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The theories of the “father of modern psychology,” Sigmund Freud and two of his students, Carl Jung and Alfred Adler lead to the development of an understanding of personality development and personality disorder. Adler and Jung didn’t always agree with Freud, and Jung especially had very different views on the role and the contents of the human unconscious.
Freud Psychoanalytic Theories
The idea that denial and (usually sexual) repression form the basis of the human personality is the cornerstone of Sigmund Freud’s theories. He believed in the power of the unconscious mind, he felt that repressed feelings and memories collect in the unconscious and eventually cause deviant behavior and mental issues. He also believed that the interpretation of dreams is the key to understanding what is repressed or denied, because dreams are the “voice” of the unconscious (Psychoanalysis, 2006). Freud believed that having regular meetings with a therapist and talking about problems was the best way to discover the cause of, and then repair mental issues (Psychoanalysis, 2006).
The idea that dreams hold insight into people’s unconscious, or at the least can help heal mental distress in interesting and may hold some merit. Freud was a pioneer of what is today referred to as, “talk therapy,” which is still a popular method for treating people experiencing anxiety, depression, and other mental problems. Talk therapy should be used before pharmacological treatments, but that’s often not the case. A lot of the time, doctors prescribe drugs before they suggest Talk Therapy (Psychoanalysis, 2006).
On the other hand, some of Freud’s theories have issues. For example, the idea that all mental distress comes from an unhealthy subconscious is untrue. People can develop anxiety and depression from situations that they’re aware of, such as death and physical illness. The idea that every problem comes from repression or denial is another issue with Freud’s work, linked to the same problems as the idea that the unconscious drives behavior.
Jung Psychoanalytic Theories
Carl Jung believed that the personality is actually a combination of several aspects; conscious, unconscious, individual, and collective. The “mask” is the socially acceptable part of the personality that everyone sees, and the socially unacceptable “shadow.” Jung also believed in the unconscious, but he saw it as a collection of cultural archetypes and an anima and animus, which are the feminine and masculine aspects of the personality (Dolliver, 1994).
Jung split people into two types: introverts and extroverts. He thought that introverts looked inside for their worldview and extroverts gained energy and insights from people outside of themselves (Dolliver, 1994).
The idea that the unconscious mind is made of cultural and mythological ideas is more realistic than Freud’s concept of a troubled, repressed unconscious. For one thing, the unconscious collects more than just what people repress, it’s a collection of everything that a person observes and forgets about. The idea of a public and internal, private personas; the mask and the shadow, are also plausible theories.
Jung’s idea that people are either introverted or extroverted is wrong. People are rarely just introverted or extroverted. Most people are introverted in some situations and extroverted in others. Similarly, the idea that each person’s unconscious holds an anima and animus is not plausible because each human’s mind is so different.
Adler Psychoanalytic Theories
Alfred Adler believed that people were born feeling inadequate and they spend their entire lives trying to overcome feelings of inadequacy. Those unable to overcome their feelings of inadequacy developed an “inferiority complex,” (Thompson, 2014). Where Freud believed that sex, and sexual repression was the cause of all personality dysfunction, Adler believed that fear, namely fear of inferiority, lead to dysfunction. He thought that focusing on one’s talent and developing personal strength was the key to becoming healthy. Adler also had several theories based on “birth order.” He thought that the order someone was born in (first child, middle child, etc.) determined their experiences growing up and affected their adult personalities (Thompson, 2014).
Adler’s theories have many issues. People probably aren’t born feeling inadequate. Any feelings of inferiority likely develop over time and can occur in any stage of life. Adler is wrong to assume that every human feels a certain way. Adler’s birth order theory may be true for some people, but just like the inferiority complex, it is far from a universal truth.
He was correct about some things. Focusing on individual talent and personal strength can make people feel happy and successful, and it may cure some personality dysfunction. Also, fear can be the basis for mental disturbances, especially anxiety and depression.
Freud’s Stages of Development Theory
Exploring deeper in Sigmund Freud’s theory uncovers his theory of psychosexual development and its relation to personality. His stages included the oral stage (nursing) in infancy, the anal (toilet training) stage when the child is a toddler, and the phallic (understanding opposite sex) stage in early childhood. After that there is a latency stage where nothing happens and then, the genital stages happens after puberty and the mature person can engage in sexual relationships. If anything goes wrong in any of these stages the issue could lead to distinct personality characteristics later in life (Thompson, 2014).
Characteristics of Personality
If a child has issues during the oral stage of development the child may grow up to be overweight from overeating, overly verbal, a chronic smoker or gum chewer. Issues in the anal stage can lead to control problems, either acting to controlling or having impulse issues. Problems in the phallic stage can result in problems relating to traditional gender roles.
Freudian Defense Mechanisms
Freud believed that people used defense mechanisms to protect themselves from feeling disappointed or inadequate. These defense mechanisms included; “repression, projection, displacement, rationalization, reaction formation, denial, and sublimation,” (Thompson, 2014).
Examples of Defense Mechanisms
Denial is one defense mechanism that is used frequently by people who suffer from alcoholism and drug abuse. They will deny that they have a problem until they reach a point where they have to accept it, or they may always deny that they have a problem. Sublimation is when a person turns inappropriate impulses into positive activity (Thompson, 2014). For example, someone might use their anxious energy to clean their house. Projection is when a person attributes their feelings or intentions onto another person (Thompson, 2014). This might happen when one person is cheating in a relationship and they accuse the other person of being a cheater.
The theories of Freud, Jung, and Alder are not used as often as pharmacological treatments to treat mental distress. While it may not be useful to apply theories such as the inferiority complex or oral stage dysfunction to every person, many of their ideas are still true today. The idea that talking to someone about their problems can help solve those problems is as true today as it was in Freud’s time.
Dolliver, R. H. (1994). Classifying the personality theories and personalities of Adler, Freud, and Jung with. Individual Psychology: The Journal Of Adlerian Theory, Research & Practice, 50(2), 192.
Psychoanalysis: Theory and treatment. (2006). Harvard Women's Health Watch, 14(4), 4.
Thompson, S. (2014). Personality Theories. Personality Theories -- Research Starters Education, 1
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