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An individual's personality is an aggregate conglomeration of decisions we've made throughout our lives (Bradshaw). There are inherent natural, genetic, and environmental factors that contribute to the development of our personality; however, in the pursuit of a more defined persona, many individuals enroll in courses offered in colleges to further or enhance the image they intend to project to others. These classes assist in identifying your conscious traits and contrasting them with what you intend to exhibit. According to process of socialization, "personality also colors our values, beliefs, and expectations...Hereditary factors that contribute to personality development do so as a result of interactions with the particular social environment in which people live." There are several personality types as Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers illustrated in several personalities typology tests. These tests only provide enlightenment based on the preliminary insight scored according to the answers judged by the parameters of the test. Other theories on personality development are Jean Piaget stages of development, and personality development in Sigmund Freud 's theory being formed through the interaction of id, ego and superego.

Personal development

Personality is the sum total of what a person is- behaviours, thoughts and feelings- that endures throughout life.

Although some psychologists frown on the premise, a commonly used explanation for personality development is the psychodynamic approach. The term psychodynamic describes any theory that emphasizes the constant change and development of the individual. Perhaps the best known of the psychodynamic theories is Freudian psychoanalysis.

Freud's Psychoanalytic theory

Drives Freud believed that two basic drives- sex and aggression- motivate all our thoughts and behaviours. He referred to these as eros (love) and thanatos. Eros represents the life instinct, sex being the major driving force. Thanatos represents the death instinct (characterised be aggression), this Freud believed allowed the human race to procreate, whilst at the same time eliminating our enemies.

The structure of personality Freud conceived the mind as only having a fixed amount of psychic energy (libido). The outcome of the dynamic interaction between the id, ego and the superego (each contending for as much libidinal energy as possible) determines our adult personality.

The tripartite personality Freud believed that personality had three parts- the id, ego, and superego- referring to this as the tripartite personality. The id allows us to get our basic needs met. Freud believed that the id is based on the pleasure principle i.e. it wants immediate satisfaction, with no consideration for the reality of the situation.

As a child interacts more with the world, the ego begins to develop. The ego's job is to meet the needs of the id, whilst taking into account the constraints of reality. The ego ackowledges that being impulsive or selfish can sometimes hurt us, so the id must be constrained. The superego develops during the phallic stage as a result of the moral constraints placed on us by our parents. It is generally believed that a strong superego serves to inhibits the biological instincts of the id (resulting in a high level of guilt), whereas a weak superego allows the id more expression (resulting in a low level of guilt).

Defense Mechanisms The ego has a difficult time trying to satisfy both the needs of the id and the superego, so, it employs defense mechanisms. Repression is perhaps the most powerful of these. Repression is the act by which unacceptable id impulses (most of which are sexually related) are "pushed" out of awareness and into the unconscious mind. Another example of a defense mechanism is projection. This is the mechanism that Freud used to explain Little Hans' complex. Little Hans is said to have projected his fear for his father onto horses, which is why he was afraid of horses.

Psychosexual Stages Freud believed that at particular points in the childs development, a single part of the body is particularly sensitive to sexual stimulation. These eurogenous zones are the mouth, anus and the genital region. At any given time, the child's libido is focused on the primary eurogenous zone for that age. As a result the child has certain needs and demands that are related to the eurogenous zones for that stage. Frustration occurs if these needs are not met, but , a child may also become overindulged, and so may be reluctant to progress beyond the stage. Both frustration and overindulgence may lead to fixation- some of the childs libido remains locked into that stage. If a child is fixated at a particular stage, the method of obtaining satisfaction that characterised that stage will dominate their adult personality.


Oral stage (0-18months) This stage begins at birth, when the mouth is the primary source of libidinal energy. A child who is frustrated at this stage may develop an adult personality that is characterised by pessimism, envy and suspicion. The overindulged child may develop to be optimistic, gullible, and full of admiration for others.

Anal stage (18months-3 yrs) The child's focus on pleasure on this stage is on eliminating and retaining faeces. This represents the conflict between the id, which derives pleasure from the expulsion of bodily wastes, and the ego which represents external pressure to control bodily functions. If the parents are too lenient in this conflict, it will result in the formation of an anal expulsive character who is disorganised, reckless and defiant. Conversely a child may opt to retain faeces, thereby spiting his parents, and may develop into an anal retentive character who is neat, stingy and obstinate.

Phallic stage (3-6yrs) During this stage, boys develop unconscious desires for their mother and become rivals with their father for her affection. This is reminiscent with Little Hans' case study. So the boys develop a fear that their father will punish them for these feelings (castration anxiety) so decide to identify with him rather than fight him. As a result, the boy develops masculine characteristics and represses his sexual feelings towards his mother. This is known as the Oedipus complex. During recent years, it is now believed that girls go through a similar process. This is called the electra complex. Freud believed that the resolution of this female conflict comes much later and is never truly complete.

Latent (6yrs-puberty) The latency period is not a psychosexual development as such, but a stage when sexual drives lie dormant. Freud saw latency as a period of unparalleled repression of sexual desires and eurogenous impulses.

Genital stage (puberty onwards) This stage begins at puberty, when sexual urges are once again awakened. Interest now turns to heterosexual relationships. The less fixation the child has in earlier stages, the more chance they have of developing a "normal" personality, and thus develop healthy meaningful relationships with those of the opposite sex.

