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Psychology of Personality

Personality is the distinctive pattern of behaviour that characterises each individual's adaptation to the situations of his or her life.

To assess personality; we need to have a theoretical model on which to base our assessment. We need to evaluate how the person adjusts to his life and how much he differs from other people on the basis of a model of healthy and unhealthy adaptation.

The Freudian model

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, described different stages of development of personality.

The first three of these stages are the Oral, Anal and Phallic stages. People have to progress from one stage to the other to achieve maturity. Development of personality is not always smooth and straightforward. Environmental factors and interactions with other people may hinder development and leave the person fixated at a certain stage. In this way, someone may be fixated at the oral stage which is the most primitive level of development. We can describe personality according to the stage at which the person is fixated, or when is personality development was hindered.

Sometimes, an individual may regress (return back) to an earlier stage. It is that stage of his development which is problematic where he usually regresses.

1- Oral Personality:

This is usually a person who is fixated on the Oral stage: a stage of feeding and taking in, of total dependency and lack of awareness of other's needs. During this stage the person perceive others as a source of nourishment and warmth, similar to his attitude to the mother figure. Such person is described as narcissistic, by which we mean that he is the centre of everything. The narcissistic person sees himself as entitled to be the centre of attention and care by others. He or she believes that others are mainly a source to feed on for his existence. He likes to be dependent on others and would feel envy and jealousy if someone will share him in receiving nourishment or privileges from others.

Narcissistic Personality is and Dependent Personality are two of the types of personality disorders listed in modern classification of personality.

2- Anal Personality:

Psychoanalysis describes the anal stage as a stage of control, order, cleanliness and mastery over mess and chaos. Such person will be obsessed with order, control, cleanliness, and self reliance. His character can be described as obsessional, obstinate, controlling, domineering, rigid, with a certain degree of frugality. In modern classification of personality, obsessional personality is described as one of the abnormal types of personality. Also included under this rubric is the sadomasochist type of personality, who is the person who gets pleasure from inflicting pain on others or receiving pain and humiliation, physical or psychological.

3- Phallic Personality:

Freud describes the phallic stage which is the stage of awareness of sexual differences. This is also the stage of industry, further exploration of reality and environment, and according to psychoanalysis jealousy and envy of abilities of adults of the same sex. A person fixated at the phallic stage will be highly competitive, ambitious and jealous of abilities of his peers or superiors. There is no corresponding personality type in modern classification.

Psychoanalysis describes development of character traits through repression of unacceptable impulses as a way of adaptation to social norms. Success in repression leads to persistence of certain behavioural patterns which become part of the character traits. This pattern of adaptation characteristic of the individual is based on instinct and environment, or nature and nurture. It is a result of a combination of innate biological predisposition and success of the Ego in management of the forces of their inner impulses and desires (the Id) in the presence of the sanctions and prohibitions of society represented by the Super ego. Real environmental prohibitions also contributes to the formation of personality characteristics. To achieve such adaptation the ego relies on Ego Defences such as identification and imitation, denial, projection and reaction formation.

The Adlerian model

Alfred Adler is a contemporary psychoanalyst to Sigmund Freud who split with the psychoanalytic movement to establish his theory of Individual psychology. Adler focus his attention on the basic feeling of inferiority in the helpless child. This is the basis of his concept of Inferiority Complex and striving for superiority. In his view, the individual adapts to his environment by trying to strive to be better and capable to overcome his sense of helplessness and inferiority. This concept may be helpful to explain certain behavioural patterns but it is difficult to conceptualise any type of personality on the basis of this theory.

Karen Horney

Karen Horney stressed the importance and the effect of culture. She describes three characteristic types of personality. These three character types play an important part as the pre-dominant model of relating to others. These types are the compliant/self-effacing type, the aggressive/expansive type, and the detached/resigned type.

Harry Stack Sullivan ##

Sullivan has described two major goals of the individual: satisfaction of his or her biological needs and security in relationships with others. Anxiety is the response to others disapproval. Sullivan believes that the personality development is a process of learning how to deal with this anxiety and how to gain approval of others.


In his book "Childhood and Society", published 1950, Eric Erickson outlines his theory of personality development. According to Erikson development takes place through eight stages which are series of alternative attitudes. Later these attitudes develop into attributes. Erikson uses the concept of "Epigenesis" by which he refers to the process of development of their ego through these stages:

1- Basic trust vs Mistrust:

This stage corresponds to the Oral stage of Freud. It is a sensory stage. This is the stage of consistency and continuity leading to development of a Ego identity.

2- Autonomy vs Shame and Doubt:

This corresponds to the anal stage of Freud. It is the muscular stage during which the main concern is self control vs loss of self-esteem, self-doubt and shame.

3- Initiative vs Guilt:

This corresponds to the genital phase of psychoanalysis. It is a locomotor phase during which a person learn to plan tasks and initiate actions. Failure to complete this stage successfully leads to guilt feeling.

4- Industry Vs Inferiority:

This is the stage of latency according to psychoanalysis. It is a stage of working hard and accomplishments. The person learn to receive recognition through doing tasks and performing and achieving a better status among his peers. If he fails to accomplish the required tasks there is a possibility of feeling of inferiority.

