught she has emotional meltdowns that resemble a temper tantrum of a child. She screams and throws things and curls up in the fetal position on the floor, refusing to engage in conversation with her partner. If her therapist used Freud’s theory of personality the explanation for the woman’s behavior would be an imbalance between the id, ego and superego. Her id is overwhelming her superego by demanding sex and food so strongly that her desires overwhelm her sense of right and wrong. After she gives into her id her superego punishes her by reminding her that what she did was wrong and judging her for behaving immorally. The ego tries to allow the woman to continue to feed her id without having to deal with the guilt trip from the superego by developing the defense mechanisms of denial, projection and regression. To try to help the woman the therapist may probe to uncover her dynamic with her parents while growing up, her uncomfortable emotions that lead to overeating may be a result of a difficult relationship with her father and her desire to cheat may be due to a deep seeded rage she had at her mother because of her sexual feelings toward her father. The therapist may attempt to help the woman change her present day behavior by exposing and processing parts of her personality that developed when she was a child. There are a number of professionals in the field of mental health who believe that Freud’s theory on personality is still valid in modern times.
There are a myriad of different personalities in the world today. With the advancements of technology society is more inundated with variant personalities than ever before in history. Many of these personalities are extreme: the reality TV show personality who seems to have no self-control whatsoever, the blogger who claims to proclaim the truth about morality or the progressive on Facebook demanding that anything that could be deemed by anyone as offensive be rejected and considered socially unacceptable. As Carducci explains, these extreme personalities are evidence that Freud’s theory of personality is still very valid today:
With the ego placed in the middle, and if all demands are met, the system maintains its balance of psychic power and the outcome is an adjusted personality. If there is imbalance, the outcome is a maladaptive personality. For example, with a dominant id, the outcome could be an impulsive and uncontrollable individual (e.g., a criminal). With an overactive superego, the outcome might be an extremely moralistic individual (e.g., a television evangelist). An overpowering ego could create an individual who is caught up in reality (e.g., extremely rigid and unable to stray from rules or structure), is unable to be spontaneous (e.g., express id impulses), or lacks a personal sense of what is right and wrong (e.g., somebody who goes by the book). (2009)
Freud’s theory can be used to describe so many of the trials and tribulations facing people in contemporary society. It can explain why the alcoholic can’t stop drinking – his id is in control. Or why the born again Christian is so judgmental – he is being driven by his superego. And why the athlete is unable to go a day without exercising – the ego is demanding that she maintain her structure. Each of these individuals are limiting his or her life and creating inner – and perhaps external - turmoil because the balance between the id, superego and ego is out of whack. If these people chose to balance their physical impulses, desire to do the right thing and need to feel safe with thinking of the long term consequences, being understanding of mistakes and letting go of the need for the world to fit inside a specific box to feel safe they would experience a higher quality of life. In this way it is clear that Freud’s theory of personality has stood the test of time. That being said, there are also limitations to Freud’s theory of personality.