Although many people view Freuds descriptions of personality development as pure fantasy, his ideas have endured and have had far reaching influences both in and outside psychology. Freud has changed the way we think about the importance of childhood, and also made us aware of the unconscious elements of our psyche that are essential for development.

The Theory of Positive Disintegration (TPD)

Kazimierz Dabrowski, a Polish psychiatrist and psychologist, developed the Theory of Positive Disintegration (TPD) over his lifetime of clinical and academic work. The Theory of Positive Disintegration is a novel approach to personality development.

Dabrowski developed a general theory of personality development to account for the differences he observed in the behavior of people. During his youth admist World War I and later during his harsh experiences in World War II, Dabrowski was exposed to the lowest human depravity and as well, some of the most heroic acts imaginable. He later explained that he wrote his theory because he could find no theory of psychology that could adequately explain these paradoxes in human behavior.

While attending college in the 1920s, Dabrowski was deeply affected by the suicide of his best friend and decided to devote his life to psychology and psychiatry. In 1929 he completed a thesis on suicide and in 1937 published a manuscript on self mutilation which already included the concept of hyperexcitability (Dabrowski, 1929, 1937).

While mainly working as an academic and psychiatrist, Dabrowski studied a wide range of individuals he identified as showing advanced personality and character development. For example, Clifford Beers, Yuri Gagarin, Sir Edmund Hillary, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Abraham Lincoln and Dag Hammarskjold. Eventually, Dabrowski developed a theory with five descriptive levels, spanning from the lowest behaviors observed to the highest and he developed an explanation of how development occurs through positive disintegration.

In his studies of personality, Dabrowski found that most of these advanced individuals had a life history of high levels of conflict with society and internal conflicts that led to strong psychoneuroses -- strong anxieties, insecurities and depression. These individuals also displayed a strong tenacity to express and develop their individuality (third factor) along with hyperexcitability, a term later evolving into overexcitability. This overexcitability expressed itself as a heightened response to stimuli and a lower threshold to stimuli, resulting in intense experiences that contributed to psychoneuroses. Dabrowski went on to identify a number of factors he felt necessary to precipitate advanced development and he collectively referred to these as developmental potential. The experiences, emerging from developmental potential, create the internal conflicts Dabrowski saw as necessary to push internal development forward.

A basic premise of Dabrowski's theory is that most people commonly experience an initial primary integration characterized by the adoption of prevailing social standards and mores. The average person accepts and lives by these external social mores with little question or conflict. Spurred by developmental potential, exemplary individuals come into conflict when their developing internal values and perceptions clash with the external views and mores they had previously inculcated. These individuals go through periods Dabrowski described as positive disintegration that challenge and eventually disintegrate the primary integration and lead to periods of deep reflection and soul-searching. Positive disintegration culminates in the emergence of an internally generated hierarchy of values, aims and goals. Ultimately a unique personality ideal emerges, representing the kind of person the individual wishes to strive to become. Advanced development is described as a secondary integration characterized by a comfortable adherence to one's own unique values, goals and ideals.

A key aspect of development is the emergence of the inner psychic milieu and of subject object. At lower levels of development an individual is guided by external social forces and roles and his or her perception is predominantly in the subject state. The individual can rarely see past his or her own needs and desires. As development proceeds, an appreciation of the other as object emerges, leading to acceptance of the legitimacy of the other and eventually the ability to reverse subject and object roles occurs. This is a key aspect of development because when the individual is able to see the other as subject he or she develops empathy, both for the other individual and for humanity in general. This undermines the individual ego and promotes a very authentic, alturistic identification with humanity. At the same time, the individual learns to see him or herself as others see him or her -- as object, and this casts a new light upon one's behavior and priorities. The inner psychic milieu and third factor also emerge and become prominent forces. The inner psychic milieu shifts one's attention toward one's inner life, one's thoughts, imagination, and emotions. The locus of control shifts from outside to within. An individual becomes conscious of the importance of emotion as the basis of individual values and in directing one's behavior. This allows an individual to shape his or her personality (Dabrowski, 1967) to conform to his/her personality ideal, inhibiting those aspects that are less like one's idealized self and enlarging and creating those aspects that are more like one's idealized self.

As part of his integrated approach, Dabrowski made diagnosis and therapy a priority and he developed an approach he referred to as autopsychotherapy, characterized by encouraging an individual to develop self-insight, to experience and learn from depression and crises and to take charge of his or her development.

Interested in the "correlation between outstanding abilities, personality and psychoneurosis," Dabrowski studied approximately 250 "gifted children and young people" (see Dabrowski, 1967, 1972). Dabrowski found that these children exhibited hyperexcitability and sets of nervousness, neuroses and psychoneuroses of various kinds and degrees of intensity. Dabrowski subsequently hypothesized that "a high-level of general and special abilities correlates positively with mental disequilibrium, nervousness, neuroses, and psychoneuroses."


See also

References & Bibliography

Key texts



  • Caspi, A.. Elder, C7. E. and Herbener, E. (1990) Childhood personality and the prediction of life-course patterns, in L. N. Robins and M. Rutter (eds) Straight and Devious Pathways from Childhood to Adulthood. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Caspi, A. and Roberts, B. W (2001) Personality development across the life course: the argument for change and continuity, Psychological Inquiry, 12(2). 9-66.

Additional material



External links

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