5- Identity vs Role Confusion

This stage occupies the period of puberty and adolescence during which an identity crisis may emerge. The conflict escalates between an inner sense of identity and searching for a role among others. There is an outer vulnerability and inner fear of loss of identity.

6- Intimacy Versus Isolation:

This is a stage of young adulthood during which the person starts to build an intimate relationship with someone and start to test his/her capacity to commitments to others. He cares for a small a social unit of the society. Failure to achieve this leads to isolation.

7- Generativity vs Stagnation:

During this stage of adulthood, the individual continues his productivity and creativity although some people may be self-absorbed and unable to contribute to the society. Without such ability and productivity the individual suffers from stagnation.

8- Integrity vs despair:

This is the final stage of maturity during which the person either has accomplished the main tasks of his life or regrets unaccomplished tasks. Those who have feeling of satisfaction and achievement feel they are integrated within themselves. Those who feels they have failed to achieve the needed tasks of their life falls into despair and regrets. This is a stage of the awareness of the closeness of death, with either acceptance and peacefulness or worry, anxiety and fear.

Adolf Meyer

Meyer is known for his psychobiological theory. He believed that the person has to be considered in the three spheres of existence which includes the biological psychological, and social aspects.

Jean Piaget

Piaget investigated the development of cognition in children and he describesd various stages of development of the intellectual abilities of the individual. He considered that the human intelligence is an extension of a biological adaptation. Piaget described logical substructures and four stages of development of the intellectual ability.

1- Sensorimotor stage:

This stage spans the first two years of life. The child starts to learn object permanence. At first, the newly born baby believes the disappearance of an object means it will not come back forever.

Gradually, the child will learn that when his mother disappears, she would come back later on. The baby game of Peekaboo is thought by developmental psychologists to demonstrate an infant's inability to understand object permanence. During the sensorimotor stage, the child also differentiate between self and other objects. He gradually learns that he has an effect on objects and objects can also affects him.

2- Pre-Operational Stage:

Between two years of age and seven years, the child learns to use symbols and his language develops. During this stage the child is ego centric.

3- Concrete Operational Stage:

Between age 7 to 12, logical thought develop and the child attains the ability to classify objects into categories and learns how objects relate to each other. Some concepts such as conservation develops.

The child learns that a certain mass or amount does not change if it changes shape. For example, a certain amount of liquid put in a tall or short glass is of the same amount although it looks different.

4- Formal Operational Stage:

After age 12, the individual develops logical maturity and abstract thinking is attained. The individual is capable of putting a hypothesis and arguing aspects of the possibility that it is true or false. People at this stage are concerned with ideologies, philosophy, theories, scientific principles, and questions about the universe or existence of God.

Dimensional Approach

This theory attempts to categorise personality by describing how the pattern of variations in behaviour corresponds to a certain dimensions. It postulates that personality consists of a set of dimensions along each of which an individual will vary. The pattern of variations and interrelations between the various dimensions then describes the complex make up of the individual personality.

Dimensions are described as personality traits. These are the tendency to feel or respond in a particular way. According to this theory, the differences between normal and abnormal personality are seen as quantitative rather than qualitative.

A psychologist named Catell tried to describe personality along dimensions of 16 personality factors. In his famous 16 personality factors test, he used factor analysis to identify 16 source traits. For example, he describes factors such as intelligence, ego strength, dominance, shrewdness and self-sufficiency. He determined the variance in 181 variables such as flexibility and rigidity, politeness and rudeness ... etc.

Another famous test of personality which uses the dimensional approach is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). An English psychologist, Eysenck developed his personality test known as Eysenck Personality Inventory (EPI).

Categorical Approach

This model of understanding personality is based on categorising personality types in consistent groups of characteristics. This approach is theoretically less sound, but convenient and easily understood. It is widely used in clinical practice. The earliest example of such categorical approach is the description by the Greek physician Hippocrates 600 years BCE of four personality types: the choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic and sanguine types.

During the 19th century, Kretschmer based his categories of personality on the shape of the body. He based his personality types on the morphological types. He described leptosomic personality type which is a thin long body type with featurs similar to the schizoid personality. Another type is the pyknic personality type which is rounded obese body type similar in features to the cyclothymic personality type. Schneider describes 10 types of "psychopathic personality". Henderson also described inadequate, creative and aggressive personality types.

Recently, the International Classification of Diseases describes 8 personality types: these are: paranoid, affective, schizoid, explosive, obsessional or anankastic, hysterical, asthenic or passive dependent and last but not least sociopathic personality types. The diagnostic and statistical manual (DSM IV) which is the American classification of psychiatric disorders classifies personality types into 11 categories. The paranoid, schizoid, and schizotypal personality types form a cluster of personality features sharing in common mainly the odd behaviour. The second cluster which is characterised by emotional and dramatic behaviour includes histrionic, narcissistic, borderline and antisocial personality types. The third cluster features anxious and fearful of behaviour and include avoidant, dependent, passive aggressive and compulsive personality types. In the past, cyclothymic and depressive personality types as well as explosive personality were included in DSM as personality types. However these were later given categories under psychiatric disorders rather than personality disorder.

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