Sigmund Freud: Theories of personality

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The psychoanalytic theory of Sigmund Freud had a greater influence on social and personality development than any other psychological theory. He began his work in the late nineteenth century. Freud's theory, according to Schultz and Sydney ("Theories of Personality"), inspired not just psychology but also literature, art, philosophy, cultural studies, and many other fields. Theorists of Freud characterize major knowledge notions of the modern world. Early childhood conflicts were unavoidable for Freud's psychoanalysis, which stressed unconscious forces, physiologically based impulses of sex and aggressiveness. They were regarded as the rulers and molders of our personalities. He was able to alter our perception of humans.He believed that most of the human behaviors are caused by thoughts ideas that are in persons brains but not easily accessible by the conscious mind.

Freud believed that all behaviors are defensive but not everyone uses the same defense in the same way. All are influenced by the impulses but not the same universality in the nature of ego and super ego. Although these structures of personality perform the same functions for everyone, their content varies from one person to another. Their difference is formed through experiences. Thus our personality according to Freud is formed from the unique relationships we have as children with various people and objects. We develop personal set of character attributes, a consistent pattern of behavior that personality traits evolve through a series of stages that occur during childhood and adolescence. Freud had major contribution to personality as discussed below.

Freud’s major contribution to personality

Freud gave the five stages of psychosexual development right from childhood to adulthood so as one would be able to resolve conflicts between physical drive and social expectations which could arise. He believed that these pleasurable activities of the body were institutionally inborn and that they were often frowned on by the society. According to Mcmartinn (“Personality Psychology: A student centered approach”) the sexual activities that were most disapproved if pressed into the unconscious were therefore most likely to influence personality. Freud proposed that personality traits arise at certain times of our lives. For example dependency in personality traits that arises during childhood when the child is very dependent on others.

Freud explained that if one was not able to move from one stage to the other because the conflict was not well resolved or because the needs have been completely satisfied by an indulgent parent that the child doesn’t want to move on the individual is said to have fixated at this stage of development. In fixation, a portion of libido or psychic energy remains invested in that development stage leaving less energy for the following stage. The psychosexual stages includes the oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital stage.

Oral stage was the first psychosexual stage of development which involved either taking in or spitting out. It last between birth and the second year. The pleasurable part at this stage is the mouth which drives the pleasure from sucking, biting and swallowing. At this stage the child is fully reliant on the mother who is the caregiver and becomes the primary source of child’s libido.

The second stage is the anal where the child gains pleasure through defecation. The child gets a lot of pleasure through holding or releasing waste. Freud thought that the experience of toilet training during the anal stage had a significant effect in personality development. At this stage children learn that they have a weapon that can be used against everyone and they have control over something and can choose to comply or not to the parents demand.

The third stage comprises of the phallic stage. A set of problems arises around the fourth to fifth year .The pleasure shifts from anus to genitals. A child faces battle between id impulse and demand of the society. Children have considerable interest exploring and manipulating the genitals, their own and those of other playmates. Pleasure derived from genital region not only through behaviors such as masturbation but also through fantasies .The child becomes curious about birth and the boys have penises and the girls do not have.

The conflicts within phallic stage becomes more complex to solve. The boys falls in love with their mothers and this phenomena is called Oedipus complex .These boys develop anxiety when around their fathers as they think that their fathers may fight them and cut their penis .Therefore they develop hate towards their fathers. Schultz and Sydney (“Theories of Personality”).

The fourth stage consist of the latent stage. In this stage there is apparent renouncement in sexual interest. The sex instinct is dormant at this stage of development. It is temporarily substituted by school activities, hobbies, and developing interest with people of the same sex.

The last stage is the genital stage which begins at puberty. The body is becoming psychological mature and if no disorders have occurred a person can lead a normal life. According to Freud, struggle during this stage is less dense than in the other stages.

Freud explained how early childhood experiences determine our character in later life. He presentment personality as a construction of the three important structure of the human cognition consisting of the id, the ego, and the superego. He explained human behaviors as a result of interaction between these three parts of the mind from which he produced a new way of analyzing human behaviors

Freud also pioneered new levels of abstraction in human thoughts where he identified three parts of the mind based on someone’s level of awareness. These parts includes the conscious, pre conscious, and the unconscious. He explained our natural psychic as a drive towards adjustment to society regulation. He sparked the psychological revolution and trained the second generation of psychoanalysts.

How Freud’s theory shaped the way we understand personality today

From his structures of the mind we gets to understand that our thoughts, feelings and behaviour are as result of interaction between the three parts of the mind. His ideas provides a useful model for the complex actions that we undergo and that we can encourage our ego to make the right choice even when our id and the super ego are wrong. The most significant is his conception of the unconscious. His psychodynamic theory has greatly influenced the present mind set of a person, its analysis and the philosophy of our minds today.

Influence of Freud’s theory in understanding personality today

Freud’s theory of personality has influenced the way we view various cultural ways. For example as discussed the phallic stage has many conflicts which are difficult to resolve. They are difficult because they involve the notion of incest which is a taboo in many cultures. Apart from cultures we find that many religious groups are against incest for example Christianity. Between incest characters and masturbation we can see seeds of shock, anger, and suppression being shown by parents of typical four year old. Reality and morality come to grips with id once again.

Freud can be seen as either virulently anti-homosexual or as a closeted friend of gays this was said because he said at some stage of growth if fixation occurred the children are likely to portray the same stage at another point in their life, an article by Alexander and Hanns (“Studies in Gender and Sexuality”). This was what Freud would have called results of fixations. Freud did think homosexual was pathological in the sense that it was the consequence of degenerate physiology or psychology. The child can grow upright if there are no disorders during his growth. Masculine or feminine attitudes and preferences for certain sexual partners or certain form of certain activities are not established at one particular time but acquired gradually over a period of time .this outcome depends on inherited abilities and social influences from parents, teacher’s friends, those gender activities could be positive or negative.


Freud’s theory on psychosexual development is very pivotal in explaining our cultures. Psychoanalysis has taken a central role in many areas of culture like literature, film, and art history. Out of the way he presents the five stages of psychosexual development people have been subjected to the thinking that the way someone goes through these very stages defines their character and how they grows up.

Works cited

Schultz, Duane P., and Sydney Ellen Schultz. Theories of personality. Cengage Learning, 2016.

Alexander, F., and Hanns Sachs. "Sigmund Freud." Studies in Gender and Sexuality 18 (2017): 2.

McMartin, Jim. Personality psychology: A student-centered approach. Sage Publications, 2016.

April 26, 2023

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