One of the major limitations to Freud’s theory of personality has to do with the translation. Freud wrote in German and some of his intentions and insight may be lost in the translation from his native language to English. Engler illustrates this point by stating:
In discussing the id, ego, and superego, we must keep in mind that these are not three separate entities with sharply defined boundaries, but rather that they represent a variety of different processes, functions, and dynamics within the person Moreover, in his writings Freud uses the German personal pronouns, das Es, Das Ich, and das uber-Ich. Literally translated they mean "the it," "the I," and "the above-I." The Strachey translation into Latin pronouns has made them less personal, raising the issue of the desirability of attempting a new translation. (2009)
If the approach to Freud’s theory is based on a black and white view that the id, superego and ego are singular units rather than fluid thoughts, emotions and actions the explanations of the causes of the problems can be too limited. At a conceptual level it may be too easy for today’s therapists to misuse Freud’s theory due to the confusion in translation. Another limitation to Freud’s theory is the lack in an effective approach to solving the problem of a skewed balance between the id, superego and ego. Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst states: “Using the criteria established for evidence-based treatment, traditional psychoanalysis alone does not in fact pass muster as a method of therapy for the large majority of psychological disorders.” (2012) In Freud’s day the goal of psychotherapy was to understand why the patient was having the problems in life he or she was having. In today’s world, people want more than to simply understand why they have problems, they want to know how to solve their problems. Many people find a journey into their pasts to be illuminating in terms of understanding why they think, feel and behave as they do but ineffective in terms of actually improving the quality of their life. Therapeutic treatments that are based on changing how people think, feel and behave are far more powerful tools for improving quality of life than laying on a couch and talking. However, some of today’s most celebrated mental health treatments still refer to the heart of Freud’s ideas. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is a treatment created specifically for people suffering from borderline personality disorder. One of the core concepts of this treatment is referred to as making decisions with the wise mind. The wise mind is defined by finding a balance between the emotional mind and the rational mind. This is similar to Freud’s theory in that the emotional mind is the id, the rational mind is the superego and the wise mind is the ego. While Dialectical Behavioral Therapy differs from Freud’s approach because it is a skills based training it shares a similar theme with Freud’s theories in that it is all about finding balance. Taking into consideration the evidence supporting Freud’s theory as well as the limitations that exist the conclusion can be drawn that while parts of Freud’s theory of personality are not useful in today’s mental health field much of modern days’ approach to human behavior can be traced back to the id, superego and ego.
Dr. Krauss Whitbourne asserts:
Given the centrality of treatment to the psychodynamic perspective, the findings on evidence-based treatment would seem to deal Freud's legacy a crushing blow. If Freud is dead in the area of psychotherapy, all the brain scans in the world won’t be able to revive him. However, if we shift our focus from traditional psychodynamic therapy to elements of the perspective’s approach to treatment, there’s plenty of evidence that he lives on, just in a different form. (2012)
Freud’s approach to personality, mental health and treating maladies that prevented people from living life to the fullest made tremendous strides in the field of psychology. Without Freud, modern day therapists may not have the basis of conflicting desires and drive as a foundation for understanding human behavior. In today’s world people still struggle with overwhelming ids, demanding superegos and exhausted egos. Whether it is the housewife who is hooked on antianxiety medicine or the college student who tells everyone else how to live or the construction worker who can’t miss a day of work for fear of breaking the rules there are hordes of people who could benefit from understanding the need to balance their deep seeded impulses and beliefs. While his approach to treatment may not be the most useful, his explanation of why people do what they do is essential to understand to reach a higher quality of life. Freud’s theory of personality has withstood the test of time in that it is still in alignment with one of the core attributes of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, one of the most trusted approaches to managing difficult personality issues today. His theory is also in alignment with another popular treatments known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. One of the goals of CBT is to soften the judgmental and often harsh inner voice that commands people to act in certain ways because that is what they “should” do. This is similar to Freud’s superego. It is clear that Freud’s theory of personality is still worthy of understanding and utilizing to better appreciate the intricacies of human behavior.
Carducci, B. (2009). The psychology of personality: Viewpoints, research, and applications. John Wiley & Sons.
Engler, B. (2009). Personality theories. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing.
Heffner, Dr. Christopher (4/1/2001.). “Chapter 3 Section 5: Freud’s structural and topographical model and Chapter 3 Section 6: Freud’s ego defense mechanisms”. Psychology 101: AllPsych Psych Central’s Virtual Psychology Classrom. Retrieved from http://allpsych.com/psychology101/ego/#.VPwQruHS1Do
Lapsley, Daniel K and Stey, Paul C. (2011.). “Id, ego and superego”. V.S. Ramachandran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Human Behavior, 2nd Ed Elsevier. Retrieved from http://www3.nd.edu/~dlapsle1/Lab/Articles%20&%20Chapters_files/Entry%20for%20Encyclopedia%20of%20Human%20Behavior%28finalized4%20Formatted%29.pdf
Whitbourne, Dr. Susan Krauss. (5/15/2012). “Freud’s not dead, he’s just really hard to find”. Psychology Today. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201205/freud-s-not-dead-he-s-just-really-hard-find
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