Freud’s and Roger’s theory of personality

There are many theories for personality and various theorists have defined this in different ways. One fairy comprehensive definition for personality is by Pervin (1996, p.414. pg.3) who cited:

“Personality is the complex organisations of cognitions, affects, and behaviours that give direction and pattern to the person’s life. Like the body, personality consists of both structures and processes and reflects both nature (genes) and nurture (experience). In addition, personality includes the effects of the past, including memories of the past, as well as constructions of the present and the future.”

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This essay will look at Freud’s and Roger’s theory of personality. In addition, both theories will be evaluated using Pervin’s system.

Freud is known as the father of the Psychodynamic approach and there is no denying that Freud’s theory had an enormous impact on psychology (Spurling, 2004). Freud (1962) states all human beings are born with two innate instincts which are Thanatos (death instinct) which is self destructive, aggressive and cruel and Eros (life instinct) which is self preserving and erotic instinct (Allen & Unwin, 1971). He suggests that we are driven by our libido, which is often referred to as the “sex drive” however this may be an over-simplification of Freud’s meaning. It as an inborn energy we have that motivates and enables us to survive (Benson, 1999).

Freud’s work concerns the conscious, the preconscious and the unconscious mind. The conscious mind is what we are aware of or thoughts currently in focus (CITE). The preconscious mind is thoughts or memories not in the current consciousness but can be easily retrieved and bought into consciousness (CITE). The conscious mind is totally inaccessible whereby selfish needs, shameful or painful experiences & sexual fantasies are “locked away”. Much of our behaviour is said to be determined by unconscious thoughts and this is the largest part of the mind (CITE).

Freud (cited in Cloninger, 2009) proposes that psychological problems are caused by conflict between unconscious forces. He was committed to the concept that apparently meaningless behaviours actually expressed unconscious conflict. Freud states the personality is composed of the following three structures. The Id is developed first; this is inborn, selfish & typically wants immediate gratification (Benson, 1999). Then Ego represents reason, common-sense and objective. Finally there is the Superego, which is self-observation and self-critical (Rycroft, 1972).

Cooper (2002) explains the Ego is overwhelmed by threats and conflicts’ deriving from the Id and Superego therefore the Ego protects itself using defence mechanisms (Eysenck, 2000). Freud’s theory suggests there are many defence mechanisms such as Displacement and Denial to name but a few (Cloninger, 2009).

Freud’s theory proposes that each individual passes through pre-determined stages in their life, based on bodily gratification. The first stage is the Oral stage, where the mouth is the source of pleasure. The child will put objects into their mouth or suck their thumb as it gratifies them (CITE). The second stage is the Anal stage, where the focus shifts to the anus and waste expulsion. Following this is the Phallic stage, which is one of Freud’s most controversial ideas. For boys, this is the Oedipus complex and for girls it is the Elektra complex. During this stage, the closeness the child feels with the opposite sex is sexualised and the child is jealous of the same sex parent (CITE). Conflict with the same sex parent is resolved through identification and the learning of gender appropriate roles. The next stage is Latency which is a time of relative calm where boys and girls spend very little time together and segregate with same-sex peers (CITE). The final stage of psychosexual development is the Genital stage where the individual feels direct sexual feelings towards others. Freud’s theory states that staying in any one stage for too long, or for not long enough is what leads to psychological issues in adult life. This is described as the adult being fixated or stuck at that stage and Freud has linked adult personality to the experience during these stages

Carl Roger’s like many other psychologists formulated his own theory of personality. Engler (2003) observes how Carl Rogers was among the most influential figures of humanistic psychology. In contrast to Freud, Rogers believes that humans are aware of feelings and thoughts and have the power to change and develop.

The theory of Rogers is considered to be humanistic and phenomenological (CITE). “Every individual exists in a continually changing world of experience of which they are the centre” (Sahakian, 1977, pg 205). Phenomenologists believe that the object or the event itself is not important, rather how it is understood or perceived by the individual (Engler, 2003). Rogers proposes that the significant factor which affects the individual is not reality as such, but the individual’s experiences as reality. He places a strong emphasis on the experiences of the person, their feelings and values – or their ‘inner life’ (Hall, 1978).

The central construct in Rogers’s theory is a ‘force of life’ he calls the actualizing tendency. Humans have an innate tendency to reach full potential (actualize) and all individuals are able to value positively (or negatively) that which will allow them to actualize (or not actualize) these potentials (Hall, 1978). Ziegler (2002, citing Rogers, 1959, p.196) explains that the actualizing tendency can be defined as “the inherent tendency of the organism to develop all its capacities in ways which serve to maintain or enhance the person”. The integral motivation present in every life-form to develop its potentials to the fullest extent possible. In Rogers’s theory, all human behaviour is considered to be driven by this single motive. The word ‘actualise’ means to make real, to bring into existence. Humans continue to strive throughout life in a state of ‘being and achieving’.

In the development of the self concept, Rogers saw conditional and unconditional positive regard as key. Those raised in an environment of unconditional positive regard – to be accepted and loved as they are – have the opportunity to fully actualize themselves. Those raised in an environment of conditional positive regard only feel worthy if they match conditions (what Rogers describes as conditions of worth) that have been laid down by others (Patterson, 1986). Unconditional positive regard is where the individual is accepted and respected as they are, regardless of their behaviour. Conditional positive regard is accepting or respecting an individual but only if their self-concept or feelings meet one’s approval.

Another thing that we value is positive self-regard, which is: self-esteem, self-worth, a positive self-image. We achieve this positive self-regard by experiencing the positive regard others show us over our years of growing up. Without this self-regard, we feel small and helpless, and we fail to become all that we can be (Mischel et al, 2003). Hall (1978) suggests that every individual has an instinctive need for positive regard which remains active throughout our lives. We all need love, affection, acceptance, respect, and so on, especially from significant others such as our parents.

Rogers (1959) believes that there many ways in which self-actualization is achieved; the self-concept must be maintained by positive regard from an important figure – such as parents, peers or teachers.

Our society is full of different conditions of worth. During early self-concept development, a child moves away from the natural organismic valuing process due to negative conditions taking place. Such conditions produce what Rogers (1959) called “basic estrangement” in human beings, the supposed reason subsequent emotional disturbance (cited by Ziegler, 2002).

Rogers emphasises the need for the perceived self and the real self to be congruent – when all the symbolised experiences mirror all of the actual experiences. When an individual’s symbolised experiences do not represent all of the actual experiences or if they suppress their inner desire, they are in a state of incongruence between the self as perceived and the real self.

Both the above theories suggest that genes and experience are important in personality (Ziegler, 2002) Pervin (1996) states that “the two are constantly operating in relation to one another” (pg.418). The issue to consider is how much of personality is as a result of nature and how much can be contributed to nurture.

The key concepts of Freud’s theory are concepts like psychic energy, instincts, libido and unconscious forces; which all view human in terms of innate factors. The central structure of personality – the Id is innate, inborn. Moreover, Freud even determined that psychosexual developments also occurred in set stages (irrespective of socioeconomic or cultural background). However, Freud has not totally disregarded environmental factors. During the psychosexual developments stages, Freud states the importance of what happens to the child will determine personality as an adult as well as psychological wellbeing.

What Freud does not consider in this theory are cultural factors which are prevalent in today’s society, such as single parents and same sex parents. This is largely due to the time and place that the theory is a product of, as well as the samples (all clinical) which he derived the theory from, thus his theory is very specific to that particular time and place. Weiner (2003) confirms cultural omission is not exclusive to Freud’s theory “despite its concern with social aspects of experience and with units on analysis, such as groups, that are larger than individuals, social psychology inquiry has tended to downplay cultural factors” (pg.35) Freud’s theory, despite giving brief consideration to environment, is fundamentally based on nature. How valid was Frued’s theory in accurately predicting future personality (rather than limited to a specific time?)

Roger’s too has a theme running through his theory which suggests it is based on nature. “Phrases and ideas such as ‘human nature’, ‘man’s inner nature’, ‘man’s true self’, ‘man’s innate potential’ all of which strongly suggest a biological base of human personality and development” (Ziegler, 2002). The biggest element of his theory is the concept of actualizing tendency which is innate and claims that all human behaviour, motivation stems from this. This is the biggest element of Rogers’ theory that suggests he believes part of self is innate “the inherent tendency of the organism to develop all its capacities in ways which serve to maintain or enhance the person” (Rogers, 1959, p. 196). The actualising tendency is the only motivational concept proposed by Rogers and states that all human behaviour is as a result of this. However, Rogers places a great deal of emphasis on environmental factors. Similar to Freud, Rogers’ believed that childhood experiences influence adult personality. Concepts such as unconditional positive regard is theorised to influence development and conditions of worth can negatively affect development.

In relation to fundamental change in personality, both theorists have opposing views of this. Freud is very much of the opinion that personality is unchangeable. It can be seen throughout his theory that he is certain that adult personality emerges as a result of childhood experiences. As described in his theory, Freud explains that the child progresses through pre-determined psychosexual stages and adult personality is as a result of the experiences in these stages. Adult personality can be determined by the psychosexual stage that the person becomes fixated upon. Thus, Freud’s theory depicts that the basic personality structure is formed in early life and remains the same into adult life.

Rogers however, is of an opposing viewpoint to Freud regarding changeability. Within the Humanistic approach, there are three essential principles. Existentialism “free organic self” – this is the notion that each individual can take control of their lives and be actively involved in their existence. Another principle is that of autonomy, which asserts that each individual has the power to make their own decisions. And finally, the principle of growth, which suggests that human beings can grow and develop as a result of the first two principles and in essence, can cause a change in personality. Another major part of Rogers’ theory that suggests a commitment to changeability is the actualising tendency and the self concept. The actualising tendency allows individuals to grow, realise their potential and change. Thus, fundamental change is a key idea to Rogers’ theory. The self-concept, a central construct in person-centred theory, Rogers views the self-concept as fluid and constantly evolving as a result of new experiences (Rogers, 1959). Thus, both the actualizing tendency and the self-concept constructs reflect Rogers’ strong conviction that fundamental personality change is not only highly possible, but perhaps inevitable, over an individual’s lifetime (Hjelle & Ziegler, 1992).

Engler, B. (2003), Personality Theories, 6th Edition, USA, Houghton Mifflin Co

Cloninger, S. (2009), Theories of Personality: Understanding Persons, 5th Edition, Pearson Prentice Hall, London

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Joseph, S. (2001) Psychopathology and Therapeutic Approaches, Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire

Kahn, E & Rachman, A.W. (2000) Carl Rogers and Heinz Kohut, A Historic Perspective, Psychoanalytic Psychology, 17, 2, 294-312

Mischel, W. Shoda, Y. Smith, R. (2003) Introduction to Personality, 7th Edition, New York, John Wiley & Sons

Patterson, C.H. (1986), Theories of Counselling and Psychotherapy, 4th Edition, New York, HarperCollins

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Spurling, (2004), An introduction to Psychodynamic Counselling, Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire

Volosinov, V.N. (1976), Freudianism A Critical Sketch, Academic Press, London

Ziegler, D. J. (2002) Freud, Rogers, and Ellis: A Comparative Theoretical Analysis, Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy, 20, 2, 75-90

Weiner, I.B. (2003) Handbook of psychology: Personality and social psychology, Volume 5, John Wiley & Sons, New Jersey

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